Quirky Park, Tons of Shade; Trail Markers Please!
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Distance: 2.00 Miles
There were parts of this trail that I really liked, and parts that were really annoying, so I guess that adds up to a 3 out of 5?
The best part: tons of shade--one of the shadiest trails in Austin--I love that! There's a mixed deciduous woodland and a big cedar brake, and I was in shade more than 85% of the time, I think.
Also, the locals clearly have a quirky, artsy aesthetic, as the trail is decorated with metal yard art at various spots. Not lots of it--just the occasional tucked-away piece to surprise you as you walk along. This is fun.
The less good: botanically, it was a bit of a yawn for me--very little was blooming, and what there was is super-common--mostly horseherb and weedy non-native carrot relatives. I did see a good bit of pearl milkvine in bloom, but overall, it was a bit ho-hum for a plant peeper.
And the worst part, as almost everyone else has mentioned, is the lack of any properly marked trails. I was worried about getting lost, so although I took a number of random side trails, I ended the hike at 2 miles out of fear of losing my way. I'm usually looking for a 3-5-mile hike after work, so this is not really satisfactory.
However, the shade will definitely bring me back, especially in the dog days of summer.
A convenient downtown stroll
Edward Rendon Sr. Park
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Distance: 3.58 Miles
This park makes a nice alternative to the more traveled stretch of the Ann & Roy Butler hike-n-bike on the opposite (S) side of Lady Bird Lake, which gets pretty crowded. Ed Rendon is still popular, but not as dense. There is partial shade, lovely lake views, at least a couple of bathrooms, and water fountains. In addition, the west end of the trail runs into some developed areas, meaning you can interrupt your walk to stop at Royal Blue Grocery or similar. The east end of trail peters out around a bunch of little league fields, and the greenbelt in between provides a spacious park for picnicking or throwing a frisbee.
I like to park at the baseball fields (Camacho Activity Center), walk into town, and then walk back, which puts me conveniently near the restaurant district on 7th for grabbing dinner on the way home. Admittedly, from some perspectives, this might be considered counterproductive...
Shady, Now with bathrooms
Onion Creek District Park
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Distance: 2.80 Miles
Google directed me to park at the intersection of Firefly & Onion Creek Dr. And, to be fair, there's a sign there that says "Onion Creek Park." However, there are no trails anywhere near the sign. The main entrance/parking lot is at Onion Creek Dr and Vine Hill.
The park folks have added a bathroom and playground since the original write-up, but no trial map (this has been a theme lately--the city puts up a map kiosk... and then leaves it empty. Why???)
TO ACCESS THE TRAIL: from the parking lot, head down toward the creek. You'll see a well-worn (but unmarked) trail on your right with a gate across it--that's the greenbelt. It runs parallel to the creek, though the creek isn't visible from the main trail. By ~5 in the afteroon, the first ~1/3 of the trail is wonderfully shady, and about another 1/3 is part-shade. The far end is less maintained, narrower, and more exposed.
THE GOOD: Shade! Can't have too much of it in Austin, especially in the summer. Also, a reasonable amount of foot traffic and dogs. It's not full of people, but there are enough on a weeknight to feel safe. The dog density was fine (for me)--a few dogs, but not hordes of them.
THE BAD: Lots of poison ivy--mostly avoidable, since the trail is pretty wide at the beginning. But it does lean into the trail, and is a little closer than I'd like as the trail narrows. The petering out of the shade is also a downer. Also, it was crazy humid--not sure if it's always that way due to the creek, or just today's weather. And I got some bug bites--a combo of chiggers and gnats, I think? Might be the warm winter + wet spring? Maybe August is less insectoidal.
Lastly, the empty neighborhood (not part of the trail, but of course you can walk down the streets) is kinda neat--lots of lovely mature trees and green grass, but virtually no shrubs or brush. It's the most park-like park I've seen in such a large space a while. Not sure if the city mows periodically to keep the brush and saplings down or what, but it's pleasantly Arcadian. Next time, I would plan to start by walking the neighborhood and then the greenbelt, to get more steps.
Low-key hike/walk with some nice woodsy bits
Mary Moore Searight Park
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Distance: 5.14 Miles
I had no idea this park was here, but it's certainly popular with the surrounding neighborhoods and apartment complexes, for whom it must be a very handy amenity.
It feels a little decayed--some years ago, the park put in an extensive asphalt trail with periodic exercise stations, but now the surface is rutted and full of potholes, and for some reason all the trail maps have been removed.
It's certainly not neglected, though, as the trails are fairly busy with a mix of walkers, joggers, and dog-owners, and cyclists, plus there is a model airplane park that seems to get heavy traffic on the weekends. Not a great choice for solitude, but it is a good choice for safety-conscious singletons, at least on a fine Saturday afternoon in spring.
Like most parks in Texas, it could use more trees, but it does have some nice wooded areas (maybe 1/3 of the trail is shaded?). In addition to the asphalt trail, there are also unpaved trails that wander off into the woods, which are a little less walk-y and more hike-y, but on the whole, this is a pretty strollable, non-strenuous trail.