Friday, July 24, 2015

Exploring Barton Creek Greenbelt

July Summer Fun Checklist Item: Take a Hike on the Barton Creek Greenbelt 


We Austinites are known for our love of the outdoors. You'll see throngs of people, happily sipping coffee on the deck at Jo's Coffee in August, people lining up to jump into Barton Springs on New Year's Dayyou get the picture.

Taking advantage of recent rains to cool off at Twin Falls.
During the summer, one fun place to exploreand get some fresh air in the processis the Barton Creek Greenbelt. The City of Austin pegs the trail's length at more than 12 miles, and there are several access points:

Recharging on the Gus Fruh Trail.

  • the access point furthest north begins at Zilker Park, adjacent to the parking lot next to Barton Springs and the Zilker Hillside Theatre.
  • the Spyglass Access point is about a mile away. The trailhead is across the street from Tacodeli (spoiler alert: trails + tacos = a tasty combo!). This is the easiest way to get to Campbell's Hole, a popular swimming hole.
  • Homedale Trail is right behind Barton Hills Elementary School and can also take you to Campbell's Hole.
  • The Gus Fruh Trail starts where Barton Hills Drive dead ends into St. Mark's Episcopal Church. 
  • You can access the Barton Creek Greenbelt East/Loop 360 Access point by turning into the parking lot at the first light east of the intersection of 360 and the northbound Mopac access road. Once you enter the parking lot, head to the westernmost point to find the trailhead.
  • You may have noticed cars lined up alongside the Mopac access road, just south of the intersection of Loop 360 and the southbound side of Mopac. Many of these visitors are headed toward Twin Falls and Sculpture Falls.

It's difficult to know what you will encounter on a trip to the Greenbelt. Water levels fluctuate, and many years, swimming holes dry up or become stagnant during the summer. There are several things that are good to keep in mind, whenever you visit:


  • Go early, if you can. One of the bonuses about visiting the Greenbelt, and any outdoor space, for that matter, is that it "opens" at dawn, so you can take your early risers (aka your children) as soon as you can drag yourself out of bed. The earlier you go, the better the parking spot, the smaller the crowds and of course, the cooler it will be, especially during the summer.
  • Bring water, snacks, sunscreen, bug spray and a way to get your trash home. There is no drinking water available, and just like anywhere in Texas, you don't want to venture out without something to drink and sunscreen. Same goes with snacks. There are few things worse than attempting a hike with hungry children. Also, trash cans can be few and far between, so make sure to pack out your trash. You will see plenty of debris from other visitors, so if you have space to bring back a few extra items, future trailgoers will thank you. 
  • Use the restroom before you go. Some trailheads have restrooms nearby, but many don't, so be prepared.
  • Trails may not be well-marked. It's rare to see a trail map, although I found one that you can download here. Depending on which access point you choose, you may find kiosks showing you where you are, but there are so many side trails that it can be easy to forget which fork you took. After a while, everything starts to look the same. If you are traveling with small children, do your best to note landmarks along the way, so you don't face any extra travel time on the way back to the car when your kids are not interested in walking any more.
  • You will encounter lots of dogs off-leash. Many dog owners let their pets off-leash on the Greenbelt, which generally means the animals are well-behaved, but if you or your children are frightened of dogs, you'll want to be prepared. This also means you might encounter pet waste, so be on the lookout so nobody steps in anything.
  • Be on the lookout for animals. One of the nice things about the Greenbelt is that it is home to many animals, whether it's fish or miniature frogs, lizards, birds or insects. Take the opportunity when you can to slow down and enjoy the flora and fauna along the trails.
Looking for tadpoles on the Greenbelt.
What's your favorite thing to do on the Greenbelt?


About the author: A recovering workaholic, Nicole Basham now spends her time rediscovering Austin through her 9-year-old son's eyes. A soccer-playing mom, Nicole also enjoys tickling too close to bedtime, taking in some live music and being silly. You can also find her writing at LiveMom.com and FreeFuninAustin.com.

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