Few things are better than empowering someone with the confidence to successfully navigate a trail. I love to introduce people to my favorite outdoor spaces, and that’s why I’ve coached running groups, written guides, and dragged friends around most of Austin’s trails.
Nature, however, continually edits paths. That shady, overgrown summer trail is completely different in harsh winter light. Floods remove trees and stones (or deposit them). Unexpected rains transform pastures into bogs. Animals work a new way to water or food.
People change trails, too. Some well-intentioned user trims limbs, removes rocks, constructs a dam or steps. The city makes site improvements. People on foot and on bikes skirt a puddles, wearing an alternate route.
These constant changes are why there’s no substitute for boots on the ground when it comes to learning trails. And so my trail running buddy Beth and I recently revisited an old friend, Austin’s Walnut Creek Park.
Trail Running Fun at Walnut Creek Park
Located in northeast Austin, Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park has something for just about everybody (softball fields, basketball and volleyball courts, swimming pool, playground). But I’m there for the winding nest of single-track trails that snake through the 293-acre area.
Mountain bikers love the park, and the Austin Ridge Riders Mountain Bike Club has adopted care of the trails. The Ridge Riders have all kinds of wonderful events — rides, classes, and “Take a Kid Mountain Biking” groups. For years, the best Walnut Creek trail map was found on the Austin Ridge Riders website; I’ve religiously carried a printed version in a ZipLock bag on runs for successful navigation of the 11-mile route.
The trails are less technical for a runner than a mountain biker. Being mostly single track (wide enough for one runner at a time), they are FUN to wander. The trails are made up of a fair amount of rock, packed dirt, and gnarly roots, all of which constantly remind runners to pick up their feet. For folks heading to Huntsville to run the Rocky Raccoon trail races, Walnut Creek is a good preparatory workout.
While Walnut Creek’s Powerline Hill is no big climb a la Barton Creek greenbelt’s Hill of Life or St. Edward’s endless incline to the top of Jester Estates, plenty of rollers can be found in Endo Valley and the Log Loop. Turns are the signature to Mark’s Art and Tangle of Trails loop. I like the Windy Loop; it’s a fun, self-contained circle of 1-mile or so (perfect for checking pace on repeats). And “Severe Consequences” has enough sharp turns, narrow passes between trees, and surprising little drops to keep any runner focused.
There’s a new trail addition to the park: the Urban Trails pathway. This concrete bike system stretches 7.3 miles to Govalle Park, its five new bridges and 10-foot wide, two-lane corridor plowing through the heart of Walnut Creek Park.
The new trailhead, situated just west of the swimming pool parking lot, changed the traditional trail entry, eliminating a section of single track leading to the Point Six Loop. If you haven’t been on these trails since this project was completed, you’ll need to re-orient yourself in the cleared and improved areas. I was amazed at how different certain places looked.
What You Need to Know to Try Walnut Creek’s Trails
- Shoes: The surface isn’t tricky enough that trail shoes with grip tread are necessary. But putting together longer loops means wading the creek at any or all of the three different crossings, and trail shoes drain better than road shoes. Your choice.
- Water: Bring drinking water. The trail is quite shaded (except on the new concrete bike paths), but there is no water fountain at the main parking lot. Also know that, in event of heavy rains, the creek can flow fast and dangerous.
- Parking: Lots of it, though the park is bumping on the weekends. Runners and bikers tend to gravitate to the lot by the swimming pool for easy drop in on the trail.
- Bathrooms? There are none on the trails but, yes, the park has indoor men/women’s toilets located next to the softball fields.
- Trail Markers? Since I discovered Walnut Creek, helpful trail signs and map kiosks have been added throughout the park. However, it’s still easy to get turned around (Rogue didn’t call its old trail race there “The Maze” for nothing); if you do, just follow the signs marked “P” to return to the parking lot.
- Bikes? Yes, both mountain and road bikes. Pay careful attention when crossing the concrete bike trail; look both directions for through traffic. I couldn’t find posted rules for pedestrians, but most people I saw on the concrete pathway were moving with bike traffic (though runners should face oncoming traffic on the road). As for mountain bikers, they should yield to all pedestrians per International Mountain Biking Association rules. Because the trails are narrow, I try to be a nice guy and allow bikers to come around — who likes someone hot on her heels? Just be careful stepping off the trail, as Walnut Creek Park is notorious for its bountiful poison ivy.
- Dogs? There is a dedicated off-leash area in the park, but many people also allow their dogs to run freely on any of the trails and in the creek.
- Safety? I will not run these trails alone. Though the new bike pathways have brought in many new users and given a family-friendly feel, police are often called to the parking lot because of questionable patron behavior (I’ll leave that to your imagination). There have been quite a few incidents of women being assaulted on the trails. Be safe.
More ATX Trail Info
Check out my article, Step by Step Guide to Austin’s Long Anticipated Violet Crown Trail, for detailed directions on navigating this new access to the Barton Creek greenbelt.