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austin easy hikes

Red Bud Isle, an off-leash dog park, is a unique and fun place for beloved canines and dog-savvy families to run off some energy. The 13-acre park is located at 3401 Red Bud Trail, just below Tom Miller Dam, where Lake Austin ends and Lady Bird Lake begins. The island was created in 1900 from the rubble of a dam that collapsed during a major flood.

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When we arrived on a weekend morning around 9:30 am, the parking lot (which has about 20 parking spaces) was completely full. Because the boys really wanted to visit, we found street parking about 1/3 mile away on Lake Austin Blvd. near LCRA Redbud Center. (Parking meter rates apply 7 days per week.) Walking across the bridge on Red Bud Trail to the park was a little scary and we don’t plan to do that again. In other words, if the parking lot is full, the best thing to do is wait in line with other cars until spots open up or come back another time. This Austin American-Statesman article from 2012 describes the parking challenges.

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After our nail-biting walk across the bridge, we arrived at the park a little rattled. Of course, we saw an empty parking spot when we got there!

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Our border collie was thrilled. She had fun interacting with the many other dogs.

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The boys wanted to take a look along the water’s edge.

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It’s really beautiful.

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I especially loved this tree….

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….and was amused to see a fishing rod holder from the old days, when Red Bud Isle’s primary function was as a low-key and relaxed fishing hole for locals.

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The boys were charmed by this adorable 7-week-old puppy named Moose.

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Moose is getting socialized at a young age!

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This stunning bald cypress tree was the City of Austin’s “Large Tree of the Year” in 2009 (and there’s a plaque to prove it).

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The root-filled southern edge of the island is very scenic. It’s tempting to balance on the tree roots, but be careful…one of my sons fell in when he took his mind off his balancing act momentarily.

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If you have time, follow some of the offshoot paths along the trail. They will take you toward the water and you will find lots to explore!

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Austin Active Kids Opinion: Red Bud Isle is perfect for dogs and the people who love them, as long as you can find parking!
Outing Time: 45 minutes to an hour
Outing Distance: The trail on Red Bud Isle is about 1/2 mile, plus there are little offshoot paths back and forth to the water. Since we couldn’t find parking in the parking lot, the walk to our car parked on Lake Austin Blvd. was 1/3 mile each way.
Reminders:
Red Bud Isle is open to the public 5 am – 10 pm. Talk to your children ahead of time about safety around dogs they don’t know. If your kids or dogs are skittish around new doggie friends, then this is probably not the outing for you. The function of Red Bud Isle is as a dog park. Only make plans to visit if you feel confident that everyone in your family will be comfortable interacting in this atmosphere.
While plenty of dogs enjoy swimming at Red Bud Isle, their human companions are prohibited from joining in the fun. (That doesn’t mean people don’t do it.)
Read more about Red Bud Isle from Austin Explorer, Do512Family, Austin Top 50 Fun in the Sun and Free Fun in Austin.

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I’ve heard about Festival Beach for years and today was the perfect day to visit! Officially designated Edward Rendon Sr. Park at Festival Beach, this 500-acre park is an inviting place to stroll and relax.

The area is called “Festival Beach” because it was the primary venue for Austin Aqua Festival, which was held in Austin 1962-1998.

The park’s address is 2101 Jesse E. Segovia Street. We parked at the corner of East Avenue and Nash Hernandez Sr. Road (near the green arrow on this map), in the shadow of I-35.

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The boys couldn’t wait to explore!

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The trees are amazing.

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We walked east along the trail, which was not crowded at all on Saturday afternoon.

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This cypress tree deserved its own snapshot.

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Across the lake, you can see the beginnings of the new boardwalk. And our cute dog!

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We enjoyed this little deck. Another park visitor was fishing here.

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Along the trail, you will find this memorial to Tejano legend, Nash Hernandez, Sr.

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I couldn’t quit taking pictures of the trees!

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This bridge was one of the park’s best features, according to my 10-year-old son.

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When we came to a fork in the trail, we decided to take the “scenic view” route.

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The trail is narrower here.

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Clearly, we had arrived at the end of the trail. The total distance covered at this point was about one mile. Behind the sign, you see the old Holly Power Plant, which is being demolished.

