Austin’s natural environment provides recreation opportunities

 On every street, along any path, any hour of the day, you’ll see people walking, jogging, biking, even pushing strollers.  Austin is a city on its feet; in fact, it has been named one of the top 10 walking cities in the U.S.  Outdoor recreation is high priority in Austin, which boasts 220 parks, including 360-acre Zilker Park in the middle of the city and three major lakes—Lake Travis, Lake Austin, and Lady Bird Lake. So it’s no wonder that hike and bike trails abound, wilderness areas are protected, and environmental groups are an active force in the city’s politics.

From famous Barton Springs that runs through Zilker to dozens of private and public golf courses to smaller parks scattered throughout the city, Austin provides an abundance of opportunities for outdoor sports and activities. Here are two special places that you won’t want to miss:

View of Lake Austin from the top of Mount Bonnell

Mount Bonnell:  Viewing the skyline of Austin from Mount Bonnell is like seeing the city with a wide-angle lens.  After climbing 99 steps to one of the highest spots within the

city limits, you can look over thePennybackerBridge, commonly called Austin 360 Bridge, and see landmarks like theUniversity of Texas Tower and Capitol building, gorgeous hill country vistas, and a panorama of luxury mansions on Lake Austin. The summit, at 785 feet, boasts one of the best all-around perspectives of the city and surrounding landscape—a picturesque setting that is popular for picnics and sunset watching (known as a Lover’s Lane destination for former generations).  Explore the optional trail, especially worthwhile if you have children or pets that need an opportunity to romp.

Mount Bonnell is the perfect retreat for a mini-break, so order take-out from the nearest gourmet-to-go business or stop by the deli for bread, cheese, and wine.  At the top, you will find picnic tables and ledges to sit on while enjoying your repast and the scenery.  If you come at dusk, linger until sundown, and watch city lights gradually flicker across the sky.

McKinney Roughs Nature Park: Located 13 miles east of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, the 1100 acres of McKinney Roughs (not to be confused with McKinney Falls State Park) include rolling box canyons, wildflower meadows, lazy river bends, and a diverse biological population.  Visitors can explore 15 miles of trails through piney woods and along theColorado River by foot or horseback or take a guided raft, canoe, or kayak trip down the river.  The preserve encompasses four unique ecosystems and hundreds of species of birds and wildlife.

Colorado River as seen from a trail in McKinney Roughs

Included on the grounds are a natural science center that hosts many public programs and an exhibit hall featuring indigenous turtles, salamanders, snakes, and frogs.  Fish found in theColorado River inhabit the 1300-gallon aquarium, and interactive exhibits allow visitors to get close-up views of many species.  Camping, cowboy campfires, pottery classes, and Texas folk music performed in the amphitheater attract many visitors, as does the area’s rich geological history dating back to the Mesozoic Period (up to 274 million years ago). Summer camps and classes provide nature education and fun for children of all ages.

Photo by Larry Burmeier

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