Return to River Place Nature Trail

Hardest Trail in Austin - 2,866 steps
User: ullearn - 11/13/2011  [View Log Page]
Rating: 4stars Difficulty: 5stars Solitude: 2point5stars
Distance: 6.00 Miles Duration: 1 hour, 9 minutes
My wife and I were searching for a new trail and came upon this one. After hiking it we had wished we knew about this trail when we were training for the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim hike last year. We started at the top on River Place Blvd on the Canyon Trail down to upper then lower Panther trail. Once we reached the bottom we turned around and went back up. We enjoy a challenge hike slightly faster than average; took us 2 hours and 16 minutes to finish. There are 1,433 steps (one way), we thought it would be fun to count on the way back up; turned out to be a mental challenge. **Update** - Our 2nd hike their took us 1:58 minutes - Our 3rd hike we ran and finished in 1:09 minutes (36 up / 33 down)
Great hike for a cool day
User: - 11/8/2011  [View Log Page]
Rating: 4stars Difficulty: 4stars Solitude: 4stars
Distance: 4.80 Miles Duration: N/A

I parked at the top of the side trail (Fern Hollow?) and hiked down to junction at Panther Hollow and then down to the pond and back up along the utility trail to the junction in Panther Hollow and then north up to the trailhead at the north end then south along River Place Blvd back to the Jeep so that is how I got my miles without any retracing of steps.

This is THE BEST neighborhood greenbelt trail I have seen in Austin. Such terrain, such scenery! It was neat to see the pools of water along sections of the trail, no doubt caused by run off from the golf course above the hollow. This will be an outstanding hike after we finally get some real rain here in Central Texas.

Beautiful but dry
User: TexasGal - 9/12/2011  [View Log Page]
Rating: 4point5stars Difficulty: 3stars Solitude: 4stars
Distance: 2.00 Miles Duration: N/A
Just learned of this trail from a friend and tried it out, starting from the 2nd entrance to experience the steeper climb in and back out. Really lovely trail, very narrow, but easy to follow. I was very surprised to find a few spring-fed pools and weeping grotto even in this record-setting drought. Duchess was thrilled to find a shallow pool to wet her feet and cool off. We are looking forward to returning to see the change of seasons.
Best elevation change hike in Central Texas
User: GUnit - 9/4/2011  [View Log Page]
Rating: 4stars Difficulty: 4stars Solitude: 3stars
Distance: 6.30 Miles Duration: 2 hours, 30 minutes
If you are looking for a challenging hike for Texas, then this is your hike. This is the hike you do to train for the Grand Canyon when living in Austin. River Place is 6.3 miles when you hike all the way to Lake Austin, just 6 if you go to the fountain at the bottom and back up. It was dry except for the fern wall, but I could tell this place is awesome when we are not in this serious drought.
User: lowburb - 7/2/2011  [View Log Page]
Rating: 5stars Difficulty: 3point5stars Solitude: 3stars
Distance: 6.00 Miles Duration: N/A
As tough as ever
User: jtkatie - 6/25/2011  [View Log Page]
Rating: 3point5stars Difficulty: 4stars Solitude: 3stars
Distance: 7.00 Miles Duration: 2 hours, 32 minutes

My wife and I had been working out for weeks prior to an international trip - for which we wanted to be in excellent shape. So, we packed up our backpacks (about 15 lbs each, but getting lighter as we drank water) and headed out for the toughest trail we have been on here in Austin. We pushed ourselves through the heat and made it through it in a respectable time.

No need to go to the gym today...
User: jloop17 - 5/30/2011  [View Log Page]
Rating: 4point5stars Difficulty: 4point5stars Solitude: 3point5stars
Distance: 6.00 Miles Duration: N/A

This hike kicked my butt. I started at the boardwalk which turned out to be a very good move because it made the first half mostly uphill and the second half mostly downhill. If I'd have done it the other way there's no telling how long it would've taken me. There was lots of wildlife especially along the creek bed and plenty of shady spots to rest if needed. Can't wait to come back in the fall when there is water in the creek.

