Adventurous Side of Austin, Texas

Outdoor adventures in Austin TX

Patrick shows us the adventurous side of Austin TX

Most visitors to Austin are not aware of the outdoor adventures to be found in our backyard. Austin is well known for it's live music, great food, and festivals that seem to occur every weekend. Between our music venues, restaurants and museums we have plenty of indoor options to entertain ourselves. Enough has been written on what to do around town so this will focus on what to do outdoors in Austin within 20 minutes of downtown. A few fun day trips just outside town are also suggested.

Barton Springs

The only place to start a list of things to do outdoors in Austin is with Barton Springs. Located minutes from downtown and Zilker Park, Barton Springs is truly the soul of the city. It's the perfect place to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon or take a quick dip after exploring all that Austin has to offer outdoors. Bring a mask and snorkel to explore clear waters and maybe you will see the elusive freshwater eel or a Barton Springs Salamander.

Barton springs pool
Barton Springs with a downtown view seen from the water; original photo

barton springs diving
Barton Springs night swim is free everyday after 9pm. Hurry though, the final whistle to get out of the water blows at 9:45pm. This photo was taken under the diving board at night; original photo.

Rock climbing on the Greenbelt

There are five main climbing areas on the greenbelt in Austin. The areas in order from the Barton Creek greenbelt trailhead are New Wall, Gus Fruh, Urban Assault Wall, Seismic, and Bee Hive Wall. Interested in climbing? The easiest way to get started is to join one of the beginner friendly groups that meet at Seismic most Wednesday nights. If you want more personal instruction contact the certified rock climbing guides at Rock About.

green belt rock climbing
From the top clockwise:
New Wall: New Wall is located near the 1 mile marker on Greenbelt starting from Barton Springs. Sadly, there was a large rockfall that has closed off this area for now. Just keep hiking another mile down to Gus Fruh for more climbing; original photo.

Seismic: Seismic wall (aka Maggie's Wall) is located just under the 360 bridge crossing Barton Creek about 3.5 miles from the Barton Creek trailhead. There is a park entrance and parking lot available to shorten the walk to 5 minutes; original photo.

Gus Fruh: Gus Fruh is located at the 2 mile marker on the Greenbelt. This is a nice area to set up a hammock and hang out even if you are not into rock climbing. There is an area called Guide's Wall at the very beginning of Gus Fruh that provides easy access to setting up top ropes for some easier climbs (5.6 - 5.9 range); original photo.

tubing and rock climbing green belt

Urban Assault: Urban Assault is the most majestic wall on the Greenbelt and only a 15 minute walk from Gus Fruh. This wall offers the only multi pitch climbing around without driving to Enchanted Rock. When the creek level is up this is a great place to put in a tube and float through the rapids to Gus Fruh; original photo.

Kayaking and tubing Barton Creek

Barton Creek is seasonal and only holds water during wet months. When you catch it at a good flow Barton Creek offers some of the best whitewater kayaking in Texas. Check the flow rate before heading out and contact one the local outfitters for more information and kayak rentals.

kayaking and tubing green belt
From the top left clockwise:
1. Taking a break just before the rapids at Campbell's Hole on Barton Creek; original photo
2. Once the creek gets too low to kayak you can still tube it to a trickle. There are several good spots along the way to do some cliff jumping into the creek; original photo
3. Campbell's Hole rapid on Barton Creek after a couple of days of rain. Campbell's Hole is the last major rapid before you reach the end at Barton Springs pool; original photo
4. Tubing with proper form… beer in hand; original photo

Extra: Kayaking barton creek after a rain VIDEO

Kayak and Fishing Lake Lady Bird

Lake Lady Bird, formerly Town Lake, offers excellent fishing year round with largemouth bass and sunfish the most commonly encountered. No personal motorized boats are allowed on the lake so rent a canoe or kayak from one of the rowing docks. Be sure to get a fishing license before getting a line wet.

fishing town lake
Paddy inspects the fish before releasing them back. This stretch is part of Barton Creek below Barton Springs that connects to Lake Lady Bird. The water is usually crystal clear here since all of the flow is from Barton Springs; original photo

fishing town lake in Austin TX
A big bass caught (and released) on a fly rod near the Barton Springs bridge. Spring is the best time for fishing on Lake Lady Bird but you're likely to catch something anytime of year; original photo

Airman's Cave

For the more adventurous Airman's Cave is located on the greenbelt just past Urban Assault wall (about mile 3 from the Barton Springs trailhead). The cave crawl starts out with a very narrow squeeze called the "birth canal". The cave entrance has a gate that is opened one Saturday a month for explorers to visit. Check the UT Grotto caving club for a schedule.

