I saw an Instagram post from a California transplant complaining about Austin’s lack of nature and outdoor activities. I once believed this myth myself and nearly packed my bags for the West Coast, but as my mom has always said, “bloom where you are planted”. In place of a dramatic move to the mountains I set out to explore the best hidden gem parks in Austin and discovered our best kept secret – the city of Austin is home to many nature preserves, endangered species, and pocket parks that make Austin the perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts to call home.
The Best Austin Parks
Commons Ford Ranch Metropolitan Park
Address: 614 N Commons Ford Rd, Austin, TX 78733
Commons Ford nature preserve is a protected prairie land that bursts with the colors of wildflowers in the spring and is home to native prairie birds and butterflies year-round. The unkempt trails scare most people away, but the quiet, sparsely populated park is the exact reason Commons Ford should be on your Austin bucket list.
Points of Interest: wildflowers, birding, waterfalls, and walking trails
Dick Nichols And Latta Branch District Park
Address: 7910 Beckett Rd, Austin, TX 78749
Dick Nichols playground and neighborhood pool is just a small part of the Karst Preserve at Western Oaks in South Austin. Trails filled with, green spaces, creeks and waterfalls that connect the Western Oaks Trail, Latta Branch Greenbelt, and Legend Oaks Neighborhood Park; each offering a reason to spend the day in the area. Those who love photographing old and abandoned subjects will love the abandoned vehicle and treehouses.
Points of Interest: abandoned attractions, tree house, waterfall, and trails
Birding Hotspots Near Austin
Milton Reimers Ranch Park
Address: 23610 Hamilton Pool Rd, Dripping Springs, TX 78620
Nearby Hamilton Pool and Pedernales Falls get all the glory, but Milton Reimers Ranch is a favorite among rock climbers, mountain bikers, and fishers. Less known for its hiking, Milton Reimers ranch is quiet hiker’s paradise with over 20 miles of hike and bike trails for all abilities, creek views, rock formations, caves, and wildlife.
Points of Interest: rock climbing, caves, wildlife, and birding
Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
Address: 24518 Ranch Rd 1431, Marble Falls, TX 78654
A wildlife refuge where a third of Texas’s threatened and endangered species live or stop over, including the endangered black-capped vireo and golden-cheeked warbler. The short trails around the refuge offer a variety of views from the sweeping hill country views on the 2.2 mile Rimrock trail to the quarter mile pollinator path which offers wildflowers in the spring and hawk sightings in the fall.
Points of Interest: birding and wildflowers
Canyon of the Eagles Resort
Address: 16942 Ranch Rd 2341, Burnet, TX 78611
This Texas style, full service, nature resort gets its name as a nesting ground for the American Bald Eagle spotted in the resort October through March every year. Guests can choose between tent or RV camping or glamping in the eco-friendly cabins with views no matter which room you choose. Spend the day hiking to hill country views, kayaking, and wildlife viewing, then cap the day off at one of the nearby breweries or vineyards.
Points of Interest: kayaking, eagles, and resort amenities
County and Texas State Parks
Pace Bend Travis County Park
Address: 2805 Pace Bend Rd N, Spicewood, TX 78669
Pace Bend is the perfect last minute get away and outdoor relaxation; this hidden gem campground on the Colorado River, 45 minutes from Central Austin, requires no reservations. Though hiking trails are limited, you don’t need to leave your campsite to enjoy cliff side lake views and a blanket of wildflowers. Besides endless views, visitors can also enjoy day use picnic areas, beach side swimming, and boating.
Points of Interest: wildflowers, beaches, and swimming
Palmetto State Park
Address: 78 Park Rd 11 S, Gonzales, TX 78629
Palmetto State Park is a lush tropical forest and birding hotspot named after its signature dwarf palmettos. A hike in the unique, swampy terrain offers sites of wildflowers and historical buildings from the 1930s. Cool off in the humid, Texas summer with a dip in the San Marcos River or challenge yourself with the near by Luling Zedler Mill Paddling Trail.
Points of Interest: unique terrain, walking trails, kayakin
Lake Somerville State Park
Address: 14222 Park Rd 57, Somerville, TX 77879
What makes Lake Somerville unique is its 26 miles of rolling hills on the out and back trail that connects the Birch Creek and Nails Creek units. This challenging hike takes you through fields of wildflowers in the spring, water crossings, and dense forests, each filled with their own abundance of birds and wildlife. If overnight backpacking isn’t your style, then you can hike a distance you are comfortable with, then spend the rest of the day camping, fishing, and watching the gorgeous sunsets reflecting over the lake.
Points of Interest: hiking, wildflowers, birding, fishing
Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & National Historic Park
Address: 199 Park Road 52, Stonewall, TX 78671
History buffs will love exploring the 36th president’s ranch and historic cabins built in the 1860s and 1870s. The ranch is divided into a Texas State Park where you can immerse yourself in the past at the living history museum and a national historic park which consists of Lyndon B. Johnson’s boyhood home and the Texas White House where he spent 20% of his presidency.
Points of Interest: historical buildings