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austin easy hikes

My 6-year-old son, the dog, and I had a short and easy hike at Gaines Creek Park this morning. The park is located at 4801 Republic of Texas Blvd in Southwest Austin. There is not a parking lot but street parking is readily available.

This 37-acre park is nestled just north of Southwest Parkway. It has a water fountain, a picnic table, and benches but no public restrooms. The park’s trails consist of a central path with one U-shaped trail on the left and one on the right. There is a good trail map near the park entrance.

Note that Gaines Creek is a wet-weather creek, meaning that unless there have been relatively heavy recent rains, you will see a dry creek bed rather than a flowing stream.

We arrived around 9:45 a.m. Saturday. The park was not crowded. It actually feels quite secluded, despite the noise from traffic on Southwest Parkway.

We began by crossing the dry creek bed and then taking the trail to our left. My son was excited when he found this rock with fossils.

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He also liked the signs that “told you what stuff was.”

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These big rocks with fossils were particularly interesting for my son.

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The path length was just under 1/2 mile and it returned us to the central trail, which we crossed to access the path on the other side. This trail had much more shade cover and was quite short: only about 1/4 mile.

Visiting Gaines Creek Park was a low-key and relaxing way to spend some time outdoors together. This outing is perfect for families with small children or for those new to hiking.

THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: An easily-accessible and short hike for beginners or young children.

Outing Time: About 30 minutes.

Distance Covered: Less than 1 mile.

Reminders: The park does not have restroom facilities.

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This morning, we went to Blunn Creek Greenbelt. What a gem! The greenbelt connects Little Stacy Park and Big Stacy Park in the lovely Travis Heights neighborhood (right off of Riverside Drive near IH-35).

We arrived around 9:30 a.m. at Little Stacy Park. The address is 1400 Alameda Drive, Austin, TX, 78704. The park has a wading pool, playscape, tennis courts, and restrooms.

Interestingly, the restrooms are more than purely utilitarian. The open area in the middle of the structure was intended for performances and games, as described by Michael Barnes in this Untold Austin column.

The trail begins in the southwest corner of the park, near the intersection of East Side Drive and Sunset Lane. To get to the trail, you have to cross a narrow street bridge that is part of East Side Drive. This tripped me up for a few minutes but then we were on our way. The trail meanders through the greenbelt, following alongside Blunn Creek. On occasion, you will have to cross neighborhood streets. You will also see many walking paths and other offshoots from the trail. There are not trail markers or maps, so I recommend having your cell phone’s map application handy. You will encounter many friendly neighborhood folks and their canine companions. I’m sure you can get directions if needed (like we did).

In about 1 1/2 hours, we covered the whole trail from Little Stacy Park to Big Stacy Park and back. (We were strolling along and taking our time. I’m sure the distance could be covered more quickly.) Along the way, we encountered many of the small joys that make a child scream with delight: tadpoles in the creek, a crowing rooster at Travis Heights Elementary’s chicken coop, a beautiful oak tree to climb, and this fossil in the limestone creek bed:
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We also saw this huge grub, which I would have been happy to have avoided. Unsurprisingly, my 6-year-old son found the grub completely fascinating. Blech.
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We took our border collie along and she found much to enjoy, like other friendly dogs as well as completely unthreatened neighborhood squirrels.

To learn more about Blunn Creek Greenbelt, check out this Austin Explorer post.

THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: Give this neighborhood gem a try!
Outing Time: About 1.5 hours
Distance Covered: About 1.5 miles or less (round trip)
Reminders: Pack water and light snacks. Also take your cell phone so you can check GPS if you get turned around. Nearby street signs are easily visible from the trail so you can re-orient yourself, if necessary.