Challenging and beautiful hike for Austin area... DO IT!!
User: Titian77 - 5/16/2011  [View Log Page]
Rating: 5stars Difficulty: 3stars Solitude: 3stars
Distance: 5.00 Miles Duration: N/A

Finished in 2.5 hours.

A couple of my friends and I are training for a bigger climb coming up in a few months.. I did my research for hikes in and around the Austin area to break in my hiking boots before I can go hike some larger mountains in the country.. Came across this one and the reviews were quite unbelievable and too good to be true for the Austin area.. Especially since none of my hiker friends ever mentioned this particular hike, I really didnt know what to expect. However, loved this hike! It has very well marked trail signs, directions, mile markers and some gorgeous views of the golf courses down below and some million dollar houses in the area.. There are tons of steps made from tree barks but very well grounded which make the trail a good mix of trail ground plus uphill steps for that stairmaster cardio workout.. We saw a little bitty frog, a red bird and not a lot of people on the trail which was good as it let us go at our own pace without holding up too much traffic. The trail one way, to the other side is 2.5 miles which makes it 5 miles round trip. It is a good mix of uphill and downhill either way (one way slightly more than the other though). Since Austin has no water in the area right now, the creek area was absolutely dry but am sure it is a pretty sight when there is water flowing down it.. In short, I would highly recommend this trail if you are looking for a great Sunday morning workout and a beautiful, shaded hike not away from the city (which is the most important part)! We entered at the pond on  Big View Drive which is the south end of the trial..

Made it the whole way
User: Riff Raff - 5/14/2011  [View Log Page]
Rating: 4stars Difficulty: 4point5stars Solitude: 3stars
Distance: 6.70 Miles Duration: 3 hours, 24 minutes

Did the trail from start to finish this time (apart from the side spur trail).  Creek beds are still bone dry even after the rain during the week.  Saw probably a dozen or so other groups out and about on this Saturday (some both coming and going).  For reference, my recorded elevation gain was 3034 ft round trip.  So 1500 feet each way, and I did not take the side spur trail.  If that side trail had 300 feet of elevation gain (which I could easily believe), that would make it 1800 feet total.

It kicked my ass
User: Riff Raff - 4/24/2011  [View Log Page]
Rating: 4point5stars Difficulty: 4point5stars Solitude: 3point5stars
Distance: 5.50 Miles Duration: 3 hours

Wow.  The stairs on this trail really are a killer.  This was one of the most difficult hikes I've been on in the central Texas region, and it's all of nine miles from my house!  I had planned to go the entire length of the trail (starting from the pond at the South end), but I had to turn back about three quarters of a mile early when it became evident that I was going to have trouble making it back to the car if I kept going.  I'm actually going to have to work up towards completing this trail in its entirety.

Strenuousness aside, this is really a gem of a trail.  It's well marked, extremely well maintained, is lightly traveled (only two groups passed me while I stopped to eat lunch), very scenic, has a variety of wildlife, and is nonetheless smack in the middle of Austin.  You can't ask for more on an urban area trail, I don't think.

Do note that numerous areas of this trail are not wide enough to really accomodate two people.  Be very careful when passing groups going the other direction, and find a spot to step aside off the trail where possible.

I'll have to try this trail again after we've had some rains.  The photos posted here from when the streams were actually running make the area look even nicer.

Canyon Trail to Upper Panther Trail to Panther Junction and back
User: AustinWhitewater - 3/19/2011  [View Log Page]
Rating: 4stars Difficulty: 4stars Solitude: 3point5stars
Distance: 5.00 Miles Duration: N/A

This morning I did the upper two trails as an out and back starting at the Canyon Trail trailhead. Both trails have lots of up and down sections, whichever way you are headed.

This hike was more of a workout than my first one and was very different in that a good portion of the trails were well above the creek, unlike the lower trails. There were several spots high on the ridge where there were good vistas.

I saw more people this Saturday than last, but it was still far from crowded.

I also came across a coral snake on the last set of steps downhill before Panther Junction. Now that it is Spring I need to pay more attention where I am putting my feet when I am fast walking. If it had been a moccasin or a rattler I would have been bitten. Thank goodness for small snakes with small mouths!

