Mountain Biking the Austin Area
Get out and ride this trail, but only if the weather is right. I am pushing you because you need to hurry. It is only a matter of time before bicycles are banned from the Barton Creek Greenbelt because of past and present abuses by riders with a"don't care" attitude-ignorant dweebs who have disregarded "Trail Closed to Bikes Due to Wet Conditions" signs for too many years. One day the signs will go up for good. A sad situation getting sadder.
This is the granddaddy of Austin mountain bike trails, sort of like the Town Lake Hike and Bike is the granddaddy of area Jogging paths. It offers an out-and-back distance of about 15 miles, running roughly in a large L.
Most of this is fairly flat single-track that winds along both sides of Barton Creek. Many places are highly technical because of outcroppings of rock and stretches of loose gravel, but there are also long sections of fairly smooth and easy riding. Near the western end of the trail, if you are interested, is a place called the "Hill of Life." This is a roughly half-mile climb of about 200 feet to the Camp Craft Road trailhead. A lot of the trail is hard-packed dirt that gets very muddy from rains. Damage to these areas and perceived reckless behavior are the reasons we bikers WILL someday be banished.
The last time I was here I elected to hike instead of bike, because the "Wet Conditions" signs were up. I passed probably 50 cyclists riding in the mud, most with no helmets. These Jerks do not care about the future of our sport and will cause the rest of us to be removed from one of the most beautiful trails in the Austin area. It is indisputably shameful that so many riders feet so comfortable about disregarding logical and necessary trail rules. People often find it convenient to think they know better than the folks making the rules. These "one-percenters" often spoil things for responsible trail users. Enough whining already, let's get it while the getting is good. Soapbox mode off.
This trail is heavily used by hikers and joggers. Several spots are gated, and bikes are required to cross the creek to the other side to avoid sections of the trails where only foot traffic is allowed. A couple of places along the route are popular for rock climbing because of the tall bluffs bordering much of the trail. This is a popular ride, very scenic, and it is easy to forget you are in the middle of a quarter million people as you cruise through the delightful and dense woods along Barton Creek. Appreciate the greenbelt while it is available to us; this privilege will not last forever.
General location: In central Austin, near Barton Springs Road and Mo-Pac, Boulevard.
Elevation change: The Barton Springs trailhead lies around 460" above sea level, and the highest point, the Camp Craft Road trailhead, is pushing 800'. It is pretty much a steady climb from the former to the latter.
Season: PLEASE don't ride here if the trail is muddy.
Services: There are rest rooms, pay phones, water, and concessions near the Barton Creek trailhead. There are many eating places, an excellent bike shop and many stores on the way to the trailhead, on Barton Springs Road and Riverside Drive.
Hazards: There are plenty of technical dangers here-tree roots and loose rock, invasive limbs and slippery conditions-but the biggest hazard, in my opinion, is people who ride here when it is wet. Did I mention that yet?
Rescue index: You are in the middle of a lot of folks, and this trail gets a lot of traffic. Unless you are somewhere you should not be, you could quite easily be rescued here if you had an emergency. Or you could easily walk back to your car if you broke the bike. High marks for rescue index.
Land status: This is one of the finest Austin Parks and Recreation Department facilities, thank you very much.
Maps: There must be good maps somewhere, but all I have ever found is part of a packet of hike and bike trail information I got in the mail from the Austin Parks and Recreation Department. The quads for this trail are Austin West and Oak Hill. See a map here.
Finding the trail: From Interstate 35, exit at Riverside Drive and go west until this street becomes Barton Springs Road. Keep going until you see signs for Zilker Park and Barton Springs Pool, as above for the Town Lake ride. Instead of exiting at Zilker, keep going and turn left into the parking areas for Barton Springs Pool. You will pass all of the pool stuff and go to the end of the paved road. This is where you will see the signs for the trailhead for the Barton Creek Greenbelt. Start riding up the trail.
You will see green and white arrows and mile markers as you ride and from time to time you will receive instructions in the form of signs telling you where to cross and what sections to avoid. Just generally mosey along and enjoy the scenery. When you see the first highway bridge over the trail, you are at Loop #360. The next large bridge you will encounter is Mo-Pac Boulevard. Soon you will start riding sections that are obviously old roads instead of single-track.
You are nearing the picnic areas and the "Hill of Life." Ride it if you dare. Otherwise, rest a few, maybe, and head back the way you came.
There is such a network of trails along the greenbelt that you will have plenty of opportunities to wander around, but you cannot get extremely lost, because the greenbelt is only so wide. As long as you are following the creek, you will eventually find the place where you started.
Notes on the trail: Do not even think about parking at the Camp Craft Road trailhead and riding from there. The residents of that area take a real dim view of people parking in front of their houses, since there is nothing but a gate and sign to mark the trailhead.
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Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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