When you’re in search of a little hike and time alone in nature, take a short drive up Capital of Texas Highway to Bull Creek in West Austin. Here you will find what many locals hail as the most scenic greenbelt around, complete with limestone cliffs, babbling creeks, seasonal wildflowers and natural flora and fauna.
The history of Bull Creek goes back to prehistoric ages, namely the Early Archaic to Late Prehistoric phases, however the early Anglo settlers of this era were Will Preece, wife Elizabeth Gideon, and sons Richard Lincoln Preece and Will Jr.. The Preece family owned a few thousand acres of land in central Texas in the areas of Austin and Cedar Park, and after settling in the Bull Creek area in 1838, the plot began to earn its reputation as one of the prime spots for hiking and swimming.
The name “Bull Creek” ties into this founding family, as well. Legend has it that Will or his son, Richard, killed a male buffalo near the creek. In time, the cavernous cliffs would come in handy during the Civil War in Texas, which were used as bases and hiding spots when Union loyalists resisted the Confederate Army. There are rumors that the historical Chisholm Trail passed by this early home of Richard Preece.
These days, Austinites and out-of-towners alike flock to the local watering hole for a chance to swim, hike and take in all of the subtle natural wonders that this creek has to offer. There is the hiking trail itself, which is 4.5 miles long, taking you over limestone cliffs, down through running creek beds and several spots to swim and cross over. This natural wonder has been called the “Galapagos of Texas”, which stands in stark contrast to the rustling and bustling Capital of Texas Highway just above.
For the full experience, you can park near Bull Creek District Park on Lakewood Drive and start at the south end of the trail. Here you can find 32 acres of parkland, amenities such as a basketball court, picnic tables and barbeque pits. Bring your blanket for a serene nap on the lawn, or your four-legged friends for a long walk during the evening. It’s a real escape from the bright lights of downtown, and after a long day at the office you might just find yourself reaching for your walking shoes to get a breath of fresh air at this greenbelt.
Continue north along the path and you will come up to your first swimming hole. Depending upon the weather and time of year, the levels of the creek rise and fall, and after a roaring rainstorm at night the creek will be overflowing in the morning. There are multiple creek crossings for hikers throughout the trail, some shallow enough to walk through. Other crossings are a bit deeper and might require that you remove your shoes before you make the walk across, but the trail is worth it.
Enjoy breathtaking waterfalls and take a break and a dip in the ever-flowing waterway. Many species of salamander and fish call this creek home, and you might even catch a glimpse of a few on your way down to the water.
About a third of the way into the trail, the greenbelt continues under the highway and to the west side of 360. Some of the best views of these Texas limestone cliffs are found on this stretch of rocky path, and as you get further away from civilization and the parking lots, you get a bit more quiet and solitude as well. On a hot summer day, the trail can get pretty sweltering, but tall Cedar trees offer a fair amount of shade on the walk. It’s a good idea to come well-hydrated and bring a water bottle or two.
When the trail crosses back to the east side of 360 again, you come up to another swimming hole, this time filled with glittering and blue spring-fed water. There are a handful of swimmers and hikers at this Lower Bull Creek Greenbelt, taking a break in the middle of the day and making an afternoon campsite. It’s the perfect place to cool off after a vigorous hike down the greenbelt and take a breather before you make the trip back.
All in all, the hike can take up to several hours to complete depending on where you start on the trail, but seasoned hikers and newbies alike all name this as one of the best places to get to know Austin — the natural way. Stop by the next time you drive down 360 for an unforgettable slice of Texas heaven, right in our own backyard.
Bull Creek District Park (map)
6701 Lakewood Dr.
Austin, TX 78731