Little Fern Trail to Lower Panther Trail to The Boardwalk and Pond
User: AustinWhitewater - 3/12/2011  [View Log Page]
Rating: 4stars Difficulty: 2stars Solitude: 4point5stars
Distance: 2.00 Miles Duration: N/A
I just did the 2 lower sections today as I was short on time. I entered at the Little Fern Trailhead which is the second of 2 along River Place Boulevard.
Little Fern Trail is mostly downhill from this trailhead and runs along Little Fern Creek, which has numerous pretty drop and pool sections.
Little Fern Creek and joins Panther Hollow Creek at Panther Junction. You have the option here of turning left or right. If you turn left (south) as I did you will be on the easy Lower Panther Trail which ends at the boardwalk and pond on Big View Drive. If you turn right (north) you will be heading into the 2 upper and more challenging sections.
All of the trails here are out and back. There are no loops. So if you park at a trail head you have to retrace your route to get back to your car. Don't worry about parking as there is plenty of parking along the street at all 3 trailheads.
The lower trails are very well defined and maintained, and on the lower sections I encountered very little gravel. They were mostly hard packed soil. And they were all single track except for the board grassy Water Line Trail.
There are 4 kiosks with excellent trail maps and descriptions. A kiosk is located at each trailhead and Panther Junction. The trails are very well marked.
I don't know where the elevation change of 1800' but it is wrong. Here is their trail information I obtained from one of the kiosks listing the trail system from the highest elevation to the lowest:
Canyon Trail - Canyon Trail Kiosk to Panther Hollow Creek - 1.0 mile - Highly difficult, many steep sections - 680' to 920' - Trailhead off River Place Boulevard
Upper Panther Trail - Canyon Trail Junction to Panther Junction Kiosk - 1.5 mile - Difficult with some level stretches, a few steep sections - 530' to 700'
Little Fern Trail - Upper Kiosk to Panther Junction Kiosk  - 0.5 mile - Moderately difficult, mildly steep sections - 560' to 700' - Trailhead off River Place Boulevard about 2/3 of the way down the trail system.
Lower Panther Trail - Panther Junction Kiosk to Boardwalk Kiosk - 0.5 mile - Moderate walk, mostly level - 520' to 560' - Trailhead is off Big View Drive at the pond next to the soccer fields.
Water Main Trail - Big View Drive to Little Fern Trail - 0.3 mile - Level easy walk - 530' to 560' - Trailhead is off Big View Drive at the pond - runs parallel to Lower Panther Trail but on other side of Panther Hollow Creek and the pond.
As you can see, the highest point on any of the trails is 920' (Canyon Trail) and the lowest 520' (Lower Panther Trail) for 400' of elevation change.
I really enjoyed my short hike here and will be back later this week to do the upper sections.
User: Phenom - 2/26/2011  [View Log Page]
Rating: 4stars Difficulty: 4stars Solitude: 4stars
Distance: 6.00 Miles Duration: N/A
Started at the entrance closest to 2222. Wasn't expecting all those stairs! Was pretty fun though. Think there was a boy scout troop or something out that day. About halfway is when the trail started criss crossing the stream. My favorite part. Only found a couple of caches a long the trail. Someone is obsessed with planets.
Great afternoon hike!
User: LVX - 2/19/2011  [View Log Page]
Rating: 4stars Difficulty: 3stars Solitude: 3stars
Distance: 6.00 Miles Duration: N/A

I will say I was a little skeptical after reading about this trail.  So close to Austin and I had never been there before.  Only moderately difficult so it was pleasant afternoon.

I am not sure why it says elevation gain 1800 ft.  I did not record anything like that...

Great Place to Train
User: drc - 1/31/2011  [View Log Page]
Rating: 5stars Difficulty: 3stars Solitude: 2stars
Distance: 5.20 Miles Duration: N/A

Other than doing Hill of Life reps, this trail is the best way to get a lot of elevation gain in a short distance (and it's a lot less boring than going up and down the HoL as nauseum.)  Note that I studied both my GPS log as well as the one on this site in Google Earth by clamping the elevation to ground height (the height measured by the keyhole satellites, which is a lot more accurate than taking the elevation recorded by the GPS.)  This consistently gives 1400' as the total ascent/descent for doing the main trail out and back.  My GPS reported around 1300' as the total, which is at least in the ballpark.  In any case, definitely not 1800', but still a significant gain over the course of a 5-mile hike.


