Top Five: Austin by Nature

Words: Chase Hoffberger
Photo above: Chad Wadsworth

With all the Austin City Limits crowds, Barton Springs might feel like a kiddie pool jammed full of frat parties. Here are a few spots around the Capital of Weird where you can breathe free.

The first thing you notice when you climb to the top of Mt. Bonnell, the highest peak near the city, is how green the area around Austin is: lush trees, nice parkland, the river running through. If it’s not the dead of August you might forget that it’s in Texas.

Outdoor hanging’s been a part of Austin since the days of Janis Joplin. Turns out we’ve got a bit of everything: woods, water, hills, rocks and open space. Oh yeah, it’s also got 229 total days with sunshine, which means that you can pretty much get outside whenever you damn well please.

With this surplus comes some problems. Barton Springs fills up fast through summer, and a lack of parking makes it tough to use Zilker Park when it’s cooler out. You’ve got to get creative; cruise to secondary spots.

My move is to grab my dog and head out to a place like Turkey Creek Trail in Emma Long Metropolitan Park, a three-mile stretch through the woods that runs up a few hills and around some flowing water. Or get even further out of the city—easier in Austin than most cities with larger suburbs—and jump into Blue Hole or Krause Springs about half an hour away on the highway. Lots of good barbecue nearby too. Plus beef jerky. Lots and lots of roadside teriyaki beef jerky.

But there’s also great stuff to get into when you’re still within city limits. Below are five ideas for what to do when you’re not getting into your evening downtown.

Duncan Park

© PHOTO: Chad Wadsworth

1 NINTH STREET BMX TRAILS
Duncan Park

Located in Duncan Park just east of Lamar Blvd., the Ninth Street Trails stand as the undisputed mecca of downtown BMX trick riding. The dug-out dirt jumps have been evolving since the early ’90s, when a team of race riders started shoveling clay deposited by a flood that nearly destroyed the parkland. Big jumps went in around the mid-’90s. At the turn of the century some of the best riders in the country lived here: Taj Mihelich, Ruben Alcantara, Joe Rich and Paul Buchanan all claimed Ninth Street as their home. Now recognized by the city and, temporarily, safe from development, the Ninth Street Trails roll as the most famous in the industry, and see about 130 riders come through every day of the week.

Peter Pan Mini Golf

© PHOTO: Chad Wadsworth

2 PETER PAN MINI GOLF
1207 Barton Springs Rd​


You can drink at this spot (BYOB), but that’s beside the point. We’re talking about a fully functioning, seemingly preserved-in-1970s-time 18-hole mini-golf course, the likes of which you’d usually only see in John Hughes movies or the boardwalks in New Jersey. Brush up on your putting game while trying to bang a ball through a goofy rabbit’s mouth, then run across the street and play the 9-hole pitch & putt.

McKinney Falls

© PHOTO: Chase A. Fountain, TPWD

3 SWIMMING HOLES
McKinney Falls

You’ll have to get about half an hour out of town for these, but a short drive to the west and at McKinney Falls State Park in the deepest stretch of southeast Austin are the types of swimming holes and waterfalls that come in real handy in the summer. We’re talking low-hanging tree branches, rocks to hang your feet from, and one (Jacob’s Well in Wimberley) that might run colder than Barton Springs. There’s also Hamilton Pool past Lakeway, Blue Hole in Wimberley, and Inks Lake up in Burnet. Get there early for the first two. Some of these tend to fill up quick.

Commons Ford Metropolitan Park

© PHOTO: Kelley Ahr

4 COMMONS FORD METROPOLITAN PARK
614 Commons Ford Rd

West of Austin out by Cuernavaca lies a patch of grass so lush that the dogs seem to move in slow motion when they run it. Commons Ford Ranch Park sits on the edge of Lake Austin and has a bit of everything: volleyball nets, picnic tables, plenty of space to throw the ball around. We’ll head out there with a Frisbee and a Spikeball set and sweat a gallon out before jumping into the lake for a while. Plus it’s free, and not that crowded. You’ve just got to find it.

Top Notch Hamburgers

© PHOTO: Chad Wadsworth

5 DAZED AND CONFUSED TOUR
Start: Top Notch Hamburgers

Sure, you can rent a Segway and ride around the city center looking at all the famous plaques and statues, but don’t you want to get a piece of actual Austin history? Local hero Richard Linklater filmed his 1993 masterpiece Dazed & Confused all throughout Austin, stretching from Georgetown to the north to that football field near 71 and Mopac. Spend enough time driving around the Burnet and Rosedale neighborhoods and you’re bound to find a few spots. Start at the Top Notch Drive-In at 7525 Burnet Road (“Alright, alright, alright”) and work your way toward Bedichek Middle School all the way down off William Cannon Dr. Die-hard fans have cataloged the journey on the Internet. Follow those; there’ll be a beer bust soon to follow.

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