Best Hiking Near Lake Travis
With beautiful scenery and great weather pretty much year-round, hiking is a popular activity for Austin residents to enjoy. As a newcomer to Austin, I heard people talking about hiking a lot. Coming from a small town in Wisconsin that was surrounded by dairy farms, this was an activity that I was completely unfamiliar with.
I pictured overly muscular, heavily bearded men with big mud-covered yellow hiking boots, wearing a 100lb backpack (filled with a sleeping bag and a pot for cooking beans), and trudging along steep terrain with a big wooden walking stick. Needless to say, hiking sounded pretty scary to me, so I avoided it for my first 5 years in Austin. Eventually, one of my coworkers convinced me to go with her to the River Place Trail (see “The Death March” below). Although this was NOT an easy hike, I realized that it was in no way close to what I had expected.
I found out that ANYONE can go hiking in Austin…and special gear is not required! Just some tennis shoes and a bottle of water are all you really need. Also, most hikes around here are just a few hours long, so you don’t need to go crazy and pack your overnight camping gear!
Now that I’ve moved out to the Lake Travis area, I’ve gotten very familiar with the trails around here. I’ve put together a simple list of hiking destinations for other Lake Travis residents and visitors to enjoy. Below you’ll find 4 great trails to hit up soon!
1) “The Must See”: Hamilton Pool
Hamilton Pool is one of those iconic Austin places that you have to visit at least once. This popular swimming hole is accessed by a relatively short and easy hike. Because Hamilton Pool has become so popular, a reservation system has been put into place for those looking to visit. (Limited parking at Hamilton Pool caused for hundreds of vehicles to be turned away daily.) Make sure to schedule your visit in advance – during this past summer, there was over a 2-week waiting list to get in!
Trail Difficulty: Easy
Things to Bring: Cash or check ($15/vehicle to enter the park), Camera, Shoes with grippy soles (some areas are wet from the waterfall)
Time to Allow: 1.5+ hours (The hike is short, but there are so many great views to enjoy)
Extra Info: Depending on the bacteria levels in the water, you may or may not be allowed to swim. You can check their website before going to check the current status. If you can swim, be sure to pack your bathing suit, towel, sunscreen, and plenty of drinking water!
2) “The Death March”: River Place Trail
If you’re looking to jump-start your workout routine, one hike on this trail should have you pretty well-set. Known as “The Death March” in my circle of friends, the River Place Trail hike will get your legs burning. With one of the best elevation climbs of any trail in the Austin area, you’ll constantly find yourself going up and down multiple staircases that the Boy Scouts built along the trail. This trail does not loop, so you can get about 6 miles in if you go the full length of the trail and back. Plan on seeing some great views along the way (golf course views, waterfalls, scenic overlook, etc.) especially if you can make it through the entire trail. The upper portion of the trail is stair-heavy and doesn’t have much tree coverage – AKA it’s scorching hot during the mid-day hours! Once you get towards the middle and lower portion of the trail though, there is plenty of shade to help keep you cool. This is also where you’ll find a lot of the beautiful water features that the trail has to offer.
Trail Difficulty: Hard (There is a small section at the lower end of the trail is pretty flat and easy to navigate)
Things to Bring: Camera, Shoes, Your Dog (dogs LOVE this trail!), 1-2 Bottles of Water(!), Bug Spray, Sunscreen
Time to Allow: 1-3 hours, depending on how far you plan to go.
Extra Info: If there has been a lot of recent rain, be sure to wear shoes that you don’t mind getting caked with mud. You also might want to bring/wear a bathing suit, as there are several decent swimming holes that fill up after a few good rainstorms.
3) “The River Hike”: Reimer’s Ranch
If you’re looking to enjoy both a hike and a swim, Reimer’s Ranch is where you’ll want to go. There are several trails available of varying difficulty. There are some very simple paths that anyone can enjoy, but several paths are meant for skilled rock climbers, and require rock climbing equipment to make it through. Regardless of the route you take, head down to the water afterward to enjoy a swim in the Pedernales River.
Trail Difficulty: Easy to Hard, depending on if you’ll be rock climbing.
Things to Bring: Cash or Check ($10/vehicle to enter the park), Camera, Shoes with grippy soles, Cash to get into the park
Time to Allow: 1 hour for hiking around, 2+ hours to enjoy the water
Extra Info: If you have time to enjoy the river, definitely bring a swimsuit, towel, and sunscreen. You also might want to bring a cooler with snacks/drinks, a beach umbrella for shade, and a blanket to lay out on. There is a boat launch for kayaks & canoes, or you can bring some tubes to float on in the river.
4) “The Tranquil Paradise”: Pedernales Falls
Hiking around the Pedernales Falls area is relatively flat and easy. Depending on how far you want to explore, and depending on current water levels, there are areas you can only reach if you’re willing to hop and climb up and over some large rocks, or over water. Most people come to Pedernales Falls to enjoy the tranquil water features, and they don’t venture far from the main area. If you do go hiking further along the banks, be sure you bring water with you.
Trail Difficulty: East to Moderate
Things to Bring: Cash ($6/adult to enter the park), Camera, Sunscreen, Shoes with grippy soles (many areas are wet from the waterfalls/rapids)
Time to Allow: 2+ hours
Extra Info: You’ll want to be careful if you hike along grassy areas – watch for snakes! You likely will not get cell phone service hiking here, so keep that in mind the further you venture.
Other things you might want to bring with on all of your hikes:
- Small 1st aid kit – bandaides, hand sanitizers, gauze, antibiotic ointment, etc.
- Tissue paper – the Austin area is known for its high allergen count, so don’t be surprised if you get a runny nose after a few hours out in the Lake Travis “wilderness”.
- Snacks – Bring some granola bars with you so you can stay well-fueled throughout your hike.