So close, yet so far out…a gorgeous family-friendly hike near to downtown
When most visitors think of Austin, they think bars, music, nightlife. But just as crucial to Austin’s attractiveness as a tourist haven, is its natural setting and opportunities for being immersed in nature while still within the city limits. A great spot for getting away from it all close to town is the Lower Bull Creek Greenbelt in Northwest Austin.
Less than a 20-minute drive from downtown Austin is the trailhead to “Inga’s Trail” at the Inga VanNynatten Memorial Trail & Bull Creek District Park. You will want a car to get here from downtown. Near the intersection of Spicewood Springs Road and 360 on Lakeland Drive is a gravel lot (when you are near the Marquis Apartments entrance, you’re close) where hikers park. Across from this lot is the trailhead marker that will lead you into the greenbelt.
Along the trails…
After meandering down and over the first creek crossing, you will begin hiking on a rocky incline that will lead you above the creek and offer views on your right. These are sheer drops of 30 feet or so, so watch your footing, but there are great sightings of the creek from this vantage.
After about 15 minutes of climbing up the rocky path (there is the occasional bench for resting), you will pop out into an open field where the distant hills rise up to look slightly like you’re in a different setting, like a hike in a meadow in Colorado. If you are hiking this in summer, it won’t feel like Colorado but the views of the hills are still lovely. If you’re hiking in spring, lucky you, as the wildflowers will be in full bloom.
After about 10 minutes of this landscape, you descend down and to the right to begin meeting back up with the creek. Watch carefully, particularly in summer for poison ivy lunging at you from the wall of foliage. You’re in nature, in Texas (snakes live here), so, watch where you’re going.
At this point, you can hear the water roaring again, and the ground gets muddier as you are nearing the side trail off to the right, leading straight down to the water. You can see it as you walk. Or if it’s summer and overgrown, you can hear it. Follow the sound. You are looking for a muddy side trail to take you down to the creek. If it’s a weekend day, just follow the dogs and their owners. All dogs love the falls.
The Big Reveal…
After hiking for about 20-25 minutes or so, you’ve found the lower falls at Bull Creek Greenbelt. What’s great about this spot, is that you can swim, wade and play in this shallow rock ledge of a water expanse in almost every season. Cold winter days, no. It’s much too cold. But, on warm winter days, you can hike down here to see the change in grasses and trees. In summer, it’s fun to swim and rest in the shallow water. On a hot summer day, by the time you walk back to the car, you’ll have dried off.
Now that you’ve reached the falls…you’ve earned a rest. Have a seat on the rock overhang, enjoy whatever food or small picnic you’ve packed in (and will pack out), lay on a towel, or watch the dogs play. (This is not an official off-leash park but most dogs are roaming).
When you’re soaking in the sights at the falls, you can see why so many hippies set up base camp in Central Texas in the 1960s/70s after visiting the city’s many greenbelt trails. The real reason that Austin is “hip” now is that it was “hippie” then. So, get out there and take a hike.
Most of Bull Creek is fairly primitive and used primarily for hiking, so:
- Make sure to bring plenty of water and wear sunscreen. Hats and towels during the summer are advisable. You can wear a swimsuit as well if you plan to swim.
- You are hiking in a city park, but there are no facilities along this trailhead.
- This trail is not recommended for young children as this is hiking and the terrain is uneven.
- This is, however, a great trail for dogs. There are plastic bags at the Inga’s Trail marker and be polite and pack out any “donations” your dog may leave behind!
- Try to hike this trail in spring or before noon in the summer.
August 10, 2018