With the looming drops in temperatures (its coming, I promise), fall and winter are a great time of year to take up trail running. In a previous post titled “Trail Running!” I talked about the benefits that running off road and on some varying terrain can have on your overall fitness, but if you live in the middle of the city, where does one go for trail running? Luckily for those of you who live here in Austin, there are plenty of opportunities to dive into the woods and escape the concrete. Here are a few of the more popular options:
Barton Creek Greenbelt
Of all the places in our city to go trail running, this is probably the most accessible and easiest to get to. A haven for mountain bikers, the greenbelt has miles upon miles upon miles of trails right in the heart of Austin. With access points at Barton Springs, Mopac, 360, and Westlake, you can start your run pretty much anywhere and be able to get some good miles. While most of the greenbelt trail is pretty safe for running, be aware that the first couple miles coming out of Barton Springs are pretty rocky and technical, as well as many of the offshoot trails throughout the creek. With all of the offshoots from the main trail, there are an amazing amount of routes and loops you can make all within the greenbelt, so the best way to get familiar is to go explore! Just take some water with you. My personal favorite starting point is the 360 access point just south of the Mopac intersection, where most of the trails are dirt with a good mix of corners, climbing, and descending.
Walnut Creek Park
This is a great trail for beginners to trial running. With 11 miles of looping, intersecting trails, there are plenty of options for doing everything from a short walk up to your marathon training long run. Most of the trails in Walnut Creek are pretty tame and well maintained with a good mix of flat trail, jeep road, short steep hills, sharp turns, and a water crossing or two. For beginners, this is a great place to get acclimated to trail running without getting too in over your head on difficult trails. Almost all of the intersections along the trail have signs for how to get back to the parking lot along the shortest route, so if you like getting lost (which to be honest, is one of the most fun aspects of trail running), you can do so pretty safely and not have to worry about getting too far out to get back. Since this is a big metro park, there are also some nice facilities with a bathroom, giant parking lot and swimming pool. Just beware of running here in the rain as the mud here tends to cake onto shoes. Walnut Creek is located in north central along North Lamar between Braker and Parmer.
Walnut Creek Greenbelt
From the Walnut Creek Park, there is a connecting trail that heads over to Balcones District Park on the west side of Mopac. If you like some long, steady climbing, this trial is for you. Once you leave Walnut Creek Park, its a 2 mile steady uphill all the way to Balcones, but on the flip side, there is a 2 miles steady descent on the way back east. Over on the Balcones side, there are a couple of short loops that you can do for some hill repeats before going back. The west side of Balcones sits on a hill, so running west on the trails sends you up some 100 ft, half mile climbs.
Brushy Creek Deception Trail
The Brushy Creek Deception Trail is really a mountain bike trail for those up in Cedar Park. But for those of you wanting some hilly trail running north of town, this is the place to go. The main entrance to the park is at the intersection of Brushy Creek Rd and Parmer, and has a nice concrete pathway that runs from the park over to the Twin Creeks YMCA along 183. But since the point of this post isn’t to direct you to concrete running paths, there is a nice hidden gem for trail runners just outside of the main park. If you take the main path west from the park, go a little over a mile and you’ll see an unmarked trailhead off yo your left. Once you take the turn, its a steady uphill battle for the next 2 miles as you climb up a number of switchbacks to the top of the hill. just outside of the Avery Ranch neighborhood. From there, the trail heads back down more switchbacks for a mile or so, then you hit several switchbacks that go up and over the same hill every time you change direction for some good kickers right at the end of the run. Eventually, the trail spits back out to the main path a half mile or so from the parking lot. This trial isn’t too technical other than the endless switchbacks, but there are some pretty rocky sections. The main thing you have to look out for is mountain bikers, because there can be a lot of them, especially on the weekends.
Emma Long (City Park)
Another haven for the local mountain bike scene, City Park has some killer runner trails. If you stay on the main trail, the loop is 5.5 miles of grueling sharp climbs, drop offs, sharp corners, and ledges sure to give you a run for your money. This is one of the most technical trails in Austin, so if you want a good challenge, this is definitely the place to go. While this is mainly a mountain bike and motocross trail, if you get out early in the morning, you avoid most of the 2 wheel traffic. Emma Long Park is located in Westlake just northwest of the 360 bridge over Lake Austin.
Bull Creek South
This is another hidden gem out in Weslake. Start from Bull Creek District Park along 360 just north of 2222 and jump across the creek from the parking lot to get to the trail head. These trials aren’t very well marked, so when you go out, make sure you remember which directions you turn, or leave a mark in the dirt for your own reference. Sine this is in Westlake, no surprise that there are some steep climbs and descents on these trails, and they boast one of the steepest (though short) climbs in the city. But once you conquer it, these trails offer some very scenic views of the rolling hills of west Austin. This is one of the more difficult trails due to the steep hills and rocky trails.
St. Edward’s & Bull Creek Greenbelt
If you’ve ever driven or ridden down Spicewood Springs Rd between 360 and 183, you’ve probably noticed the little park down at the bottom of the road that always has a few cars parked in the lot. Well that is St. Edward’s Park and it houses yet another trailhead for the Westlake area. From St. Edward’s you can make a couple different small loops to warm up on some flatter areas. But once you cross over Bull Creek, the trail shoots straight up about 300 ft over the next mile. This climb is the back side of Jester Point and spits out into the neighborhood at the top. From there, you can head down Aralia Dr. to connect to the south segment of the trail and continue heading down hill towards the Bull Creek Upper Park area. If you take the most direct-ish routes through the loops at either end of the trail, it ends up being 7.5-8 miles round trip. Tack on the loops at the ends for a little extra. This trail has a lot of elevation change, but most of it is on the long climbs on relatively straight trails. So all things considered, its not too technical of a trail, and not terribly difficult if you don’t mind running uphill for a while. This is a pretty heavily wooded area, so its nice at all times of the year, shaded in the summer, and wind protection in the winter.
Slaughter Creek Preserve
Slaughter Creek is one of the easier trails to run in the Austin area. This is a pretty flat 3 and change mile loop that is great for beginners or for some off road speed work. There are no technical sections of trail other than a few sharp turns here and there, so not a whole lot to worry about. The only thing to keep in mind is that the trial is open to horse and bike traffic as well. Pedestrians and horses are to follow the trail one direction and bikes follow the trail the opposite direction so minimize clogging up the trail. Slaughter Creek is located in Southwest Austin just west of the Circle C neighborhood.