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On our return trip, we stopped to enjoy the view and rest for a few minutes.

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We crossed the bridge again to get back to where we started. You can see downtown in the background.

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We plan to return to Festival Beach soon….toting a picnic basket!

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The City of Austin is developing a master plan for this park so it will only get more more beautiful in years to come.

THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: A relaxing and scenic spot in the heart of the city.
Outing Time: About 1.5 hours
Outing Distance: Just under 2 miles
Reminders: This park has restrooms, water fountains, and picnic tables. We saw many people picnicking on blankets. There were lots and lots of squirrels running around which could be a problem if your dog is obsessed with them! It’s a good idea to check community calendars like these by the Austin Chronicle, Austin360.com, and the City of Austin before you visit to make sure a major event is not scheduled.

Any outdoor excursion in today’s gorgeous weather was likely to have been amazing but the boys and I think we stumbled upon something pretty special at Great Hills Park. The park consists of 85 acres in the Bull Creek watershed.

We entered the trail off of Floral Park Drive, just past Jollyville Road. We parked in the street and could see the trail entrance from the road.

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This helpful map is located right by the trail entrance.

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The trail can be viewed via Google Maps. Here’s a detailed map of the entire park area, including trails.

Just yards from the trail entrance, my son was busy finding rocks to throw back into the creek.

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The boys were drawn to the little creek like magnets!

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We saw several small offshoot paths down toward the creek bed. Many exciting things were found around the creek! The boys were delighted to discover a spring flowing out of the rock.

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My 10-year-old was thrilled with this fossil. He said it’s the “third best fossil” he’s ever found.

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This area with moss and maiden hair fern was particularly lovely.

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Most of the trail has quite a bit of shade.

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Less than 1/4 mile in, we saw this directional sign.

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We took the fish pond trail and came across some beautiful sights, like this waterfall over an old dam.

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Later, we crossed the creek on top of another old dam.

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Speaking of creek crossing, you will do that a lot on this trail! If you think your kids would be frightened by stepping across the creek on rocks, then this probably is not the trail for your family.

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After hiking a little bit less than a mile, we came to the Colina Trailhead and turned around.

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On our way back, we took another trail offshoot and saw this pretty waterfall. The boys played here for at least 15 minutes.

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On our return trip, we determined that this was probably the “fish pond” area (for which the fish pond trail is named), since it was near a creek crossing and had a bench nearby as indicated on the map we had seen at the Colina Trailhead.

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Whether we found the “fish pond” or not, Great Hills Park was a grand adventure or, as my youngest son said, “The epic-est hike ever!”

THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: Major exploration fun on an easy-to-follow trail!
Outing Time: About 2 hours
Outing Distance: Approximately 1.75 miles
Reminders: Bring along drinks and snacks. Wear shoes that can get wet. We visited after a recent 2-inch rainfall. The water level might not always be the same as seen in these pictures, especially if we are in a dry period. The trail does have several small paths/offshoots that might be confusing. You can use your cell phone to follow your progress on Google Maps to make sure you are staying on the main trail.

Haven’t heard of St. Edward’s Park? You’re not alone! This quiet 80-acre park is nestled along Bull Creek at 7301 Spicewood Springs Road and not anywhere near St. Edward’s University in South Austin as the name might lead you to think.

Driving along curvy two-lane Spicewood Springs Road west of Loop 360, you could easily miss the small parking lot on your first pass.

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My plan upon arriving was to take the kids and dog on the Creek Trail as described by Austin Explorer. Basically, we should have headed north. Due to bad planning on my part (which primarily consisted of not studying the map below until we were leaving the park), we ended up trekking around within the red oval on the map below. This kept our total distance covered to less than 1 mile. Truly, my boys and our border collie were just fine with that because it meant we had more time to play and explore along the creek!

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From the parking lot, we started down this trail, which was surrounded by cactus.

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The trail was flat and we had no problem walking. We later realized we missed the path to connect us to the northern section of the creek trail.

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We knew that this downward slope meant we were probably getting close to the creek, anyway.

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Eureka….the tiniest waterfall in Texas! Do you see the little splashes of water at the bottom?

