Greenbelt shines for summer fun

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Hiking, biking trails run for miles; cool off in swimming holes for free

The oppressive summertime heat makes hiking a sweaty adventure most years, and without water, the plant life of the Barton Creek Greenbelt’s banks are not quite as scenic. This year, however, since plenty of rain has fallen, the hiking trails along the Greenbelt are about as fertile as can be, and with water levels high, a sweaty hike can easily turn into a cool dip at Barton Springs.

The Greenbelt consists of 809 acres of natural landscape in South Austin that offer space for many different recreational activities. Best known for its swimming holes, it’s also home to hiking and biking trails that run over 7 miles through some of Austin’s lushest landscapes.

“It’s kind of fun to go when there’s [no] water because the bottom is kind of white, gravelly and rocky. It’s kind of like a playground pit, with the cliffs around it in different spots,” local hiker Kristy Hobart said. “It’s still a fun place to go [to] and very beautiful, even when there’s not water. It’s just that you can’t go jump in the water and cool off.”

The Greenbelt is free and accessible from many different points along MoPac Boulevard, Loop 360 and throughout neighborhoods along Barton Springs Road. If you plan to hike the whole trail, you can start at Zilker Park and finish a little over 7 miles later in the Lost Creek subdivision.

“The Greenbelt is awesome,” said Troy Wilson, owner of Austin Rock Gym, an indoor rock-climbing facility. “And Austin, Texas, for keeping that place open and available for us — we’re super thankful for that. Access is a privilege.”

Some of the hikes are more strenuous than others, depending on where you begin and end. If you start at the trailhead on Camp Craft Road and Scottish Woods Trail, you have a great downgrade at the beginning of the hike, but your legs will be burning on the 200-foot uphill on your way back.

“With the Greenbelt, you hike out and you hike back the same way unless you have two people with cars at either end,” Hobart said. “But it’s usually a long, straight line.”

Gushing water flowing over rocks into bigger pools makes Twin Falls one of the more popular stops along the Greenbelt. The entrance to the trail down to Twin Falls is on South MoPac Boulevard, and it takes about 10 minutes to get to the falls.

“If you want to go, you should go early [to avoid the crowds],” hiker and native Austinite Treg Russell said.

Begin at the trailhead on the 2600 block of Barton Hills Drive, and you will find the popular Gus Fruh Pool down the road. You can even wear flip-flops on this short hike to the water. However, if you plan to go farther, be advised to wear tennis shoes because the trails are rocky with many tree roots on the path. You can follow the water — or creek bed, depending on the weather — as far as you please. Just know that you will have to come back the same way you came.

Another scenic stop along the Greenbelt is Sculpture Falls, with lots of water and many places to relax on the flat rocks. If you begin at the Upper North trailhead on Scottish Woods Trail and Camp Craft Road, the hike takes about 30 minutes. It’s a popular swimming hole along the Greenbelt, and on a sunny day you will find other people enjoying the sun, water and being outdoors.

“It’s a real laid-back atmosphere,” Russell said. “You got a real mix of people there, but they all get along. There’s no one being really rowdy.”

For those looking for more of an adventure or challenge than a hike, Austin Rock Gym holds group and private lessons at the Greenbelt for both beginners and more advanced rock climbers. Troy Wilson said it’s a great place for a range of climbers, and that there’s something for everybody at the Greenbelt.

“The cool thing about climbing the Greenbelt is: 1) It’s right in the middle of the city, 2) it’s free and 3) it’s beautiful,” he said. “Austin is really fortunate to have a place like that for climbers, let alone hikers and bikers as well.”