I took my son on his first hike at 17 months old. The trail was very short, but—shocker—I still had to carry him most of the way. I wasn’t much of a hiker pre-motherhood, but as a parent I’m adamant about getting my kids in nature as much as possible, so I persevered with our outings at various trails around Austin.
RELATED READING :: Best Nature Hikes for Every Age in Austin
My kids are now 3 and almost 6, and we still hike regularly. To be clear, my version of a family hike is not 7-10 miles with one of them in a fancy hiking carrier on my back. We hike for short distances (like a mile or two), with them setting the pace and stopping as much as they want to observe nature on the trail. If we’re lucky, the trail has some water to play in, or at least some interesting terrain to explore or a boulder to climb.
If you’re ready to start hiking with your kids, or need some ideas for new adventures, Austin has so many unique and beautiful trails and nature areas. Here are our favorite kid-friendly hiking trails in Austin.
(Note: As is always the case in Austin, the amount of water on these hikes depends on the season and rainfall. Austin Forest Friends is a helpful group to ask about current water levels.)
Gus Fruh on the Barton Creek Greenbelt – 2642 Barton Hills Dr. (South)
My favorite hike with young kids. When you reach the fork, go right to take the easy ½-mile switchback trail, or go straight to take what my kids call “the rocky path,” which is steeper. They both lead down to the creek bed, which sometimes has water. There are also a couple caves nearby to explore if you hike along the creek bed.
Lost Creek on the Barton Creek Greenbelt – 2394 Lost Creek Blvd. (South)
The hike down to the creek is very short and easy for young kids. The best part is there is almost always water at this spot to splash around in or even swim in at the deeper parts. (Note: The trailhead is easy to miss. Park on the spillway that looks like an exit but is in fact parking for the trail.)
The Flats on the Barton Creek Greenbelt – 2010 Homedale Dr. or 1601 Spyglass Dr. (South)
You can access The Flats from across Barton Hills Elementary, or the Spyglass entrance across from Tacodeli. The hike is a little more challenging than Gus Fruh or Lost Creek with a few more steep and rocky parts, but once you get down to the creek there are cool climbing areas and puddle-jumping spots.
Austin Nature and Science Center – 2389 Stratford Dr. (South)
It took me a long time to discover this hidden gem. If you go through the Birds of Prey exhibit, you’ll find the trailhead to the Zilker Nature Preserve, which has several trails with 10-30 minute hikes. The Lookout trail is a little steep but takes you to a great view of downtown.
Mary Moore Searight Park – 907 W. Slaughter Ln. (South)
It’s very likely you’ll find water here, which is always a plus with kids. There are many trails, but the outer loop is about 2 miles and will take you through the creek. You may want to use an app like AllTrails because the trail splits off a lot.
Circle C Metropolitan Park – 6301 W. Slaughter Ln. (South)
Park in the first lot on your left, and across the street on your right is the trailhead. It’s a great distance for young kids and has a creek crossing. Once you’re at the creek bed there could be water and waterfalls to splash in depending on the season and rainfall, but if not there are also boulders and trees that are fun to climb and explore.
Blunn Creek Preserve – 1200 St. Edwards Dr. (South)
This preserve feels secluded and wild, but the trails are well-maintained and marked. Follow the markers to the Volcanic Overlook to see a beautiful view of St. Edward’s University. The trail is about 1.5 miles, nice and short for kiddos.
Reimers Ranch Park – 23610 Hamilton Pool Rd. (Dripping Springs)
With older kids—age 5 and up depending on their skill level—you can do some hiking in Climbers Canyon and see some spectacular caves, but you can also just park in the lot with direct access to the river. It’s only a 300-yard hike from the parking lot to the water, where you can hang out on the pebble beach and splash in the Pedernales River. This park has entrance fees.
Mayfield Park – 3505 W. 35th St. (Central)
You can start from the parking lot or inside the park for this hike, which is great for little ones. There is a big hill, kid-built stick fort, creek, cave, and cliffs to climb. Endless exploration!
Shoal Creek Trail – 1100 Kingsbury St. (Pease Park entrance) (Central)
This is an easy adventure in the heart of the city. The trail runs through beautiful Pease Park, so you can start there and find many places to explore the creek. For a longer hike, you can start near Bailey Park (at the corner of N. Lamar Blvd. and 31st St.) and follow the trail all the way down to Pease Park. If you start there, you’ll be able to walk into a small canyon with impressive rock overhangs.
Spicewood Valley Trail – 8043-8585 Scotland Well Dr. (North)
The trailhead is unmarked, but you can park at Mountain View Park and then follow the sidewalk down to Callanish Park Drive; across the street is the trailhead. There are several places to explore Bull Creek (note: the water quality isn’t always safe), and it’s very shady.
St. Edward’s Trail – 7301 Spicewood Springs Rd. (North)
There are easy, flat dirt trails kids can take down to the creek, where there is a pretty waterfall and water to splash in. Another trail where All Trails would be helpful.
Bull Creek Greenbelt– 6701 Lakewood Dr. (North)
This is a large greenbelt with multiple entrances. If you enter through Bull Creek District Park on Lakewood Drive, you can see wagon tracks etched into the limestone bed of the creek that date back to the 1800s, as well as a magical grotto with walls lined with fern and moss.
Walnut Creek Metro Park – 12183 N. Lamar Blvd. (North)
There are five easy trails here that range from 1.1-3.3 miles. There may be water if it has rained recently. After hiking you can check out the awesome playground that was upgraded fairly recently. Keep an eye out for off-leash dogs (there are many here) and cyclists.
Balcones District Park – 12017 Amherst Dr. (North)
There are short hikes here that will take you along the creek bed, which may have water to explore (even a waterfall possibly), and some large boulders to climb. And a playground to finish the day!
Great Hills Trail – 10704 Floral Park Dr. (North)
This park is a little hidden gem located minutes from the busy Arboretum shopping area. There is a mostly flat trail that follows a creek, and you’ll find a wooden bridge that kids will love to run on and a giant boulder they can climb. It’s a little long, but bigger kids may be able to make it to the playground at the end of the trail.
Brushy Creek – 2301 Brushy Creek Rd. (Sports Park in Cedar Park); 4390 Brushy Creek Rd. (Shirley McDonald Park in Round Rock)
This is a huge trail, but a great place to start with kids is at the Brushy Creek Sports Park, which is a nice little hike in the woods behind the skate park. Or, you can start at the Shirley McDonald Park/Duck Pond and check out the turtles and ducks before hiking on the trail.
Berry Springs Park and Preserve – 1801 County Road 152 (Georgetown)
My kids enjoyed exploring the pond and the pecan trees at this beautiful park, which runs along Berry Creek. There are eight short trails from 0.1 to 1 miles long, and also some donkeys you can say hello to!
Garey Park – 6450 Ranch to Market Rd. 2243 (Georgetown)
There is an easy .5 mile hike down the San Gabriel river, which is shallow and great for wading. After paying at the gate, follow the signs for Garey House and then park near the restrooms past the house. We usually play at the amazing playground (my kids love the zipline) and find trails to explore from there.