School has come to an end and we’re all eager to get outside (while practicing safe social distancing of course.) Airplanes may be too risky, but venturing out close to home could be just the vacation you and your family needs right now. We are excited about these Outdoors”y” places to see and visit for the perfect Austin summer staycation.
Austin’s always held a special place in my heart, having graduated from college here in the late 80s. My familiarity of the area was mainly the few miles’ radius of the University of Texas at Austin. The town’s “Keep Austin Weird” vibe always resonated with me, but its rolling hills and lakes are what captured my soul.
I relocated to Austin last August from Colorado and have spent the past year getting reacquainted with the area. As a mom now to a teen, my interests have shifted considerably since college, but one constant is my love of the hills and the many watering holes (not the bars I frequented in college, but the lakes, natural springs and places to cool off.) Austin for me is synonymous with adventure and I was eager to reacquaint myself with the city in a variety of modes of transportation.
7 Ideas By Bike
It had been a few decades since I’d been down to what used to be known as “Town Lake” in the 80’s, but is now renamed Lady Bird Lake after LBJ’s wife. And in those decades since, my college town has grown tremendously into a city. Navigating my way around downtown seemed daunting so 1. Barton Springs Bike Rentals’ “Peace, Love & Zilker” tour was the perfect place to start. My son and I were fitted for bikes and helmets then with our trusty guide and a few other folks, off we ventured.
We zigzagged across bridges, along the lake, stopping for tidbits of history and folklore along the way. Memories from the late 80s came flooding back to me along our ride. We pedaled past the 2. Stevie Ray Vaughn Statue (who I was a huge fan of back in the day), 3. Austin’s infamous bat bridge on Congress Avenue, 4. Auditorium Shores (where I heard Joe Ely perform), 5. The old Railroad Bridge, and 6. Zilker Park (where we used to play hacky sack), and 7. Barton Springs Pool (where I almost got arrested for skinny dipping one night).
The bike ride is easy enough for people of all ages including bike seats for your youngest mini flower child. It’ll have you feeling groovy priced at just $45 (includes bike/helmet rental, bottled water and guide for a 1.5-hour tour and park fee.) Their website currently indicates bikes and helmets are sanitized in between each use to meet CDC guidelines and makes the perfect Austin summer staycation.
One of the best parts of Lake Austin is how still the water can be much of the time, particularly in its narrower parts. We met Steve Meisenhelter, owner of ATX Peace Paddling at Steiner Ranch Lake Club where he loaded a double kayak off his trailer and into the water. He gave us a quick rundown on paddling basics (easy-peasy) ensuring we could maneuver the kayak and turn it around before he told us to have fun and he’d see us in two hours back at the dock.
My son hopped up front, I took the back of the kayak and we made our way along the glass-like waters of the shoreline. It didn’t take long to see why this outfit requires paddlers be 14 years and older to have their own boat when my “front engine” ran out of “gas” about an hour into our paddle up stream. As the back engine, I had to paddle for two as we headed back to the dock, fortunately with the wind on our backs. Reservations are required (at least three hours ahead of preferred rental time) and the price is just $20 an hour for a double kayak. Kayaking’s definitely a peaceful way to chillax on Lake Austin.
By Pontoon Boat
If you have a larger gathering of family or friends and you just want to get wet, float on a lily pad (a giant foam float) and go for a cruise, you can’t beat Float On Boat Rentals’ 24’ Bentley Pontoon boats which carry up to 12 people plus a boat captain. They’re outfitted with a big Yeti cooler full of ice (to fill with whatever you’d like), blue tooth radio (so you can bring your own tunes), life vests, and a Bimini shade cover.
My brother’s family was visiting us from Dallas for the day, and we wanted to show them a good time on the lake. Even with two adults, two teens, three tweens plus our boat captain, the pontoon boat’s 140 hp engine zipped along pretty fast. We covered great deal of the length of Lake Austin, under Pennybacker bridge, Mt. Bonnell, and dropped anchor in a lovely, quiet cove called Bee Creek where our boat captain rolled out the lily pad for us to cool off. Prices start at $295 for two hours (+ 20% suggested gratuity for your boat captain). This is perfect for an Austin summer staycation.
The guided hike into Westcave Preserve’s Grotto is my absolute favorite discovery since moving back to Austin. Typically, it’s only accessible by a guided tour and advance reservations are required. For the best lighting in taking photos, opt for the 10am tour. While the park is closed to the public for now, you can join as a member and hike privately. The grounds of the preserve are pristine and magical, filled with wildflowers and abundant hill country wildlife. We saw colorful butterflies, a few slithering snakes (they appeared more scared of us than we were of them) and all sorts of buzzing and croaking noises down by the babbling creek.
The 40-foot waterfall is canvassed in verdant moss and ferns. Next to it is the opening of the grotto where we basked in the cool, damp air. Our guide pointed out that because they don’t allow swimming here (unlike Hamilton Pool, just down the road) the vegetation is lush and the water a vibrant emerald green. The visitors center is well worth spending some extra time in before or after your tour. With your annual membership, you’ll be able to book a private guided hike.
Being outdoors in the fresh air makes social distancing easier and a lot more fun than self-quarantining (if you don’t need to.) So get out there by bike, kayak, boat or foot and make the most of your Austin summer staycation!