Known as one of the best off-leash dog parks in Austin, many forget that Redbud Isle is great for people too. This little 13-acre strip of land is situated just downstream of Tom Miller Dam – the northern boundary of Lady Bird Lake – and is almost completely surrounded by water, making it ideal for swimmers, both canine and human. It’s also a great spot for fishing, kayaking or rowing, as well as hiking or just strolling. It's set on the west side of town and is close to other great spots, like Mt. Bonnell, the Greenbelt, and other outdoor recreation hubs.
Regardless of the season, Redbud is always a great spot. There's plenty of cool water and shade for hot summer days, and some of that foliage turns beautifully golden in fall for a nice cool walk. And even when winter comes, the shoreline walks here are quiet and relaxing. Cold mornings, when steam can be seen rising off the lake and the whole place feels particularly solitary, is an excellent time to visit.
When not entirely overrun by happy dogs (usually weekend mornings), Redbud Isle makes a great spot for a quick getaway from the constant static of the city. And even with dogs, the trails are peaceful, and most patrons there are usually in a good mood, so it’s a place to find lots of smiles. It’s not a place for hardcore running or biking, but rather a nice easy stroll along the water’s edge, or a quiet fly-fishing break.
One of the favorite spots here is at the park’s southeastern tip, facing downstream. This entire section of the land is bordered by a mass of interlaced cypress roots, a bass haven. Sitting on the roots, because you’re perched right in the middle of the lake, with an unobstructed view of a calm waterway bending its way toward the city skyline, gives a deceptive feeling of seclusion. You will feel isolated enough to let your mind wander and relax, until a hyperactive, off-leash Labrador retriever bounds right up to inspect you. But in such a beautiful setting, instead of feeling like an inconvenience, it just makes you smile.
The east shore of Redbud faces the deeper main part of Ladybird Lake, so the shore drops off sharply, whereas the western shore is a gradual slope into shallower, marshy water. The park also offers a boat launch for canoes and kayaks on the northeastern corner. The beauty of the south-west shore is the sight of the 200-foot tall bluffs that wall the lake, and atop them sit large estates with some of the finest views Austin has to offer.
As anyone who’s been there will say, the worst part about Redbud is the parking. It reminds you that you are in fact just minutes from the middle of downtown, and that you’re not the only one who likes to get outside – especially in such an outdoorsy town as Austin. The second-worst part is the inescapable reality of dog crap. Most people are good about picking up their pooches’ poop, but at an off-leash destination, a stray pile is inevitable. But even though any time you go you will be sharing land and water with four-legged friends, the place still feels clean. The current keeps fresh water swirling into the contours of the shoreline and on land, the park is maintained fairly well, with mulch applied to trails to control mud.
There are plenty of places to find food and drink all around Redbud Isle, including a variety of nearby outdoor bars . I especially recommend the ever-quirky, deceptively named Dry Creek Café and Boat Dock . Don't expect a creek or dock, but expect a good time with inexpensive, cold beer and fun people.
All in all, Redbud Isle is one very popular spot for dogs and their owners, and you will never be alone there. But the place is absolutely beautiful and tranquil, and provides opportunities to get outside to stroll, fish, swim, or just enjoy the people who make Austin such a cool place, anytime of year.