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austin public parks

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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If you’re looking for a quick and quirky outing, stop by Sparky Park in Central Austin (3701 Grooms Street 78705).

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This half-acre pocket park brings creative and whimsical art to an old electrical substation.

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The Grotto Wall at Sparky Park is part of the City of Austin’s Art in Public Places program. Here are more details from the City of Austin website:

Art in Public Places, in collaboration with the North University Neighborhood Association (NUNA), commissioned Berthold Haas to create permanent public art for a former Austin Energy substation site that was recently transformed to a public park. Named by residents for the electrical sparks that sometimes came from the substation, Sparky Park was converted into parkland by the City’s Parks and Recreation Department. In one corner of the park, several communication towers remain, surrounded by a curvilinear cinderblock wall that became the focal point for the public art project.
Grotto Wall at Sparky Park transforms an existing cinderblock wall into a sculptural landscape of trees and curiosities. Stone harvested and donated from a ranch in the Hill Country is laid in horizontal layers, alluding to an open landscape. Whimsical trees, constructed with petrified wood and stone, resonate with the natural trees in the park. Berthold worked closely with the neighborhood throughout the making of Grotto Wall. Objects contributed by residents are playfully embedded in the wall, sometimes revealed in the seashell canopies of trees as if they were fruit. Arches extend from the wall and rest on columns that define passageways for discovery. The columns are crowned by reflective gazing balls and sections of the old substation’s energy towers. Mementos of the parkland’s history characterize Berthold’s mélange, telling the story of the pocket park and the community who made it happen.

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Here’s the view from the street.

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My kids had fun walking around and looking at the details of the wall.

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The boys are still talking about all of the fossils and petrified wood.

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Here’s even more petrified wood.

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Look at the colors….

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….and attention to detail.

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The old substation building is still standing.

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There’s also a small lawn where kids can run and play. Or, if you plan ahead, you can bring a picnic lunch or snacks to enjoy.

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Austin Active Kids Opinion: Austin at its best–unique, whimsical & fun
Outing Time: 30 – 45 minutes
Reminders: Sparky Park does not have restrooms or water fountains.

We visited two incredible places in East Austin that are rich in history and fun for kids, too: the George Washington Carver Museum & Cultural Center and Rosewood Park.

The Carver Museum, located at 1165 Angelina Street, is dedicated to the collection, preservation, research, and exhibition of African-American historical and cultural material.

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The 40,000 sq. ft. facility opened in 2005 and is named after George Washington Carver, prominent African-American scientist and inventor.

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The museum is very inviting and easy to navigate. The Juneteenth and Austin African American Families Galleries, as well as a small art gallery, were right behind these doors.

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I wasn’t able to take pictures in the main gallery. The kids were interested in the Austin African American Families exhibit, specifically a map of Austin with overlays of where freed slave communities (like Kincheonville in Southwest Austin) developed after the Civil War.

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The boys’ favorite part of the museum was the Children’s Gallery, which features African American inventors and scientists.

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The museum’s namesake George Washington Carver is highlighted, including this quote, “It has always been the one great ideal of my life to be of the greatest good to the greatest number of people.”

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Several other well-known and pioneering African-Americans are featured, like astronaut Mae Jemison.

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The Wall of Inventors was a big hit!

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The top of each diamond-shaped flap shows the design sketch of an invention. When the flap is opened, you see a brief profile of the inventor.

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Another interesting area of the Carver Museum is the section dedicated to the original L.C. Anderson High School, which served Austin’s African American students for decades until it was closed in 1971 during desegregation.

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The vintage trophies and other memorabilia are beautifully displayed.

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Next, we went outside to find out more about this historic structure adjacent to the museum.

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This humble building was Austin’s first main library and it was originally located at Guadalupe and 9th Street. In 1933, it was moved to its present location on Angelina Street and was named the George Washington Carver Library, which served as Austin’s first branch library. You can read more about the library’s history here.

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This building is currently not open to the public because it’s being renovated to serve as genealogy center.

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While Kealing Park is right next to the Carver Museum, we wanted to check out Rosewood Park since it has a splash pad. We drove less than 1 mile east to 2300 Rosewood Avenue and parked in the Doris Miller Auditorium lot.

As you can see by this description of Rosewood Park when it was “park of the month” in 2012, this park has something for everyone: splash pad, playscape, historic structures, beautiful trees, swimming pool, picnic tables, athletic fields, and more! We headed straight for this shady area by the Rosewood Recreation Center to relax for a few minutes. The recreation center building includes the Bertram-Huppertz house, built circa 1875.

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Very close to the recreation center is the Henry G. Madison Cabin, which was built around 1863 on East 11th Street, donated to the City of Austin in 1968, and moved to this site in 1973.

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From our shady spot, we could see the Rosewood Pool, which was renovated in 2012. Here are the pool hours and pool fees.

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We walked around to the northern section of the park (toward N. Pleasant Valley Road). The boys enjoyed running around and exploring the pavilion area.

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We thought this was a really beautiful picnic spot. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a picnic lunch with us!

