One of the most popular and beloved outdoor spaces in all of Texas, the Barton Creek Greenbelt has become something of a synonym for outdoor fun in Austin. In fact, although several greenbelts exist within the Austin city limits, when locals simply say “the greenbelt,” this is the one they’re talking about.
Originally given its name by William Barton, a settler who made his home on its banks in 1837, the greenbelt was the source of grief for many local residents who resented the trash left behind by visitors. Fences were erected by private citizens throughout its expanse to keep uninvited people out of the area. In the 1990s, however, the Trust for Public Land bought almost 1,000 acres of land in the area and donated it to the City of Austin, turning it into a public park. By the end of 2009, the trust had donated an additional 58 acres.
Today, the greenbelt is a point of pride among Austinites, drawing thousands of sunseekers, swimmers, hikers, cyclists, dog walkers, rock climbers, rope swingers, kayakers, and tubing enthusiasts to its verdant grounds any given week in warm weather (which, in Austin, is nearly all the time).
The Lay of the Land
Running alongside the eponymous creek for 7.25 miles, with an additional five miles or so of connected trails, the Barton Creek Greenbelt begins at Zilker Park, home of the Austin City Limits Music Festival each fall. Stretching down through a subdivision in south Austin, it ends shortly after the newly-forged Violet Crown Trail begins (and will eventually span a full 30 miles through the lower greenbelt and wilderness park into the neighboring City of Sunset Valley and Hays County beyond that). As for the greenbelt, though, it’s got more than enough to see and do under its lush green canopy.
From its northernmost point leading out of Zilker Park just south of Lady Bird Lake, the greenbelt can be divided into three sections: the upper greenbelt, the lower greenbelt, and Barton Creek Wilderness Park at the far southwestern end. Popular access points can be found along all three.
Something for Everyone
Newbies who are experiencing the greenbelt for the first time would do well to fuel up with a quintessential Austin treat—the ubiquitous breakfast taco—from the Tacodeli on Spyglass Drive, just up the block from the Spyglass access point. From there, it’s a verdant 1.2-mile hike to Gus Fruh, a popular spot with a deep swimming hole and several climbing walls.
It’s important to note that the greenbelt has no restrooms, trash disposal, or water fountains anywhere, so plan accordingly: Pace yourself, pick up after pets, collect your trash for disposal outside the park, and always bring a liter of water for each hour you plan to spend outdoors.
For those who want to do some rock climbing, there are plenty of limestone options along the upper greenbelt. Aside from Gus Fruh, three more areas exist in the general vicinity: the New Wall and Great Wall (at the midpoint between Spyglass and Gus Fruh), the steep-faced, big-roofed Urban Assault (about a mile southwest on the trail from Gus Fruh), and the Seismic Wall (another mile down the trail from Urban Assault).
As for swimming, Gus Fruh offers a perfect introductory dip into Barton Creek’s refreshing depths, and Campbell’s Hole is another popular spot. With western access at Spyglass and eastern access from Homedale Drive, it’s easily found in the upper greenbelt and offers a slightly more shallow option for those who want to get their hair wet.
Shallower still is the water at Twin Falls in the lower greenbelt, where much of the water is only ankle- or knee-high much of the year. A mile beyond Twin Falls is Sculpture Falls, which tends to draw smaller crowds, is fantastic for a leisurely swim, and features a primitive rope swing.
Hiking and Biking
Visitors seeking a bit of incline for hiking, jogging, or mountain biking are drawn to the Hill of Life in the lower greenbelt due to both its steep half-mile trek and its proximity to the Scottish Woods trailhead toward the far end of the greenbelt. This area is also referred to collectively as “Trail’s End.”
An Urban Oasis
Roundly viewed as the lifeblood of Austin recreation, the Barton Creek Greenbelt is a bustling hub filled with runners, hikers, swimmers, rock climbers, mountain bikers, and more. Capturing the laid-back, down-to-earth spirit of the city of Austin and those who inhabit it, it’s a place that embraces all who enter. Drawing locals and visitors alike year-round for fun in the sun (and the shade—not to be taken for granted in the heat of summer), it’s a warm and welcoming space to for all to enjoy and then leave as pristine as they found it.
Originally written for Backwoods.