Tucked between Oltorf Street and St. Edward’s University is Blunn Creek Nature Preserve at 1200 St. Edward’s Drive, Austin, 78704. These undeveloped 38 acres will make you feel like you have stumbled into a forgotten woods in the middle of the city. The preserve does not have a parking lot and it’s easy to miss this sign, which reflects the rugged state of the preserve.
Almost immediately upon entering the trail, you are surrounded by the natural landscape.
There are a lot of trail markers to help guide you but a map would have been handy nonetheless!
We quickly arrived at the first overlook: a bluff from which you can view the preserve and the creek below. The overlook is scenic but there is not a guardrail and the bluff is steep. Be cautious and watch your children closely if you take the short path to this first overlook area.
While walking in Blunn Creek Nature Preserve, it’s easy to forget how close you are to the city. One short detour on the wrong path took us directly to a neighborhood street.
We reached the first creek crossing and the kids enjoyed hopping across the rocks to get to the other side.
About 1/3 of the mile in, we came upon this enormous oak tree. What a sight!
Shortly afterward, we arrived at the volcanic overlook, the second overlook on the trail. Did you know that millions of years ago not only was the Austin area an ocean but there were massive active volcanoes underwater? See for yourself at Blunn Creek Nature Preserve, where you can stand on top of the extinct volcano. As described on the sign below, “With each new eruption, the mound grew upward but probably never reached the ocean’s surface. When the eruptions finally ended, mollusks and other marine animals thrived in the relatively shallow water over the summit, depositing layer upon layer of limey shells. These layers became a type of rock known as limestone.”
We wondered if the red line in this rock could be lava from an ancient volcano? Even if we end up learning it’s just sandstone or granite, we like the story about lava better!
This part of the trail is informally called the volcanic overlook because from here you have a beautiful view of St. Edward’s University (which is built on top of a hill that is also an extinct volcano).
Before the hike, the children had heard me talking about the extinct volcano along the trail and it built up their expectations about what we would find. What you actually see is a circular area of unusual-looking rock high up on a hill. It’s probably not what most children conjure in their imagination when they hear “volcano.” If you plan to visit Blunn Creek Nature Preserve, it’s probably a good idea to make sure your kids have a realistic idea of what they will find there.
While we really enjoyed this hike, it was mid-afternoon and very hot. We also had only one bottle of water per person and that was not enough to continue the hike for the full distance (1.5 miles). We cut the hike short at the volcanic overlook–skipping the northern section of the preserve–and headed south back toward the car. Because we did not walk through the northern part, we missed the third overlook: a view of downtown Austin.
Some online articles briefly mentioned that the Blunn Creek Nature Preserve area includes an ancient coral reef. When we saw this rock full of fossils near the trail, we wondered if this was an example of a fossilized coral reef.
Blunn Creek is a relatively small creek but that did not stop my son and his friend from trying to find a crawdad under a rock.
A restoration project is underway at the preserve, with the goal of removing non-native invasive species like ligustrum and chinaberry. The preserve will really be something to see once it’s returned to its authentic state!
As we were leaving, we saw this Texas spiny lizard (with a nub for a tail) climbing a tree. If you are familiar with Texas spiny lizards, you know how fast they are so capturing this shot was pretty amazing.
We plan to return in cooler weather with ample water bottle reserves to tackle the full trail. It certainly felt like more than 38 acres and we did not even walk the whole trail. Just the southern section we covered this August afternoon was well worth the visit!
Austin Active Kids Opinion: This small amount of acreage packs a mighty punch but it’s better suited for families with hiking experience and children ages 5 and up.
Outing Distance: About 3/4 mile
Outing Time: A little over one hour
Reminders: Take a LOT of water to drink. There are no water fountains or public restroom facilities. While there are many trail markers, some of the paths are not labeled and it can be kind of confusing on your first visit. It seems that most of the trails loop back together and eventually you will find your way. You can use your smart phone’s map and compass to help keep you going in the right direction. Michael Barnes of the Austin American-Statesman wrote about the preserve in an Untold Austin column and you can read more details in this Austin Explorer description.