Austinites, we are lucky. There are several organizations dedicated to preserving our awesome landscape and all of the animals and natural formations that are a part of Hill Country. Most of these preserves are part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, a 30,428-acre system of preserved habitats.
There are several of preserves all over the city, and in nearby counties as well. It’s difficult to find information on all of our natural wonders so this list is based on the amount of details I could find, as far as location and pictures go. Austin Explorer is a very useful site when it comes to hiking around Austin, so be sure to check it out. Meanwhile, here are some awesome nature preserves in Austin.
The Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve is 227 acres of forest and trails that are open to the public everyday from sunrise to sunset. Pets, bicycles and picnics are prohibited. Admission is a suggested donation of $3 for adults and $2 for seniors and children 5 to 12 years old. They have some pretty cool events like guided hikes and an upcoming Moon & Stargazing event.
Mayfield Park and Preserve includes a historic cottage, two acres of cottage gardens, peacocks and water lilies. Mayfield Preserve is the 21-acre natural area that surrounds the park, containing walking trails and wildlife habitat. Open to the public from 5 am – 10 pm everyday. The preserve has short trails, no pets are allowed and the cost is FREE.
Walnut Creek Preserve is full of trails, over 17 miles, it’s difficult to make the same hike twice. Lots of creek crossings, narrow paths and beautiful landscape. Pets and bikes are allowed and the cost is FREE.
The Zilker Nature Preserve is located at the Austin Nature and Science Center. Open Monday through Saturday 9 am – 5 pm. The 60-acre preserve has several trails, one that leads to the fantastic view of downtown from the Overlook Trail. The preserve is FREE, but no dogs or bikes are allowed.
Stillhouse Hollow Nature Preserve has an easy, paved trail that the whole family can enjoy. It’s a bit difficult to find, so be sure to read the whole rundown on Austin Explorer to ensure you find it. The trail ends at an observation deck overlooking a canyon over what eventually becomes Bull Creek. No pets or bikes, FREE.
The Goat Cave Preserve is home to several karsts – caves that feed into the Edwards Aquifer below ground. The preserve was set aside so that these sensitive karsts are not compromised by trash and runoff, as this will jeopardize the quality of our drinking water. Goat Cave is a 28-foot drop that houses a bat colony. Unfortunately, since the drop is so deep, there’s a fence that surrounds the cave making it difficult to see. Still a nice walk though, and there are other caves to check out too. FREE, no bikes or dogs allowed.
Stephenson Preserve was once a working ranch so hikers can see pens that once housed animals, and stone fence remains can be found throughout the preserve too. The trails can be a little confusing because bikers and motorcyclists made a habit of making their own trails, so a GPS might be a necessity. No bikes are allowed now, and no dogs either. FREE.
Westcave Preserve is a gorgeous, 75-acre, tropical-looking, mystical, magical wonderland just down the street from Hamilton Pool. Because of its fragile nature, visits to the cave are by guided tour ONLY. Open to the public on weekends for $5 per adult, $2 per child under 12 OR $15 per family. You can make a reservation for weekdays if available. Weekend tours are offered at 10 am, 12 pm, 2 pm and 4 pm.
Whirlpool Preserve is home to a popular cave with the largest room in Travis County. Located in a residential area, the cave on this 4-acre preserve is perfect for beginning cavers. It’s hard to find a ton of information on this place. It’s most likely free, and I doubt dogs are allowed…in a cave…but maybe in the park part. Here is an address and some Yelp reviews.
Hamilton Pool Preserve is a gorgeous swimming hole where Hamilton Creek spills over limestone to make a 50-foot waterfall. Even during a drought the waterfall will never dry up, though it will definitely slow down. This beauty is open from 9 am – 6 pm daily, entry is cut off at 5:30 pm. It can also close due to weather or high bacteria levels so call (512-264-2740) and make sure it’s open. No pets. Charged by vehicle at $10 per car, pedestrian/bicyclists are $3.
Blunn Creek Preserve can give a true hiking experience. With trails that go from rugged and steep to open, meadow fields. This trail offers a few overlook points displaying fantastic views of downtown. You may notice some odd-looking gravel on the trail. That’s because it’s actually compressed volcanic ash! Say whaaaat? Apparently, Travis County had some volcanoes 75 million years ago. FREE. No dogs or bikes.