Trails and Ales: Austin

You’ll find swimming holes for a dip and watering holes for a pint on each of these Texas hikes
January 20, 2019Words by Will Porter


When you think of Texas you may think of belt buckles, boots tailor-made for kickin’ ass, and a Stetson to top it all off—and you’d be right. Texas has that in spades, from El Paso to the skyscrapers of Dallas all the way through to the East Texas pines. And if you’ve been paying attention lately, you probably know Austin, as well. The Live Music Capital of the World, the home of Austin City Limits and the Texas Longhorns.

What may be news to those not indoctrinated to all that is Texas, Austin is also home to myriad hiking and biking trails, fishing and swimming holes, and the clothing-optional Hippy Hollow (you can look that last one up yourself). To go along with all of the outdoor adventures you could want from a trip to Austin, you’ll find a plethora of watering holes that will keep you filled up on queso and beer to your achy breaky heart’s content. The options in Austin are seemingly endless, so we chose some of our favorite trails and ales to share to get you started.

Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake

Photo: Daniel Fürg

Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake


How to get there from downtown: 12-minute bike ride; 14-minute drive (park at Austin High School or on the road—there’s always a spot)

Hike: 4.2 miles (loop), easy

Beer: Deep Eddy Cabaret

Austin’s most well-known trail offers multiple options; the longest route is 10 miles and the shortest is just over three. We recommend the 4.2-mile loop that crosses Congress Bridge. You’ll get endless views of downtown and famous Zilker Park, home to ACL Fest (one of the biggest music festivals in the world). Take in the skyline as you head east towards downtown and keep an eye out for a shirtless Matthew McConaughey. As you get to the Congress Bridge, peek straight up Congress Avenue to the Texas Capitol building, which was purposefully built to be the tallest Capitol building in America (and that includes the U.S. Capitol in DC). On your way back, pass under the bridge at MoPac and head up the hill to one of our favorite Austin bars.

Deep Eddy Cabaret is a solid spot to pick up a beer, preferably an ice-cold tall boy of Lone Star, the National Beer of Texas. Originally opened in 1951 as the Deep Eddy Cafe, the owners quickly realized, “We don’t sell food!” This prompted a change in nomenclature to match the already well-established feel of the neighborhood outpost. Pro-tip: sneak out the back door and grab a burger and fries at the inconspicuous Pool Burger and kick back in the shade to enjoy your well-earned reward. If you’re in need of something a bit more tropical, you can indulge in Pool Burger’s tiki vibes with a Mai Tai or Mexican Sunset (at your own risk, these drinks are seriously good). If you’re still too hot after your meal or just want to chill out, head down to Deep Eddy Pool. Just a few bucks to get in and you can get some vitamin D on the hillside or cool off in the chilly water that comes straight from Lady Bird Lake.

Campbell's Hole at Barton Creek
Photo: @wandteringtal

Barton Creek Greenbelt Trail


How to get there from downtown: 27-minute bike ride; 12-minute drive (park your car or bike at Barton Springs Pool)

Hike: Up to 14 miles (out and back), easy to moderate

Beer: El Alma

The Barton Creek Greenbelt contains 12.68 miles of stunning trails, with the main trail spanning about 7 miles from its start at Barton Springs Pool. You can do the whole 14-mile out-and-back trek, or turn around whenever you’d like. Head down the trail 2.2 miles through to Campbell’s Hole, a perfect spot to cool off after meandering through the trees. Head just a little farther and take a hard right up to Tacodeli—a local favorite. (This is truly the best spot for a first date; marriages have been born through this hike—but that’s not our story to tell.) Whenever you’re ready, head back down the same way you came and jump into one of Austin’s most iconic spots. Year-round, Barton Springs sits at a balmy 68-70°F—perfect to stave off the hot summer days or test your mettle after a solid winter’s walk.

After your swim, dry off and head up Barton Springs Road to El Alma. Just a 20-minute walk east of the trailhead, you can find the hideaway Mexican restaurant. Ask for a seat on the patio, grab your favorite Mexican beer, and enjoy the restful shade with your brew in hand and tacos at your fingertips. Top it off with a margarita for the true Tex-Mex experience. If you can manage it, plan your visit in time for El Alma’s happy hour between 3-6 pm for cheap antojitos and bebidas. Trust us, it’s worth it.

Seismic Wall in Austin
Photo: Patrick Lewis

Barton Creek Greenbelt, 360 Access


How to get there from downtown: 35-minute bike ride; 12-minute drive (you’ll see a sign for the Barton Creek Greenbelt 360 Access and find the parking lot tucked off to the left)

Hike: 5 miles (out and back), easy to moderate

Beer: Pinthouse Pizza

Head down the trail to the creek to find one of Austin’s best climbing spots, Seismic Wall. Take a chance yourself or hang out to see some experts ply their trade. Then head 2.5 miles up the creek to make your way to Twin Springs and Sculpture Falls, a great spot to get wet and take a snack break. While this is all in the city, you’ll feel worlds away down in the Greenbelt. With multiple swimming holes along the way, this hike is perfect if you want to take your time and experience one of the many gems Austin has to offer. Head back the way you came, take a dip at Twin Falls or just head back to the car to load up. (For more Greenbelt adventures, check out their site here.)

A seven-minute drive will take you to Pinthouse Pizza—it’s not far but beware of the pesky frontage roads. Head inside to find a huge space full of picnic-style tables, grab a spot and a pint of Pinthouse’s own Electric Jellyfish IPA, one of our favorites that can only be found in ATX. To go along with your beer, order The Green Belt, as you would, having just hiked its namesake. Pick up a growler on your way out and enjoy it all weekend.

Pedernales Falls State Park
Photo: Pedernales Falls State Park

Wolf Mountain Trail

Distance from downtown: One-hour drive

Hike: 6 miles (loop), moderate to challenging

Beer: Jester King Brewery

Most trails in Texas are enclosed in a state park with a lot of options—Wolf Mountain Trail in Pedernales Falls State Park is no exception. Take a quick jaunt down to the falls—a beautiful limestone-tiered waterfall, easily accessible for anyone. Then, head across the park to the 6-mile Wolf Mountain Trail and hike around Tobacco and Wolf mountains and meanders its way through the canyons created by Mescal and Tobacco creeks. While on the hike, cool off at Arrowhead Pool, where Bee Creek spills into a number of pools stair-stepping down from above. If you’re so inclined, drop a line in one of the fishing areas or search for one of the many geocaching sites littered throughout the park.

On your way back to Austin, check out one of our favorite destination breweries, Jester King. The more hop-enthused can take a tour of the brewery while others picnic and play a friendly (or not so friendly) game of corn hole. With everything from ales to sours, Jester King has what every beer enthusiast could want. With big skies and even better sunsets, this is a true Texas Hill Country experience, so take it all in while you’re here. A quick 18-mile drive from Jester King to Austin will allow you to rest up a bit before hitting a live-music-filled 6th Street.

Banner photo: Pedernales Falls State Park

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