Pretty, quiet hike
User: gypsydawn - 1/12/2011  [View Log Page]
Rating: 4point5stars Difficulty: 3point5stars Solitude: 4point5stars
Distance: 6.00 Miles Duration: N/A
I started out at the Lake, and am so glad. I wasn't expecting the climb to the canyon, and I was really thankful to be going downhill on my way back. The trail was well marked and maintained. I didn't see a single piece of trash. I went on a Wednesday and it was 31 degrees - cold for this area - so there were only 2 other people on the trail that I ran into. I took my dog with me, and he seemed to really enjoy the climbing, but on the way down, it would get a little sketchy on the more narrow paths. My only complaint about the entire day was my fault. I didn't look at the topography well enough so I didn't expect how steep it was and thought this trail would be a good opportunity to start breaking in some new boots. Terrible mistake. Other than that, it was perfect.
A Very Enjoyable Hike on Well Maintained Trailway
User: mrhackerott - 12/11/2010  [View Log Page]
Rating: 4stars Difficulty: 3point5stars Solitude: 3stars
Distance: 5.03 Miles Duration: 2 hours, 15 minutes

This is a very enjoyable hike on well maintained trailway that winds through canyons in the River Place housing.  There are houses on both canyon rims but they are rarely seen or heard.  The solitude was good for the location.  The hike is challenging with lots of up and down.  There is one elevation change of 530 feet.  However, there are stairs all the way.  The Fern Canyon leg of the trail is especially scenic.  This is one of the best maintained trails in Central Texas.  I will definitely do this hike again.

Stairway to Heaven
User: csm101 - 11/7/2010  [View Log Page]
Rating: 4stars Difficulty: 4point5stars Solitude: 3point5stars
Distance: 6.00 Miles Duration: 3 hours
I'm man enough to admit I was nearly whipped by this out and back again hike. This is easily one of the better maintained trails I have seen and it's construction probably ranks right up there as one of the great wonders of the hiking world. Lots... Of... Stairs.... Seriously. Forget about doing this hike unless you are feeling pretty stout. Even though it is largely shaded, think again if it is blazin' hot unless you plan on taking a lot of water up all those stairs with you. Although signs of the city poke through now and then, this hike is relatively serene and the verticality and variety of trail make it quite memorable. Highlight: Realizing I made it to the top. Lowlight: Realizing I needed to go back down.
Second hike of River Place Nature Trail this week
User: ToddK - 10/8/2010  [View Log Page]
Rating: 4point5stars Difficulty: 3stars Solitude: 4stars
Distance: 6.00 Miles Duration: 2 hours, 30 minutes

My overall impression only changed slightly from my previous post.  I measured the altitude using my altimeter/watch (admittedly crude), which indicated a difference of less than 500 feet from information kiosk at the north trailhead down to the pond at the south trailhead.  Yes, there are many undulations which make this hike more challenging (and interesting) than it could have been if it had merely followed the creeksides. 

None of the many climbs along this trail require more than about a minute of moderate exertion before flattening out.  I'm sticking with my assertion that the climbs on this hike (out and back) total nothing close to 1800 feet. 

Even so, this is my favorite hike in Travis County and I look forward to doing it again.  Being 6-foot 5, I appreciate the fact that I rarely had to duck my head to avoid branches.  The trail is well marked, in great condition and it would surprise me if anyone gets lost along this trail. 

The pond/boardwalk at the south end is worth stopping at for a few minutes.  Lots of turtles and small fish can be observed from the boardwalk.  I fed them a few bits of the remains of an organic apple I had eaten.  Saw a large (probably 40 to 50 pounds) snapping turtle surface for air and then slowly move out to deeper water.

User: ToddK - 10/5/2010  [View Log Page]
Rating: 4stars Difficulty: 2point5stars Solitude: 4point5stars
Distance: 6.00 Miles Duration: N/A

Yesterday was a great day for hiking, with sunny skies and temp about 80 F. The trees along this trail provide plenty of shade.  The clear-running creek and a few birds were the only sounds I heard for most of the hike.  Only encountered 1 other human the entire hike.

