Town Lake Hike and Bike is the granddaddy of urban Texas bike paths and cannot be ignored by anyone writing a book on Texas trails. It is almost tabletop flat and makes an easy loop along the shores of the Colorado River as it runs through an Austin area known as Town Lake. The trail’s surface is smooth gravel, and it can be ridden on a road bike. I started riding it about the time those guys on Mt. Tam were inventing mountain biking.
The trail runs along both sides of the river and has many access points. Parking areas may be selected almost at will, but I would suggest parking in Zilker Park or near Barton Springs so that other points of interest are nearby (more on this later). You ride very near some awesome Tex-Mex places. Starting at Zilker Park and riding west to the footbridge puts you in the position of being able to ride up the northern side, by the bats, by the power plant and graffiti, across another bridge, by an area the Austin Fire Department uses for training their crews, down the sidewalk for a ways, back along the water just in time to offer a nod of loving respect to the statue of Stevie Ray Vaughn, then back to the park. Add another 15 miles to your total for the year.
I probably should offer an explanation of at least part of what I described in the previous paragraph. Living under the Commerce Street Bridge are about a thousand Mexican free-tailed bats. just north of the bridge on the north side of Town Lake, you will find the”Bat Facts” kiosk. Stop and get acquainted. Also, check the area known as Barton Springs Pool. Some of the state’s coldest, clearest water and muy attractive senoritas inhabit this finest of Texas swimming holes.
There is so much to do in this city that I cannot possibly tell you all of it. Try Chuy’s 911 Hotplate, my personal favorite. Go for the green sauce.
A stone’s throw from downtown Austin, right down the street from THE University of Texas and the state capitol building (a lovely structure of Texas pink granite, I might add, something like four feet taller than the capitol building in Washington, D.C.).
The trail varies in elevation, but not very much. I would say this whole trail is within 30″ of the normal pool elevation of Town Lake, about 428″ above sea level.
This is one of the year-roundest of trails. Ride here any time you have a hankerin’, partner. Unless the trail is closed for some event or something out of the ordinary, only the severest of weather will keep you away.
Name your poison. Anything you will need is within a few feet of the trail. Keep your eyes open and phones, restrooms, food, water, bike shops, gang graffiti art, or anything else you might desire will pass by as you ride along.
This is one heavily traveled trail, and you will encounter about a million other trail users as you ride here. Don’t let the local tendency to ride with no helmet influence you; wear your brain bucket and live.
The odds of getting rescued from here are about as good as they get anywhere. This trail is in the middle of a large city, and people will be passing by on the trail almost constantly.
The park and trail are maintained by the City of Austin, though the lake belongs to the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA).
The City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department will send you a very nice packet of information about all of their trails if you just write or call and ask. The quads for this trail are Austin West, Austin East, and Montopolis. See a map here.
Finding the trail
Go to Austin, find where the roads cross the lake/river, and start riding on the trail you will see there.
From Interstate 35 take Riverside Drive west until it turns into Barton Springs Road. Keep going until you see signs for Zilker Park. Turn right into the park and head back toward the trees to the north. Park in one of the parking areas-maybe the one by the Porta-potties, if nature calls. There is sort of a trail-thing there by the water. Hang a left and ride west until you find the pedestrian bridge at Mo-Pac Boulevard. It’s not that far. Cross the lake and head back east, toward downtown in the distance.
Ride east past the Commerce Street bridge and the Bat Facts signs. This is very near downtown. Keep going, past 1-35, and up to the area of the power plant. Go around the power plant on the north side, checking out the graffiti along the way. Somebody put in some real-time to paint this. I guess the city figured it was better to try and get some high-quality stuff by inviting it instead of trying to eradicate all the bandit bombings. just past the power plant, you will cross the lake at Pleasant Valley Road, because this is the end of the trail.
Just across the bridge you will pick up the trail again and pass the fireman school, then head west again by the lake. Soon the trail ends again and you must ride the sidewalk along Riverside all the way past 1-35 again and down to where you turn north, back toward the lake. There are signs indicating where to turn for the trail, but they can be hard to notice. Look for signs directing traffic toward the Austin-American Statesman newspaper, right by a Stop-and-Go store just east of Congress Street. Turn right and follow the signs. You will pick up the trail again and ride by some big buildings. (One has a nice waterfall by the trail.) Soon you will see Stevie Ray.
Keep going until you are back near Zilker Park. There is a pedestrian bridge across Barton Creek; cross this bridge to the other side and turn right. You will see miniature-gauge railroad tracks after you cross. Follow the trail again until you start seeing stuff that looks familiar; soon you will be ready to hang a left and get up onto the fields of Zilker Park and look for your car. If you miss the bridge at Barton Creek, you will soon hit Barton Springs Road and you will know to turn around.
Notes on the trail
This place is packed on a nice Sunday afternoon, so I would recommend riding early if you plan to do anything like a steady pace. If you want to ride hard and fast, go somewhere else. This is not that kind of place.
Zilker Park is right across the street from Barton Springs Pool, the finest swimming hole in the state of Texas. The water is cold year-round, so the hotter the weather, the more folks there will be at the pool. They charge for admission, but there are real restrooms and a concession area with a playground for the kiddies nearby. The railroad also has its depot near the pool. Have a nice day.