Natural Areas & Parks in Austin

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Natural Areas & Parks

Austin has more than 200 parks within the city limits. Amenities in the parks range from playgrounds, swimming pools, and skate parks (the city's first was established at Maybel Davis District Park in south Austin) to artwork and historic sites, such as Umlauf Sculpture Garden at Zilker Park and Treaty Oak Square in northwest Austin.

Downtown

Austin Nature and Science Center. Adjacent to the Zilker Botanical Gardens, this complex has an 80-acre preserve trail, interactive exhibits in the Discovery Lab that teach about the ecology of the Austin area, and animal exhibits focusing on subjects such as bees and birds of prey. 301 Nature Center Dr., Austin, TX. 512/327–8180. www.ci.austin.tx.us/ansc. Suggested donation of $2 per adult and $1 per child. Mon.–Sat. 9–5, Sun. 12–5.

North Austin

Mount Bonnell. Rising to a height of 785 feet, Mount Bonnell offers the best views of Austin. Stop by during the day for a glimpse of the sweeping panorama of rolling hills, the Colorado River and the 360 Bridge, and the downtown skyline in the distance. It's an easy climb up from a parking area near the road (more of a diversion than a serious hike); you'll find students, lovers, families, picnickers and just plain old tourists here. Mount Bonnell Rd., off E. 35th St., Austin, TX. 817/265–7721 or 800/433–5374. Free. Daily, dawn to dusk.

West Austin/Zilker Park

Zilker Park. The former site of temporary Franciscan missions in 1730 and a former American Indian gathering place is now Austin's everyday backyard park. The 351-acre site along the shores of Lady Bird Lake includes Barton Springs Pool, numerous gardens, a meditation trail, and a Swedish log cabin dating from the 1840s. In March, the park hosts a kite festival (2008 saw the 80th edition). During spring months, concerts are held in the park's Beverly S. Sheffield Zilker Hillside Theater, a natural outdoor amphitheater beneath a grove of century-old pecan trees; in July and August, musicals and plays take over. Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum, at the park's southern end, displays 130 or more works by sculptor and former UT art professor Charles Umlauf. Art workshops for both kids and adults are occasionally offered. 2201 Barton Springs Rd., Austin, TX. 512/974–6700 (Parks Dept.); 512/477–5335 (theater); 512/445–5582 (museum). www.ci.austin.tx.us/zilker. Free (main park), parking $3 per vehicle; $3.50 (museum). Daily, dawn to dusk (park); Wed.–Fri. 10–4:30, Sat.–Sun. 1–4:30 (museum). Canoe rentals. Canoe rentals are available for the hour or day. www.zilkerboats.com.

West Lake

Barton Creek Greenbelt. This park follows the contour of Barton Creek and the canyon it created west along a 7.9 mile-long area from Zilker Park to west of Loop 360. It has a trail for hiking and biking, plus swimming holes when the creek is full (very rain-dependent, it's usually in spring and fall). Access points: Zilker Park, Loop 360, Twin Falls, and Scottish Woods Trail Falls (near the intersection of MoPac and Loop 360), and Scottish Woods Trail (at the trail's northern border off Loop 360), Austin, TX. 512/499–6700 or 512/472–1267. www.austinparks.org/our-parks.html?parkid=206. Free. 5am–10pm.

Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve. Stunning contrasting views of the Hill Country and the Austin skyline make it worth the trip to this area near the 360 Bridge. You can wander along 227 acres of walking trails (there are 10 different ones); guided tours are offered on weekends. The cool folks at Wild Basin offer numerous outdoor-oriented classes, nighttime stargazing sessions, even concerts by well-known touring musicians. 805 N. Capitol of Texas Hwy., Austin, TX. 512/327–7622. www.wildbasin.org. $3 suggested donation, $4 guided hikes (weekends and by reservation only). Daily, dawn to dusk (park); daily 9–4 (office), Tues.–Sun. 9–4 (gift shop).

South Austin

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. This 43-acre complex, founded in 1982 by Lady Bird Johnson and actress Helen Hayes, has extensive plantings of native Texas wildflowers that bloom year-round (although spring is an especially attractive time). The grounds include a visitor center, nature trail, observation tower, elaborate stone terraces, and flower-filled meadows. 4801 LaCrosse Ave., Austin, TX. 512/292–4100. www.wildflower.org. $7. Tues.–Sun. 9–5:30.

Beyond Austin

McKinney Falls State Park. This 744-acre state park is 13 mi southeast of downtown Austin. Per the name, the park has two waterfalls (visitors should exercise extreme caution near the water, as people have drowned here). A 4.5-mi nature trail is used for hiking and biking. Other popular activities in the park are fishing, picnicking, camping, and wildlife-viewing (including bird-watching and sightings of white-tailed deer, raccoons, squirrels, and armadillos). 5808 McKinney Falls Pkwy., off U.S. 183, Austin, TX. 512/243–1643. www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/mckinney_falls. $2. Daily, dawn to dusk.

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