This hike was much easier than I expected, based on comments I'd read on this website.  I'm 57 years old and I barely broke a sweat while hiking this trail.  Someone needs to re-check the estimated 1800 foot elevation gain because it seems to be way off the mark.  The highest point of the nearby Jolleyville plateau is roughly 1100 feet above sea level and the Lake Austin shoreline is at about 492 feet above sea level.  Even if you count the undulations along the River Place trail, it does not come close to 1800 feet, which would make it the trail with the largest gain of any in this database.  Regardless, I enjoyed the hike a lot and will return with my altimeter/watch to get more info on this discrepancy.  Will re-post if I find anything contrary to my initial thoughts.

User: joshthegreat - 9/27/2010  [View Log Page]
Rating: 4point5stars Difficulty: 4point5stars Solitude: 3point5stars
Distance: 6.00 Miles Duration: N/A

Entered at the "upper" part, went halfway( I think around 3 miles) than turned around. Be prepared for a lot of stairs.

Going half way and turning around took almost 3 hours. If you would like a challenge, go the entire length, this should help prepare one for a more regirous trail.

Great time btw :D

User: maddiereyes01 - 9/25/2010  [View Log Page]
Rating: 4point5stars Difficulty: 4stars Solitude: 4point5stars
Distance: 6.00 Miles Duration: N/A
Slippery when wet!
User: jtkatie - 9/6/2010  [View Log Page]
Rating: 4stars Difficulty: 4point5stars Solitude: 3stars
Distance: 6.00 Miles Duration: 2 hours, 45 minutes

We did this hike shortly after it poured this morning - but we were determined to finish this trail after being oh-so-close last time. The trail was definitely wet/muddy and the wood stairs and bridges were quite slippery. But, we did it!

On the flatlands section of the trail (between mile marker 1 and 1.5 going up), we saw an animal on the trail ahead of us. We are about 95% sure that it was a grey wolf. Beautiful creature, but it didn't let us watch long before it disappeared.

A whole lot less solitude this time. On the most strenuous portion of the trail (the top mile of the trail), we saw at least 10 people. Most were coming down from the top of the trail - something that we would advise against, unless you like going uphill on the second part of your trip.

For your planning, here are our time splits (going up from the boardwalk trailhead to the top of the trail):

  • Start: 10:10 am
  • Trailhead-Junction/Mile 0: 9 min (10:19)
  • 0.0-0.5: 8 min (10:27)
  • 0.5-1.0: 13 min (10:40)
  • 1.0-1.5: 11 min (10:51)
  • 1.5-2.0: 35 min (11:26 - including 20 min of breaks for view, water, and a snack)
  • 2.0-2.5/top: 14 min (11:40 am)
  • (Note: mile markers reverse on the way down)
  • Restart: 11:47 am
  • 0.0-0.5: 12 min (11:59)
  • 0.5-1.0: 13 min (12:12 pm)
  • 1.0-1.5: 10 min (12:22)
  • 1.5-2.0: 14 min (12:36)
  • 2.0-2.5/Junction: 10 min (12:46)
  • 2.5/Junction-3.0/Trailhead: 9 min (12:55)
User: texaskdog - 8/14/2010  [View Log Page]
Rating: 4stars Difficulty: 4stars Solitude: 4stars
Distance: 3.50 Miles Duration: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Wound up being a great hike...though I would advise doing this when it is NOT 100 degrees, and would be more fun when the creeks are flowing in the spring.  It is shaded, but I've never seen so many stairs (in the northern half).  We parked at the southern entrance on River Place to the junction.  Took a right turn and decided to tough it out to the end.  Just when you think there can't be any more stairs there are more.  Only saw one other person on the trail.  Nice thing is when you come out on the north entrance, its 300 feet higher up so if you walk back down to your car it is all downhill.  My friend Desi was making benches with his Boy Scouts 2 months ago  for their troop project so they are almost brand new.  We didn't do the part south of the junction but plan to do that as a loop later, and return to this path in cooler weather.  This path was clearly created by someone on top of an old path, so the stairs make the hills a bit easier.  Becca held up better than I did.