Austin Outdoors

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Austin Outdoors
Texas may be known for its summer heat, but that doesn't deter people from exploring the hiking trails, swimming holes and cycling paths inside the city limits and beyond. And with temperate winters, outdoors activities in Austin can be enjoyed all year-round.

By Matthew Odam, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Todd Dwyer
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    Hit the Water
    The secret to beating the Austin heat? Go jump in a lake. Or a pool, or a river or natural spring. Barton Springs Pool is the crown jewel of the Austin Parks Department. Robert Redford learned to swim in the spring-fed pool, but you don't have to be a Hollywood legend to enjoy the refreshing water. While studies have proven that the much advertised always-68-degrees-water is actually apocryphal, it's definitely cold enough to cool your core even on the hottest day. It's one of more than a dozen city pools open to the public. You can also cool off by dipping your toe (or head) into the water of the Colorado River when you rent a kayak and head out on Lady Bird Lake for a paddle. If you want to reward yourself, take a hike along the Barton Creek Greenbelt just south of downtown before jumping into Sculpture Falls. An out-of-town swimming option is a trip to the cool grotto at Hamilton Pool Nature Preserve.

    Photo by Todd Dwyer
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    A Runner's Dream
    From the popular Capitol 10K to the Austin Marathon to myriad fun runs and more extreme races, Austinites love to run. The city's patron saint (Willie Nelson) even used to host his own low-stakes race. For the everyday jogger, the trail around Lady Bird Lake can be divided up into small bites or take on the entire 10-mile loop. The trails that wind through Pease Park and along Shoal Creek in North Austin give joggers a chance to see even more of the city. 

    Photo courtesy of Kenny Braun/Texas Tourism
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    See Austin by Bike
    Austin's most famous cyclist, Lance Armstrong, may not make as much news as he once did on two wheels, but the people of Austin still love their bikes. The trail around Lady Bird Lake is one of dozens of its kind around the city, and the city streets can offer even the most fit a good workout. If you're looking to get a BMX fix (either riding or watching), head over to the jumps on Ninth Street, and those looking for a more casual pedal around town can rent a bike from one of the dozens of Austin B-Cycle stands around town or from the vendors along Barton Springs Road. 

    Photo by Rey Madolora
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    Enjoy the View
    Austin offers many places to perch and take in the city and pastoral views. Find a spot along the Congress Bridge and watch the bats fly out east from under the bridge, while the sun sets over the hills to the west. You can rent a kayak, canoe or stand-up paddle board and hit the waters of Lady Bird Lake for a more peaceful view of the sunset. The iconic Pennybacker Bridge stretches over Lake Austin and offers views to the east and west, or you can climb the path to the Mount Bonnell overlook and gaze out over the dozens of mansions with their swimming pools and lakeside views. The view over the city and the university from the grounds of the Texas State Capitol provides a terrific orientation to the lay of the land. Climbing the 307-foot tower at the University of Texas on a self-guided tour can also give you a 360-degree view of the region.
    Photo courtesy of Kenny Braun/Texas Tourism
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    Head to the Hill Country
    One of the best parts about living in Austin is the proximity to the Texas Hill Country. You can see the edges of the rugged terrain from downtown, and a short drive takes you to the Martian landscape of Enchanted Rock. Stop at Jester King Brewery near Dripping Springs on the way back into town. An hour south of town is the charming hamlet of Wimberley, home to cute shops and the refrshing Blue Hole. Head northwest to Pace Bend Park for hiking and awesome and unadulterated views of a quite part of Lake Travis. A little farther up the road is the rustic beauty and rope springs of Krause Springs. Make a stop at Pizzeria Sorellina, sister of fine dining restaurant Apis, on your way back into town for a bite under the Hill Country sky.

    Photo courtesy of Kenny Braun/Texas Tourism
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    Eat Outdoors
    Austin's so hot much of the year that diners are happy to sit in air conditioning to enjoy their meals, Some weather, though, makes time spent on a patio or deck nearly imperative. Temperate afternoons slide quickly into evenings on the patio at Jester King Brewery, where locals enjoy the brewery's small-batch offerings with a pie ordered from the adjacent Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza. Looking for a romantic option for an authentic Austin dinner? Snag a table for two on Mattie's charming front porch or out under the live oak trees on the sprawling patio. More casual al fresco dining, of course, can be had at any of Austin's food trucks: Grab a migas taco from Veracruz and have your breakfast outside, or make it lunch with an order of brisket at Micklethwait Craft Meats or a piled-high plate of Thai heat and flavor at Dee Dee.
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    Tee Off in Austin
    Spend enough time in Austin, and there's a chance you'll run into Tom Kite or Ben Crenshaw. Maybe you'll even catch a glimpse of former Texas Longhorns and British Open champions Jordan Spieth or Justin Leonard. Of course, you don't have to be a Major Championship winner to enjoy the many public and private links of Austin (though it probably doesn't hurt). The city maintains several quality courses, including Lions Municipal, which is located just a few miles from the Texas State Capitol. If you aren't well connected enough to get invited to play at Austin Country Club or the University of Texas Golf Club, the Barton Creek Country Club has a course open to the public. And for those who take things a little seriously, there's the iconic Peter Pan Mini Golf and the Butler Pitch and Putt located along Barton Springs Road near Lady Bird Lake.
    Photo courtesy of Kenny Braun/Texas Tourism