The Barton Creek Greenbelt might just be one of the worst-kept secrets in Austin. On pretty weekends, cars fill parking lots near the most popular entrances, trash cans overflow and swimming holes are full of residents of the human and dog variety. There’s another Greenbelt in town which provides similar opportunities to hike and splash: the Bull Creek Greenbelt.
Following Bull Creek as it snakes back and forth across the Capital of Texas Highway (also known as Loop 360) between Spicewood Springs and 2222, the Greenbelt has trails frequented by hikers, mountain bikers, pet owners and families. The Upper Greenbelt technically begins at St. Edward’s Park, a little-known but beautiful spot which has six trails and an old dam, an area many kids like to explore more fully by wading in. The more frequently visited part of the Greenbelt begins near the intersection of Spicewood Springs and Adirondack Trail. There is some parking along Adirondack, including a small parking lot with a restroom. Crossing the street with small children can be a bit scary, as the road is pretty busy and the shoulder isn’t very wide.
Most people take advantage of this part of the Greenbelt for splashing and swimming. I usually limit my kid to wading, as historically, Bull Creek has had high levels of fecal content, possibly linked to the number of dogs who enjoy playing in and near the Creek. The limestone surfaces can also be slippery in spots, so make sure your crew has on adequate footwear (avoid flip flops if at all possible.) In the late Spring, this spot, just inside of 360, is a great spot to catch tadpoles. There are trails on both side of Bull Creek which start here, although you will need to cross water to hike the inner trail, depending on the time of year, water levels and recent rainfall.
About four miles later, after making a few creek crossings, you will reach the end of the trail at Bull Creek District Park on Lakewood Drive, which is considered the Bull Creek Lower Greenbelt. Along the way you may spot herons, snakes, turtles and of course plenty of fish. You’ll see many dogs and their humans happily playing, as this is an on-leash dog park (although many owners allow their pooches to roam free, as seems to be common on the Greenbelt trails). There is a fern grotto on the west side of the creek just before the park comes into view, along with wagon tracks etched into the limestone, dating back to the 1800s when the creekbed was a “commerce highway”.
Water falls over the limestone rocks in the heart of the District Park, and large boulders draw some rock climbers on weekends. Picnic benches under sprawling oaks provide a respite from the sun. There are lots of rocks for skipping, if it’s not too crowded. There is even a volleyball net up if you’d prefer to start your hike here, walk as far as your family would like to go, and end your excursion with a picnic. There is a dedicated parking lot at the District Park, as well as overflow parking near the boulders along the edge of the park.
There is no admission fee at Bull Creek. The trails aren’t stroller friendly. Restrooms are few and far between at Bull Creek (there is one at the Bull Creek District Park and another near the intersection of Old Spicewood Springs Road and Spicewood Springs), so it’s probably best to take care of that before you leave. The only water fountains we’ve seen are also at the Park.
There are plenty of trails and areas to explore on the Greenbelt, so just do as much as your family is up to on your first outing, and know you can return again and again!
Looking for more great trails to visit with the kids? Check out:
About the author: A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole Basham uses her 10-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau’s words, her mission is to “suck out all the marrow of life”, or in her son’s words, to cultivate in him a love of adventures.