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We continued along the trail and found this old dam.

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You know what happens next, right?

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Check out the huge fish we saw while walking along the dam!

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Just a few yards farther along, we came upon this crossing to the Hill Trail. My sons thought this looked like a really wonderful place to hang out for a while. Sounds like a plan to me! (Believe it or not, this charming area was just a stone’s throw from cars going by on Spicewood Springs Road.)

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We easily found our way back to the parking lot by sticking to the paths that we could tell were closest to Spicewood Springs Road.

THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: If you don’t mind your head spinning a little from the trails crisscrossing (or if you plan your route ahead of time), you will be good to go for an easy and exciting outing for your kids.
Outing Time: 1.5 hours
Outing Distance: About 1 mile total. We plan to go a lot farther on our next visit!
Reminders: Bring along drinks, snacks, and towels. There might be some cleaning up to do!
Our area creeks ebb and flow depending on rainfall. If there hasn’t been much rain, the creek will not have the same levels of water as seen in these pictures. Always avoid stagnant water. In the St. Edward’s Park parking lot, make sure to secure your vehicle.
Learn about the area’s history and environmental significance in this Sun City Hiking Club description. Here’s more about St. Edward’s Park in this Austin Explorer article and also in an Austin Post column.

While Auditorium Shores is usually in the news as a concert or festival venue, it’s also a great spot for a family outing with a fantastic view of downtown.

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There is a parking lot entrance for Auditorium Shores at 920 West Riverside Drive. If that lot is full, head west on Riverside Drive and look for street parking or a couple of small parking lots.

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The entire Auditorium Shores area will be getting a facelift beginning in Fall 2013 and the Fannie Davis Gazebo has already been refurbished.

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Under the South 1st Street Bridge (also called the Drake Bridge) is a beach-like area where children can explore among the rocks, shells, and knobby cypress knees (cypress tree roots seen to the right of the rock below).

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The kids enjoyed wandering around the lakeshore.

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Keep in mind that Auditorium Shores is a leash-free zone for dogs. You will see lots of happy canines playing, running, and jumping into the lake to fetch balls. Our dog had a great time!

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This little pier went out over the lake. It was like a magnet for the boys!

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We walked west along the trail to the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue.

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There was a lot to look at along the shore!

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We walked less than 1/4 mile on the trail and crossed Riverside Drive to get to Butler Park. The kids immediately ran straight up Doug Sahm Hill without bothering to follow the leisurely spiraling sidewalk.

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At the top of the hill, you will find this stunning view as well as benches so you can rest and take it all in.

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There also is a huge map of Texas.

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Looking southeast from the top of the hill, you can see Palmer Events Center and this field ready for play time.

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To the west is a pond, where you can stroll along and look for fish or turtles.

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Directly south of the hill is the Liz Carpenter Fountain, with its jets of water in full force.

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It looks like the appeal of the fountain was impossible to resist despite the December chill in the air!

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: Unbeatable fun in the city!
Outing Time: 2 hours
Outing Distance: Less than one mile
Reminders: Auditorium Shores has restrooms and a water fountain. Brings snacks, drinks, and a picnic blanket if you plan to stay a while. If you want to check the Liz Carpenter Fountain schedule ahead of time (so you can pack towels and an extra change of clothes), call Austin 3-1-1.
In case your kids still have some energy left, you can take them on a short 1.5 mile loop on the Hike and Bike Trail. From Auditorium Shores, head west on the trail past the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue. Take the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge over the lake and go right once you’re on the north side of the lake. The South 1st Street Bridge will then take you back to Auditorium Shores. If you want to try out some other routes, check out these maps for ideas.
You might want to look up a calendar like this one before you head to Auditorium Shores to make sure there are no major events booked the day you plan to go.

Today we enjoyed one of our favorite outings: Mountain View Park (9000 Middlebie Drive) and Spicewood Valley Trail (accessed across Callanish Park Drive from the park).

Mountain View Park has a fun playscape as well as a pavilion, baseball field, and tennis courts.

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We followed this sidewalk toward Callanish Park Drive.