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This sign explained why we saw such a variety of trees. The Catherine Lamkin Arboretum Trail of Trees was dedicated in 1995. It consists of 35 trees total along the Boggy Creek Greenbelt, with 19 trees located in Rosewood Park.

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In the summer sun, the playscape looked a little too sweltering for us.

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But the splash pad was just right!

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: We had fun and learned a lot….what a great combination!
Outing Time: About 2 hours for both the Carver Museum and Rosewood Park back-to-back.
Reminders: Bring a change of clothes and towels if you plan to enjoy the splash pad at Rosewood Park. Your kids will work up an appetite running around, so also pack drinks and snacks.
Both of these locations are venues for Juneteenth celebrations in mid-June so if you are visiting in that timeframe, check community calendars like the Austin Chronicle’s in advance.
Both facilities have free parking. The Carver Museum has free admission and operating hours are Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., Thursday from 10 a.m. – 9 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. It’s closed on Sundays. Rosewood Park is open to the public 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and the splash pad is in operation May 18 – September 8, 2013.
There is a public library, the Carver Branch, at 1161 Angelina if you would like to add a library visit to your outing.
Do512Family.com has also visited Rosewood Park; read their post here.

School’s out for summer! To get our summer started off right, we went on a quick and easy outing to Ricky Guerrero Pocket Park at 2006 South 6th Street in South Austin’s eclectic and historic Bouldin Creek neighborhood. Yes, you read correctly…there is a South 6th Street running north/south in this neighborhood that is bordered by Barton Springs Road to the north and Oltorf Street to the south. (South 6th Street does not connect directly to either one of these more well-known streets.) Plan your route ahead of time if you are not familiar with the area since this location is a little off-the-beaten-path.

Ricky Guerrero Pocket Park is nestled along the banks of West Bouldin Creek. Even though the park has a playscape and a splash pad, the boys wanted to check out the creek bed first!

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The water from recent rains had receded but there were still some small pools.

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In one of the pools, we found dozens and dozens of tadpoles!

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We went to the small playscape, which is geared toward younger children.

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My 7 year old thought the fake cannon was pretty fun!

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And the swings, too.

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There was also a nice picnic area.

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The splash pad was pretty crowded with very young children when we arrived. Once it was a little less busy, my boys were ready to cool off in the water.

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As you can see, the splash pad is relatively small but all of the kids were having a blast. It’s very well-shaded and that is a huge plus in the hot summer months.

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: This tiny 2-acre park is perfect for kids 7 and under.
Outing Time: Under 1 hour.
Reminders: Ricky Guerrero Pocket Park has restrooms and picnic tables. Bring drinks, snacks, and towels. A lot of the kids were having fun playing with empty cups in the water from the splash pad so maybe bring along some empty cups, too!
If you will have older kids with you, think about packing activities (like balls or games) that are more geared toward their age.
The Bouldin Creek neighborhood has a rich history, which you can read about here. The 54-acre West Bouldin Creek Greenbelt is located slightly north of the park, at 1200 South 6th Street. We did not visit this area but you can read about it in this Austin Explorer article.

We were looking for a short, low-key outing to finish out our Saturday, so we decided to visit Garrison Park at 6001 Manchaca Road in South Austin. (We later learned that the park is rumored to be haunted! Read more in the final paragraph below.)

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We were barely out of the car when my 10-year-old son started jumping on these little wooden poles, happy to be outdoors after a rainy morning.

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The playscape was inviting and well-shaded.

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This pretend cannon was a favorite of many children visiting the park.

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The Austin Parks Foundation web site described Garrison Park as having .7 miles of trails. We never found an actual trail loop but rather walked on these different intersecting paths (pictured below) within the 40-acre park.

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The kids were amazed by all of the trees at the park. We thought this tree deserved its own picture.

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After walking around briefly on the trails, we followed the park road around to the back of the park to the baseball fields, where the kids had fun jumping on these big rocks.

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Then we went back toward the playscape.

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It was an easy walk and the park was pretty serene late in the day.

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My 7-year-old son wanted one more run at the playground before we left.

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THE RUNDOWN:

Austin Active Kids Opinion: A basic park with a fun playscape, lots of shade, and room to roam. An unexpected twist: some people say the park is haunted. See below.

Outing Time: Under 1 hour.

Outing Distance: About 1/2 mile.

Reminders: The park has restrooms, water fountains, LOTS of picnic tables, BBQ grills, and basketball courts. It was not crowded when we visited. There is a public pool adjacent to the park, so the parking lot might get busier when the pool is open.

After our visit when I was researching online for this blog post, I ran across a few articles suggesting that Garrison Park is haunted. (Maybe next time I should do my research before we go on an outing!) Apparently, a small historic family cemetery, the Stanley-Nolen Cemetery, was part of the tract of land acquired by the City of Austin in 1961 from the Stanley family to develop Garrison Park. These photos from Flickr show what the graves look like: here, here and here. We didn’t know about the graves or see them on our walk. (I think they are located north of a small pavilion near the center of the park.) Despite the online buzz, the boys and I didn’t see anything scary even though we were there after sundown…but you never know. Wa ha ha!

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.

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.