Austin City Limits Festival City Skyline

The Adventurer’s Guide to Surviving Austin City Limits

WORDS: MANDY BURKHOLDER
PHOTOGRAPHY: WIKIPEDIA / CREATIVE COMMONS

When 450,000 people descend on Austin, Texas, for the 14th installment of Austin City Limits at the end of September, making the most of the dual-weekend music festival will become a strategic experience. 

Downtown Austin gets congested, traffic is a nightmare and the weather is unpredictable and oftentimes punishingly hot. But true adventurers know that avoiding crowds is simple with a premeditated plan of action. The first step? Getting lost in nature between shows at Zilker Park. Austin is surrounded by miles of pristine beauty in every direction. There truly is something for everyone, from exceptional trails to epic cliff-jumping spots to towering limestone climbing walls. On your Austin City Limits festival weekend, beat the heat — and crowds — by exploring some of these “Texas Hill Country” hotspots. While the masses rush to enter the festival grounds right when they open, you’ll be off enjoying a paddle on Inks Lake. Make it easier on yourself — arrive late to enjoy less traffic and a little adventure along the way.

Pedernales Falls State Park: Trail Running, Hiking, Mountain Biking, Swimming

Pedernales Falls State Park in Texas

© WIKIPEDIA / CREATIVE COMMONS

With over 18 miles of scenic trails, Pedernales Falls State Park is an unrivaled adventure spot in the Austin area. Rise early to not only crush the backcountry routes, but to take a dip in one of the many limestone pools as well. Trail running, hiking, mountain biking and swimming are just a few of the adventures that can be had. And — bonus! — camping is permitted, with both hike-to-primitive and full-hookup sites. Pedernales Falls might just take care of your Austin City Limits accommodations as well! Imagine retiring to your own natural pool after a sweaty day at Zilker Park, followed by a trail run the next morning before doing it all over again.

Milton Reimers Ranch Park: Climbing, Mountain Biking

This is the Texas Hill Country at its finest. Considered by many to be the premier rock-climbing destination in Texas, Milton Reimers Ranch Park is unmissable — even during Austin City Limits weekend. Since the festival doesn’t open until 11 a.m., get out the door with your climbing shoes in tow as soon as the sun rises — you won’t regret it. The cavernous limestone cliffs along the Pedernales River are your playground, with unique routes along the entire riverfront. Sex Cave and Sex Canyon are among the most exciting sections for advanced climbers, while Insect Wall hosts a huge concentration of Elite routes. Had enough of climbing (if that’s possible)? Hit up the 18 miles of mountain bike trails alongside the energetic locals.

Inks Lake State Park: Kayaking, Stand Up Paddleboarding, Cliff Jumping, Swimming

Inks Lake in Texas

© WIKIPEDIA / CREATIVE COMMONS

There’s no getting around it: afternoons in Austin are unbearable. The heat’s intense, the humidity is oppressive and the close proximity to other festival-goers just makes everything worse. Instead of going to Barton Springs Pool with everyone else, dip out of Zilker Park and head to Inks Lake State Park instead. The dammed Colorado River provides miles of water to explore by kayak or SUP (rentals available at the park store). Tackle the local-favorite cliff-jumping spot Devil’s Waterhole if you dare, or simply dive on in from your paddle board. It’s even possible to scuba dive at Inks Lake. While the on-water adventures clearly don’t stop, there’s plenty to do on dry land as well. Nine miles of hiking trails as well as nearly 200 campsites make Inks Lake the perfect all-around adventure spot in the Austin area.

Honorable Mentions

Pace Bend Park

Pace Bend Park in Texas

© WIKIPEDIA / CREATIVE COMMONS

Nine miles of shoreline along Lake Travis and steep limestone cliffs give Pace Bend Park an honorable place on the list. The cliff jumping is unrivaled in the Austin area, so come prepared to show off that new trick you’ve been practicing — or a belly flop or two. 

Hamilton Pool

Hamilton Pool in Texas

© WIKIPEDIA / CREATIVE COMMONS

An iconic Austin outdoor destination and ecological wonderland, Hamilton Pool deserves an honorable mention. This collapsed underground river-turned-grotto will leave you speechless at its beauty. The only downside? Hamilton Pool gets so crowded in the summer that you have to reserve a timeslot each day through September. When October rolls around, only the amount of cars that fit in the parking lot will be allowed in at once. All others will be put in line or turned back. That makes it a no-go for spontaneous adventures.

Reveille Peak Ranch

An hour-and-a-half from downtown rests Reveille Peak Ranch, a mountain biker’s dream. Technical single-track and Super D trails combine to create the perfect escape from the Austin City Limits madness.

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