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We crossed the street and found the trail entrance, which looks like this:

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As soon as you get closer, you can see the trail heading down.

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The trail is easy to follow and has rails to help you down the steeper sections.

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As you can see, this part of the trail is not stroller-friendly.

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Once you get to the bottom of the steep section, the trail is relatively flat.

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We turned right at this distinctive rock.

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It looks like someone had a cool treehouse here!

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We had not visited the trail since Summer 2011, during the historic drought. What a difference a year makes! The boys and I really enjoyed the beautiful landscape.

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We went about 1/4 mile and stopped for a while at our favorite spot, where an old dam creates a small waterfall on Bull Creek.

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This is one of my 10-year-old son’s favorite fossil hunting spots. He said that all of the leaves on the ground made it harder to find fossils.

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The waterfall scene is very relaxing. It’s also a good area for the age-old kids’ past-time of throwing rocks into the water!

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If you are patient and observant, you will encounter many interesting things at Spicewood Valley Trail.

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Almost right away, the boys found this crawdad in the water.

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Next, they discovered a well-camouflaged frog.

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The boys were intrigued by this spooky little skull in the creek.

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Our dog Eva Green gives Spicewood Valley Trail “two paws up!”

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After spending some quality time exploring around the old dam, we continued another 1/4 mile along the trail and then turned around. As we walked, our dog spooked a lizard who dropped his tail when he scrambled away. Eva Green was completely fooled by the twitching dropped tail and the lizard escaped to safety under this leaf.

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The boys were amazed by this beautiful moth. If you look closely, you will see that the moth has an unusual blue and orange body under the white and black wings.

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Save some energy to get back up the ridge on the return trip!

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: One of our favorite outings….it feels like an adventure and there are so many fun things to discover!
Outing Time: About 1.5 hours
Outing Distance: 1.5 miles
Reminders: Mountain View Park has restrooms, a water fountain, picnic tables, and a fun play scape. Bring mosquito spray, water bottles and a trail map if you plan to hike Spicewood Valley Trail. Please note that due to concerns (or lack of information) about the water quality, we do not go swimming in Bull Creek. Unlike our other visits, today we did not see any other people enjoying the trail.
Check out this Austin Explorer article for all of the details about Spicewood Valley Trail. If you want to experience a unique drive when you leave, take Spicewood Springs Road toward Loop 360. You will cross Bull Creek seven times and see lots of pretty sights. You can read about the history of this area in this Community Impact News article and view this Texas historical marker near the intersection of Spicewood Springs Road and Loop 360.

If you think the Hike and Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake is only for kids who can still fit in a jogging stroller, think again! This beautiful trail is the perfect venue for an easy nature hike.

We parked along the street on Stephen F. Austin Drive, on the north shore of Lady Bird Lake near Austin High School. We walked toward Mopac Expressway to get to the Johnson Creek Trailhead.

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The lake shore is accessible at this part of the trail. My kids have named it “Town Lake Beach” and they think it’s a fun place to explore!

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Johnson Creek Trailhead has recently been renovated and it looks fabulous!

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Lady Bird Lake will provide many opportunities for you to appreciate nature, even though it’s in the middle of the city. We headed east on the trail and quickly spotted this lovely dragonfly.

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My 6 year old discovered this toad in a hollowed-out tree trunk.

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We had to stop and catch our breath after the toad excitement.

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As we passed the Texas Rowing Center, we noticed this sign identifying a Clay Pit Bucket Tower, a vestige of the brick-making plant located here in the early 1900s.

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Our turnaround point was an overlook area less than a 1/2 mile from Johnson Creek Trailhead. It was a nice spot to take in the scenery.

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At the overlook, there is an illustrative drawing of birds you might see around the lake. We saw a few of these while we were there!

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When we were ready to go, we returned to the trail and headed west to our starting point at Johnson Creek Trailhead. We packed a lot of fun into a one-hour stroll!

THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: A laid-back adventure for curious kids
Outing Time: About 1 hour
Outing Distance: Less than 1 mile
Reminders: Remind your children about trail etiquette: stay to the right and watch out for bikes. You will probably be moving along more slowly than most of the people exercising, so help your kids avoid obstructing other trail users.