Covert Park at Mount Bonnell can literally take your breath away. If not by the steep trek up its limestone staircase (which, sorry moms, is not at all stroller-friendly), then by its awe-inspiring view awaiting you at its top. Located within the western city limits of Austin, Mount Bonnell rises 775 feet on the eastern bank of the Colorado River, what is now Lake Austin. This Central Texas classic is one of Austin’s oldest tourist attractions, dating all the way back to the 1850s. Today it remains an Austin hotspot, attracting everyone from hikers and bikers to families and lovebirds.
What Makes It Great
Mount Bonnell is considered to be the highest point in Austin, offering one of the most exquisite vantage points in the entire city. Look to the west and you’ll meet the Hill Country. Look to the southeast and you’ll find Austin’s ever-changing skyline. It is, by far, the best place to go for a panoramic view of the city.
Although the actual main hiking path is pretty short, measuring just about 0.3 miles, there is a nearly 200-foot elevation gain from the bottom of the stairs to the top—so rest assured, your blood will definitely be pumping. Because of this, Mount Bonnell is an ideal place for trail runners to get a speedy yet effective workout. Most people, however, hike the same short trail section up and back—but you can follow the trail around and down for a slightly different, less crowded return to the bottom of the parking area. Additionally, a few smaller side trails lead off the main trail between bushes and zigzag across various sections of the park. They also lead closer to the cliff-side in some spots, providing unique viewing experiences that not every tourist will see. Note that these are not “authorized” trails, per se, so caution is advised when moving towards the edge into potentially dangerous spots.
Who is Going to Love It
Tourists. Locals with visitors in town. Hikers of all athletic abilities. Couples catching a sunset. Families. Basically anyone who loves free fun with a stunning view will enjoy his or her experience at Mount Bonnell. The average time spent exploring the summit is about 30 minutes. To extend your stay, try packing a picnic and relishing the view from the stone pavilion or one of the four picnic tables lying around. Arriving early enough can score you a private little overlook to enjoy the sunset in semi-solitude, although be aware that a visit to Mount Bonnell will be an urban, social experience and not a quiet experience in the wilderness.
Mount Bonnell can get crowded at sunset, so for those of us who can wake before dawn, the sunrise can be much nicer—especially if you are looking for a more meditative experience that starts with a brisk climb up and ends with serenity at the hilltop pavilion.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From MoPac Expressway in Central Austin, take the exit to 35th Street and head west past Camp Mabry. Go left at the fork onto Old Bull Creek Road. Turn right on Mount Bonnell Road and make your way up the hill. Parking will be on your left, and, yes, it is free! Covert Park is open daily from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. and dogs are allowed.