- By Pam LeBlanc American-Statesman Staff
You’ve covered every last mile of the Barton Creek Greenbelt and worn out the tread of your shoes on the Butler Hike and Bike Trail.
Time for a new hiking trail to explore, stat!
We’ve rounded up some of our favorite little-known places to hike around Central Texas. Some are close to the city, others a little farther out, but they’re all worth lacing up your boots and filling your pockets with trail mix.
1. River Place Nature Trail
This trail’s a gem, and one of the few places in town steep enough to get your muscles in shape if you’re training for a backpacking trip or mountain climbing adventure. You’ll huff and puff your way up plenty of rocky steps as the trail winds through canyons and hilltops along Panther Hollow Creek. The trail was temporarily closed in 2012 after a dispute with the city of Austin — trail-makers had inadvertently built a 1,600-foot stretch on property set aside as golden-cheeked warbler habitat. It’s since been realigned, and trail runners, hikers and nature lovers are now rediscovering it. Dogs on leashes are allowed.
Open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The trail has two access points — 4207 River Place Boulevard and 8830 Big View Drive. Free. For more information, go to www.friendsofriverplacetrail.com.
2. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
Most folks who make the hour-and-45-minute trip to this popular Hill Country park go solely to scamper up the huge granite dome. We suggest taking the 5-mile Loop Trail around the park’s namesake hunk of stone instead. You’ll get views of the rock you’ve never seen, and even when the parking lot is full you’ll hardly see anyone else back there. While you soak in the cactus-studded ambiance, consider the mysteries this special place holds. Tonkawa Indians thought ghost fires glowed at the top of the dome; others believed the rock’s creaking and groaning meant it was haunted. Arrive early; the park closes when it reaches capacity.
Open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. at 16710 RM 965, about 18 miles north of Fredericksburg. Park admission $7 for adults; 830-685-3636.
3. McKinney Roughs Nature Park
Head to this Lower Colorado River Authority Park to meander into shady pine forests, through rolling canyons and along lazy bends of the Colorado River. Four ecosystems — Post Oak Savannah, Blackland Prairie, East Texas Piney Woods and a riparian zone — all converge here, creating diversity in plant and animal life. In all, the park’s 1,100 acres offer nearly 18 miles of hiking trails. Stop by headquarters to borrow birding binoculars, a magnifying glass to look at plants, a bug jar to collect insects or a guide book to tell you about the cultural and natural history of the Ridge Trail. Dogs are allowed on leashes on most trails.
Open 8 a.m. to sunset daily at 1884 Highway 71 West in Cedar Creek, 13 miles east of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Park admission $5 for adults, free 12 and under; 512-303-5073.
4. Reimers Ranch
Most folks head to Reimers Ranch for rock climbing, mountain biking or fishing for white bass (or because Hamilton Pool down the road reached capacity), but it’s also a nice place to hike, especially during cooler months. The park is known for its especially wide variety of winter sparrows. Just take careful notice of where you’re walking — some folks complain about inadequate trail signage. For a more supervised experience, join one of the two-hour guided tours offered October through April (details at tinyurl.com/pkltn3d).
Open 8 a.m. to sunset daily at 23610 Hamilton Pool Road in Dripping Springs; 512-264-1923. Entry fee $10 per car.
5. Turkey Creek Trail at Emma Long Metropolitan Park
Dogs sometimes outnumber humans here, but if you don’t mind a little l’eau de soggy canine, head to this 2.5-miler tucked in the hills off City Park Road. You’ll quickly find yourself skipping over stepping stones as the trail crisscrosses the creek, then winds through areas thick with trees. When there’s been rain, it leads to what we call “The Mythical Wall of Ferns,” a lush oasis of a rock wall dripping in lime green, mossy lushness. The trail then veers up a ridge where it suddenly opens up and you can see the sky. Technically, Turkey Creek is part of Emma Long Metropolitan Park, named for the first female member of the Austin City Council. Dogs on leashes are allowed.
Open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily at 1706 City Park Road; 512-346-1831. From downtown Austin, take FM 2222 west, past Loop 360. Turn left onto City Park Road and continue toward Emma Long park. The parking area for the trail is 2 miles from the park entrance sign, on the right hand side of the road.