The Violet Crown. The live music capital of the world. ATX.
Austin has a lot of nicknames, but we like to refer to it as “the most Recreational city in America.” With everyday life revolving around the Colorado River and a climate that makes you always want to jump in a pool, Austin’s Recreational index is through the roof, and while it’d be easy to tell you about where to go (Barton Springs, Zilker Park, Lake Travis), we thought we’d give you an insider’s guide to Recreational life in Austin.
Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake
“The Trail”, as it’s colloquially known, is situated on the banks of the Colorado River and – like 6th Street, Congress Avenue, or Lamar Ave – could be considered a main transportation artery of the capital city. The loop runs approximately 10-14 miles, depending on where you hop on or off, and allows you to traverse a wide swath of Austin, from east to west, on foot, or by bike. (Don’t get us started about scooters on the trail.)
Not only is it one of the best ways to explore Austin, but it also acts as an entry point to a Recreational wonderland — from Deep Eddy Pool to Zilker Park, to the Texas Rowing Center, plus countless spots where you can rent a kayak or stand up paddle board and get on the water. We’d recommend hitting up Epic Sup on the south side of the trail, getting a stand-up paddleboard, and heading into Lady Bird Lake. It’s a bit outside the “main drag” and features a sweet cove full of turtles, as well as a little island known as Snake Island where you can pull up and hang out. (It really is called Snake Island, even on Google Maps, so if that’s not your thing, don’t say we didn’t warn you.)
Pro-Tip: Start at the North First St Under Bridge entrance to the trail and make your way toward Deep Eddy Pool, jump in, and then head up to Pool Burger and Deep Eddy Cabaret for a burger and a beer.
Barton Creek Greenbelt, aka “The Greenbelt”
It’s not the only greenbelt in the Austin area, but when locals mention THE Greenbelt, they are referring to the 12.34 miles of interconnected trails that are magically accessible from within minutes of downtown Austin. For our money, enter at Gus Fruh, which locals consider to be the best entrance, as it gives you the feeling that you are far from the confines of the city (though you aren’t). It’s also considered the best zone for easy access to hiking, climbing (both bouldering and top-roping), and inimitable watering holes. Oh, and some waterfalls.
Pro-Tip: An intrepid student at the University of Texas created the website Greenbelt Now, which pulls data from the USGS Water Services API and lets you see what areas of the Greenbelt are suitable for swimming. Be sure to check it beforehand as rainfall can really impact the water levels. (It’s Texas.) Also, while the best swings typically appear on trees alongside the Gus Fruh and Sculpture Falls swimming holes, they often move, so you may have to explore off the beaten path. Before you go, check this local Rope Swing guide.
Playland Skate Center
In Austin, you could probably spend all day and all night outside, but rainy day options are always a good idea. In terms of fun, Playland brings it. Entering the old school roller skating center is like transporting back to a time when Atari was the game console of choice, Aquanet was the most-used hair product, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was the number one movie in the country. If that sounds fun, Playland should definitely be on your Recreational agenda. Adult night normally falls on Tuesdays, but it has been known to move, so make sure you check the calendar. If you go on a Saturday and it’s not explicitly listed as Adult Night, well… that means it’s probably teen night, and teen night is full of teens being teens, in the worst possible way.
Pro-Tip: Bring a flask 😉
NLand Surf Park
Smack dab in the heart of Texas, you’d be hard-pressed to find any sort of rideable wave within 12 hours in either direction. That is until recently when NLand opened. While there are only three surf parks in the United States, two of them are in Texas (the other being in Waco), but NLand has a soft spot in our hearts. NLand pumps out hundreds of waves each day, including “steep, high-performance reef waves, long, open-face party waves, and playful whitewater bay waves.” Recently, it was purchased by surfing legend Kelly Slater, who has fueled the wave park revolution with the launch of his Wave Parks in Florida and Texas.
Pro-Tip: Call ahead! Due to drastic shifts in water levels and constant efforts to renovate the cutting edge facility, the park may not be open. Be sure to call ahead and book a session, instead of arriving stoked, and being left out to dry.
Pace Bend Park
Formerly known as Paleface Park, Pace Bend Park is a wildlife preserve with over 1,300 acres of natural habitat, including nine miles of unobstructed shoreline on Lake Travis. It literally has something for everyone, but for our money, it’s all about camping, cliff diving, and hiking. A note for the wise — camping spots fill up quickly. If you want a sweet spot on the Lake and near the coves, you are going to want to scope out availability online in advance. (You might as well try to book a reservation at Hamilton Pool while you are at it, because it is DOPE and availability is at a premium these days.) We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention cliff jumping at Pace Bend, which can be… kind of intense. The most famous spot is Paleface, which features a drop of up to 45 feet, depending on the depth of the water. If that seems intimidating, don’t worry; there are cliffs all over the park suitable for jumping from.
Pro-Tip: We recommend securing a campsite on the west side of the park, which is much more primitive and secluded, also home to some of the more famous coves, i.e. prime cliff jumping territory. Not only that, but you’ll have a greater likelihood of getting a campsite right on the lake.
Pro-Pro-Tip: None of the bathrooms feature running water, so bring your own H2O, and consider packing some wipes and hand sanitizer.
Pro-Pro-Pro-Tip: When jumping off Paleface, be warned. There is no easy way to exit, so if you aren’t comfortable with climbing out — like, really climbing out — you’ll have to swim around a bend to get back on land. It’s not a short swim, either.
Written by Team OV
Editor’s Note: We have been informed by a reader that NLand Surf Park is currently closed until further notice. For more information, read the full statement here.