airman's cave austin
The main chamber just after passing through the "birth canal"; original photo

airmans cave austin tx
Inside the Aggie Art Gallery after an hour of crawling. The inside of the art gallery is a collection of hundreds of clay sculptures left by adventurers over the years. We brought tea lights and a strand of leds to set up around gallery before adding our own artwork; original photo

Biking around Austin

Road biking, mountain biking, bmx pump tracks, Austin has it all. Get on a bike and get lost or join the Thursday Night Social Ride for an intimate ride with 300 other people. Seriously though, Austin is a very bike friendly city with miles of dedicated bike trails.

social ride austin tx
Hanging out on the pedestrian bridge before the start of the social. The social ride now meets near Festival beach and I35 every Thursday at 7pm; original photo

Just outside town

So far all of the places described are within the Austin city limits. Looking for a day trip out of town less than a few hours away? Here are a few favorites.

Jacob's Well

Located in Wimberly, Jacob's Well is less than an hour drive from Austin. This natural spring is an amazing little swimming hole. Bring a mask and snorkel to investigate the depths of the well or bask in the sun on the rocks.

jacobs well outside austin tx
Jumping into Jacob's Well from the platform of boulders; original photo

jacobs well diving
Diving into Jacob's Well. The bottom is at about 50 feet with horizontal cave that extends over 2 miles; original photo

San Marcos River kayaking and tubing

The San Marco River flows from Aquarena Springs 75 miles until it meets the Guadalupe River. There are a number access points along the way for tubing, kayaking and fishing. For more information check out the San Marcos River Foundation.

san marcos river
Paddy leading the way on a San Marcos River paddling trip. There are stretches of the river where you will have complete solitude; original photo

san marcos river kayaking
Other sections of the San Marcos river near tubing outfitters can be crowded on summer weekends. Just go with the flow and accept any jello shots offered; original photo

Enchanted Rock hiking and climbing

Located just outside Fredericksburg and Llano, Enchanted Rock is just over an hour drive from Austin. Five pink granite domes with an easy to navigate trail system make up the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. Camping, hiking around the domes and rock climbing are the main activities. The campground gets crowded in the cooler months so plan ahead if you want to stay overnight. If you're going through Llano on your way out be sure and stop by Cooper's BBQ.

enchanted rock
From the top:
1. The Echo Canyon trail at Enchanted Rock winds between the main dome and Little Rock dome. Echo Canyon is the easiest way to access the backside trails and climbs; original photo
2. Climbing up "Mark of the Beast" on the backside of the main dome at Enchanted Rock. The pink granite offers some unique climbing opportunities you don't find on the limestone greenbelt climbs; original photo

Colorado River canoeing and kayaking

The easiest place to get on the Colorado River is at the Little Webberville Park about 20 minutes from downtown Austin. Paddle to the big Webberville Park for an easy 5 miles of river floating. Just talk to the guys at Cook's Canoes for kayak or canoe rentals and a shuttle to pick you up. The Colorado River flows all the way to the coast at Matagorda Bay. The entire length is part of the Colorado River Trail with public access points all along the way.

colorado river kayaking
Kayaking and canoeing down the Colorado River with dogs and friends. We paddled the 5 mile trail to the big Webberville park spending the night on an island along the way; original photo

colorado river camp
Morning fog over our island camp site on the Colorado River; original photo

Guadalupe River

The Guadalupe River flows from near Kerrville, Texas all the way to the gulf coast. Lucky for us some of the best stretches for kayaking and tubing are within an hour of Austin. The upper Guadalupe River runs into Canyon Lake near New Braunfels. The upper section is more narrow and seasonal. The lower Guadalupe flows from the Canyon Lake dam and has a more consistent flow. Both the upper and lower sections of the Guadalupe offer great tubing, kayaking, fishing, and camping opportunities. Pack a fly rod, in winter months the lower section is stocked with rainbow trout.

Guadalupe River
From the top:
1. Kayaking through a cypress tree corridor on the upper Guadalupe River near Comfort, Texas; original photo
2. Kayaking down the upper Guadalupe River on an overnight trip; original photo

With springs, creeks, rock climbing and miles of trail to explore it easy to get outside and play in Austin's backyard. Go catch an ACL taping at the Moody theater and visit everything downtown that Austin has to offer. Just be sure to save a day to explore outside.

*Banner Image from Morten Skogly

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