AAA Travel Tips & Articles / Austin Off the Beaten Path

Austin Off the Beaten Path

iStockphoto.com/Arpad Benedek
By AAA Travel Editor Laurie Sterbens
May 15, 2018
While there is no shortage of fun things to do in Austin if you're the outdoorsy type, why limit yourself to the city when the beautiful Hill Country is just minutes away? Escape for an afternoon or a weekend to the hills just west of the city, where you can explore miles of hiking trails leading to striking river views, hidden waterfalls, swimming holes and caves.
Waterfall at Hamilton Pool Preserve near Austin Texas
iStockphoto.com/Arpad Benedek
Hamilton Pool Preserve
24300 Hamilton Pool Rd.
(512) 264-2740
Hamilton Pool Preserve is a must-see jewel in the Hill Country, with a 50-foot waterfall that tumbles over a limestone outcropping into a natural swimming pool surrounded by a grotto. From October to April, sign up for a Saturday guided tour where you'll learn about the natural history of the preserve during a somewhat rugged mile-long hike. Hiking, swimming and picnic tables are available year-round, but you'll need to call ahead for reservations to enter the park from April to October, when access and hours are strictly limited.
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The Pedernales River as seen from an overlook in Milton Reimer Ranch Park in Dripping Springs, TX. (Just outside Austin)
AAA/Laurie Sterbens
Milton Reimers Ranch Park
23610 Hamilton Pool Rd.
(512) 264-1923
Just a mile from Hamilton Pool Preserve is Milton Reimers Ranch Park, a 2,427-acre preserve that includes 3 miles of Pedernales River shoreline. With 18 miles of trails through the hilly central Texas landscape, it's a popular destination for mountain bikers. Rock climbers flock to the park's deep canyons, while anglers aim to catch white bass in the Pedernales River. You can hike down to the river where you'll find a beach and grotto, but even a short stroll from the parking lot takes you to a perfect spot to snap selfies overlooking the river. A two-hour guided tour is available on Saturdays, October through April.
Pace Bend Park in Spicewood Texas
flickr/Marcus Calderon
Pace Bend Park
2011 N. Pace Bend Rd.
(512) 854-7275
Pace Bend Park occupies more than 1,300 acres of a peninsula surrounded by Lake Travis, offering more than 9 miles of shoreline with spectacular views, especially along the limestone cliffs and coves on the west side. Miles of multiuse trails wind through the park, offering a variety of routes for hikers, bikers and horseback riders. Be on the lookout for deer, fox, ringtail cats and whitetail deer along these trails.
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Pedernales Falls State Park in Johnson City Texas
flickr / CC BY ND/SEWinds
Pedernales Falls State Park
2585 Park Road 6026
(830) 868-7304
Whether you prefer a short, scenic stroll or a challenging 6-mile hike, this park on the Pedernales River has you covered with nearly 20 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. Depending on which route you choose, you'll be rewarded with scenic overlooks and features including the Duck Pond and the crystal-clear Jones Spring. After your hike, relax alongside the beautiful falls or take a dip in one of the swimming areas downstream.
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AAA/Laurie Sterbens
Westcave Preserve
24814 Hamilton Pool Rd.
(830) 825-3442
A 40-foot waterfall splashes into a clear pool at Westcave, among the highlights of the nature preserve surrounding the Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center. The cave and waterfall are only accessible to the public through a weekend-only guided tour, a two-hour trek past grassy plains, through a limestone crevice and into a canyon filled with plant life. If you're visiting during the week, enjoy the Uplands trails. Leading through live oaks and ashe juniper savanna, they offer seasonally changing views of grasslands, wildflowers and wildlife. Into bird watching? Look for the Murphy bird blind, where you can add your sightings to the logbook.