Best in Dirt: Austin, TXHome of lance ... and great trails
Urban Austin is laced with superb trails. Photo by Merrick Ales.
Go if you like accessing challenging in-town trails and, within a short drive, expansive wilderness adventures. Austin, located in the south-central part of the Lone Star state, has a population of 718,000 and boasts almost 17,000 acres of parks. The surrounding Hill Country is dotted with scraggly mesquite trees and covered with a maze of singletrack. Austin is known for its live music, athletes (like seven-time Tour de France champion, Lance Armstrong) and Western culture, and is nicknamed “Silicon Hills” due to economic prosperity attributed to the recent technology boom.
Race … The three-race Rogue/Vasque Trail Series in May and June includes 10K and 30K events held in Austin’s parks. The competitive series draws more than 400 people to each event. Endurance buffs can enter the Rocky Hill Ranch 25K, 50K or 50-miler. “The terrain either scratches, bites or cuts,” warns Joe Prusaitis, owner of Tejas Trails Endurance Trail Running (tejastrails.com), noting that rocks are ubiquitous and coarse juniper, mesquite and cedar-tree branches hang over the trails. “It’s beautiful, in a Texas-sort of way,” says Prusaitis.
Best trails … The Barton Creek Greenbelt is a primary eight-mile trail that winds through the city and offers numerous spur trails. “In a couple of spots the creek is deep enough to swim,” says Henry Hobbs, president of Hill Country Trail Runners, “and on hot days is an inviting place to run and cool off.”
The eight-mile Lost Pines Loop in Bastrop State Park, 30 miles southeast of Austin, is roofed by giant pines and soaring loblolly trees that offer protection from the glaring sun. You’ll find the most challenging terrain at Hill Country State Natural Area, near Bandera, 90 miles from Austin, which has over 30 miles of trails, including the Three Sisters Trail that ascends 2000 feet over five technical miles. “This is where you go and find out that not all of Texas is flat,” says Hobbs. Or closer to the city is McKinney Roughs Park. Run for 18 miles along the Colorado River under the shade of huge cypress and pecan trees.
Go when … Spring and fall are best for running, when temperatures range from 60 to 70 degrees. In March and April, the wildflowers bloom and the leaves stay on the trees until Thanksgiving. July and August temperatures can hit triple digits, so run before 9 a.m.
Best eats … Open 24 hours a day and located near the Barton Creek Greenbelt, Magnolia Café (cafemagnolia.com) is a trail-running-community favorite, serving all-day breakfast, enchiladas and spinach lasagna. Saturday’s Tacodeli Run is a group outing in which, at 13 miles into the 20-mile route, everyone stops at Tacodeli (tacodeli.com) to refuel on award-winning breakfast tacos.
Pitstop … Go to Backwoods Equipment (backwoods.com) for trail gear and to pick up the store’s bestselling book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: San Antonio and Austin for comprehensive trail beta.
Sleep … Habitat Suites (habitatsuites.com) is Austin’s Chamber of Commerce award-winning green hotel, 10 minutes from downtown. Rooms at the partly solar-powered hotel start at $137. La Villa Vista (lavillavista.com) is a relaxing and romantic bed and breakfast 16 miles from Austin, with a pool, soothing waterfalls and view of Lake Travis. Be prepared to bare all: nearby Hippie Hollow is the lake’s clothing-optional area.
Resources … Members of the Hill Country Trail Runners (hillcountrytrailrunners.com) will show you around local trails. Austin’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau website (austintexas.org) is a comprehensive source for attractions and events.