January may not be the ideal month for a visit to the great outdoors, but since this morning’s weather report is promising some unseasonably warm days ahead, and with spring not too far off, I thought I’d serve up one of Austin’s best outdoor destinations—the Barton Creek Greenbelt.
For those of you who love Lady Bird Lake’s Hike and Bike Trail, but are looking for a more rugged, less urban experience, the Greenbelt will be a welcome change of pace. Comprising an area of 809 acres and a total length of 7.9 miles, this amazing nature reserve, only minutes from Downtown Austin, lets you wander in the isolation of steep limestone cliffs, untamed vegetation, countless hiking and biking trails and dozens of natural swimming holes and waterfalls.
With spring on the way, the creek will soon be at it’s peak flow, though veteran hikers will tell you that the Greenbelt’s waterways can be a bit unpredictable—high-water years are remembered with a touching sentimentality. These, after all, are the same people who risked their lives to hang those rope swings from the branches of the trees along the creeks edge.
Though most people tend to enter the Greenbelt from an access point along the side of Loop 360, veteran visitors are quick to point out the value of knowing it’s lesser known entrances. Each part of the reserve has it’s own special characteristics.
Here’s a rundown of the Greenbelt’s access points:
Loop 360 (3755-B Capitol of Texal):
This is the main access point to the Greenbelt due to its location at the center of the trail. This entrance leads to some of the finest trails near the Seismic wall and will take you either west to Twin Falls or east to the Gus Fruh pool. Parking is available right alongside the highway.
Closest to Downtown Austin, the Zilker Park entrance leads to an easy trail ideal for mountain bikes and families who are bringing strollers.
Scottish Woods Trail (1710 Camp Craft Rd.):
This entrance lies on the opposite end of the Greenbelt and offers a more challenging experience. Less crowded, this access point begins with a downhill climb towards the creek. Numerous paths diverge from the main trail, offering a chance for more adventurous hikers to explore. Choose this entrance if you want to earn your visit to Sculpture Falls.
Twin Falls Access (3900 Frontage of Mopac):
On the other end of the spectrum, this entrance offers easy access to Twin Falls and is a short walk from Sculpture Falls. This is the best choice for someone looking to get to the Greenbelt’s best swimming spots. Unfortunately, during dry seasons these areas can only be explored on foot.
Gus Fruh (2642 Barton Hills Dr):
A direct access point to the Gus Fruh pool. This is an ideal place for dogs and kids to play. This is also one of the best areas for rock climbers. Climbing areas are located on the other side of the creek. “Guide Wall” is a good place to start.
Spyglass (1500 Spyglass Dr.):
This is also a good access point for climbers, and is the only way to reach Gus Fruh’s cliffs when the creek is too high. “The New Wall” is only fifteen minutes away.
If you decide to hit the trail, don’t forget to check out this handy map, complete with contours and top destinations, courtesy of the Austin Parks and Recreation Department. They also provide an incredible, exhaustive list of Austin trails.