Austin On My Mind

The capital of the Lone Star State has one of the country's best stretches of urban singletrack.
The placid side of the Lone Star State's capital (PhotoDisc)
Other Places to Ride
Walnut Creek Trail, located in northern Austin just off JH-35, is accessible from all parts of the city and offers over 12 miles of extremely solid singletrack with stream crossings, twists, drops, and jumps all in the mix. Drop into the woods and explore—there's loads to find, and more being carved every day.
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Stretches of urban singletrack commonly live in the realm of the mystical, carving through lands where mountain bikes aren't allowed, or between two inconspicuous locales whose hidden existence is the trail's prime attraction. But the Barton Creek Greenbelt, Austin's swath of metropolitan mountain biking, is hardly a secret. In fact, locals affectionately refer to the 15-mile out-and-back route as the "granddaddy of Austin mountain biking," a personification that reflects two things: this trail is popular, and this trail is worthy.
Given the trail's fame, proper trail logic is essential—always give hikers and joggers right-of-way and if the weather is bad, do NOT ride. Betray these rules and it's only a matter of time before cyclists live up to the Mountain Dew reputation and bikes are banned from Barton Creek. But if the sun is shining and the ground is dry, strap on your helmet, clip in, and take to the trail. You'll find hard-packed dirt and rocky limestone, loose gravel and tree roots, lofty cliffs and dense woodlands, jumps and drops, gnarly roots and creek crossings, and some of the region's most revered swimming holes, all from the seat of your bike.

Enter the trail via Zilker Park (the trailhead is at the end of the paved road, just off the parking lot of Barton Springs Pool) and follow the blaze—green and white quarter-mile markers line the trail and signs explain which parts are out-of-bounds to cyclists. Even without proper signage, navigating this greenbelt is a breeze; the V-shaped route traverses Barton Creek several times, cutting over roots and rocks, looping around limestone outcroppings, and swinging around blind turns (so keep your speed in check).
Heading west from Zilker Park the trail is basically a steady uphill climb, but with enough dips and drops to keep things rolling for seven miles…until you reach a half-mile, 200-foot uphill push, aka the Hill of Life, terrain that will instantly end any debates about whether or not Austin has mountains. After reaching the summit, the exhausted can follow Camp Road and Scottish Woods Drive to Loop 360 at Westlake High Drive and ride the pavement back to Zilker Park. The willing and ready, meanwhile, can turn around, bomb down the Hill of Life, and re-trace the 7.5-mile path—remember, the trail will reinvent itself in the opposite direction.
There are also several unmarked singletracks that branch off the main route, promising significantly more technical lines that will appeal to the expert rider. Austin riders have been rattling their teeth on these trails for years, so if you can't find what you're hunting for, chances are you just haven't stumbled across it yet. If the main greenbelt merely whets your appetite, ask a fellow cyclist or check in at one of the city bike shops for directions to routes best suited to your abilities.
Getting There:
You can enter Barton Creek from either Camp Craft Road or by Barton Springs Road lining Zilker Park. To hit the Hill of Life first, reach Camp Craft Road by taking the Mo-Pac Expressway to Loop 360 North toward the Barton Creek Square Mall. Or follow I-35 and exit on Riverside Drive and go west until the road becomes Barton Springs Road. Look for signs for Zilker Park and use the Barton Springs Pool parking lot. Signs for the trailhead are at the end of the paved road.


Nathan Borchelt is the lead editor for Away.com

Published: 7 Sep 2004 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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