- Kristin Finan American-Statesman Staff
Sure, it can get chilly in Central Texas in winter.
But while we may have seen a snow flurry or two this season, most days are relatively mild, making it an ideal time to head outdoors before the scorching temperatures — and mosquitoes — of summer return.
In fact, many Central Texas spots are stunningly beautiful, and amazingly uncrowded, this time of year.
Why not throw on a jacket and head outside? Here are four places that shine in winter.
Mayfield Park and Preserve
Mayfield Park is named for Allison Mayfield, former Texas secretary of state and Texas railroad commissioner, who purchased the 23-acre site in 1909 as a summer and weekend retreat. It was later the home of his daughter, Mary, and her husband, Milton Gutsch.
In 1935, Mary and Milton were gifted a pair of peafowl from friends, and descendants of those birds remain one of the biggest draws to the property, which Mary willed to the city of Austin in 1971.
On a recent chilly morning, peacocks perched in trees overhead, their iridescent feathers cascading under them like waterfalls in a fairy-tale storybook. Nearly two dozen peafowl now reside at the park.
In addition to observing the peacocks and peahens, visitors will also want to take a hike through Mayfield Nature Preserve, where winding trails and babbling brooks round out this magical park’s back-to-nature vibe.
Info: 3505 W. 35th St.; 512-974-6797, mayfieldpark.org
Hamilton Pool Preserve
Formed after erosion caused the dome of an underground river to collapse thousands of years ago, Hamilton Pool is hands down one of the most beautiful spots in Central Texas. But for most of the year, it’s also one of the most popular.
It’s become so popular, in fact, that last summer you had to make a reservation to visit.
The good news? Reservations aren’t required in the winter, and you can sometimes visit and have the pool — and its stunning blue-green hues — all to yourself. Oh, and for you Polar Bear Club types, swimming is still permitted, too. It’s open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Info: 24300 Hamilton Pool Road, Dripping Springs; 512-264-2740, parks.traviscountytx.gov/find-a-park/hamilton-pool
The Austin Zoo is a private, nonprofit zoo that’s home to more than 350 rescued animals that span a hundred species. The goal here? Let visitors learn all they can about these rescued animals in a beautiful Hill Country setting.
The setting is particularly beautiful in winter, when the lack of crowds makes it easier to see, and appreciate, the animals, which include lions, tigers, monkeys and lemurs. If you go, you’ll find daily keeper talks, train rides (additional charge), and even an opportunity to feed some of the animals. The zoo is open daily 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Info: 10808 Rawhide Trail; 512-288-1490, austinzoo.org
Old Settlers Park
A crisp morning, a steaming hot cup of coffee, a park bench, a great book and a sparkling lake stretched out before you.
Sounds pretty nice, right?
That’s the scene in winter at Round Rock’s Old Settlers Park, a 645-acre park that is home to everything from a disc golf course and stocked lake to cricket, football and soccer fields and seven playgrounds. There are also 3.3 miles of paved trails.
While you’re in Round Rock, stop by the recently expanded Play for All Abilities Park, which was designed as a safe, fun place to play for children of all abilities.
Info: 3300 Palm Valley Blvd.; 512-218-5540, roundrocktexas.gov/departments/parks-and-recreation/parks-trails/old-settlers-park