Back in the 1990s, the trail around Town Lake (now known as Lady Bird Lake) had real issues. Maintenance of the crushed granite pathway wasn’t at its finest, sections were confusing, crossing I-35 dangerous, and the eastside segment was pretty much only populated by serious souls covering the full 10-mile loop.
But as Austin has grown, trail usage exploded, and The Trail Foundation (TTF) upped its stewardship, everything has changed. When the new Boardwalk section opened in 2014, the rechristened Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail took the loop experience to 11.
If you’re looking for a taste of the new Boardwalk, beautiful scenery, bountiful bird watching, hassle-free parking, and fewer crowds, all rolled into a shorter distance loop, try the eastside loop. Here’s a step-by-step tour of what can be enjoyed when covering this 4-mile trail option in the heart of Austin.
Trail Basics: Usage hours are from 5 AM to midnight daily. All share the trail—it’s open to walkers, runners, and bicyclists (everyone without a motor). Cyclists yield to pedestrians, and pedestrians should walk or run no more than two abreast to provide adequate sharing. Dogs are allowed on leashes.
Starting Off at Lakeshore Point (2000 Lakeshore Boulevard)
If the popular starting area under MoPac Bridge at the west end is known as “The Rock” (for the granite block where found keys are traditionally placed), then this is “The Ball” (for the spherical fountain located in the courtyard). The new Lakeshore Point Trailhead features bike racks, clean and spacious bathrooms, water fountains, and seating. Though there is no parking lot, two handicapped parking spaces and ample street parking—plus a CapMetro bus stop (672/680 Lakeshore)—provide easy access.
The South Shore District across the street will eventually house pre-and post-run/walk meet-up spots, with Chipotle, Starbucks, and free retail parking soon to come.
Moving West on the Waterfront Promenade
The trail starts out as a crushed granite surface. Proceed west and you quickly encounter the new Boardwalk, which spans over both land and Lady Bird Lake. Its concrete surface is textured, making it less likely to be slippery when wet. On your left, two sidewalk extension projects on either side of the Amli apartments are in progress; follow either to reach street level at Riverside Drive, rentals (Rocket Electric Bikes and Live Love Paddle), and a place for a cold beverage (Draft Picks).
Continue west on the boardwalk. Notice the railings; Belting It Out is part of the Art in Public Places installations—can you identify the song lyrics engraved on each of artist Ken Little’s bronze belts? This section, the Waterfront Promenade, includes approximately 1,600 feet of the Boardwalk and three shade areas, though there are no benches or water fountains. Fishing is limited to specially designated areas only.
Crossing the I-35 Bridge
Next comes the area surrounding the Harper’s Branch Connection, named for the Harper’s Creek watershed. Stairs to the left lead to Riverside Drive and access the pedestrian walkway along the I-35 highway; a concrete barrier provides protection from traffic. For cyclists or those who have mobility impairments, a ramp located under the bridge provides alternate access. This lighted area also includes a bike rack, water fountain, and poop bags for dog waste.
To continue on the 4-mile eastside loop, take the stairs or ramp up to cross the I-35 pedestrian bridge (continuing on the Boardwalk and crossing at the Congress Avenue bridge makes a 6.3-mile loop).
North Side’s Memorials
After crossing the I-35 Bridge, you’re now on the north shore of Lady Bird Lake. Proceed east; the lake should be on your right. There are several parking areas close by, one directly under the bridge and several along the road (Robert Martinez, Jr.) that parallels the lake. Trail markers measure the pathway in quarter-mile increments, clockwise, from the 10-mile loop’s starting point at Auditorium Shores; the 5-mile marker is near the I-35 Bridge.
After the concrete of the bridge, the trail returns to crushed granite, though concrete dips intermittently direct runoff into the lake. Picnic tables, benches, water fountains, and a bathroom are located just east of the bridge. Often, Austin’s wild parrot flock can be spotted in the large oak trees that line this segment of the trail.
Take time to reflect at the markers and memorial grove to your left. The trees planted here, part of the 6,500 located in Austin and Round Rock parks, were donated through the grief counseling service, For the Love of Christi, in honor of deceased loved ones.
Near the 5 1/2-mile marker is the first of two installations celebrating Austin’s Latino music legends, part of the Tejano Trail. “Tenderly” commemorates local legend Nash Hernandez, leader of the Nash Hernandez Orchestra (1949). The last song of each performance, “Tenderly,” was always dedicated to Hernandez’s wife Minnie.
If you rest on a bench, look for the plaque fixed to the ground near it. Each green metal bench on the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail has been donated in honor of a someone.
Though all of the benches along Lady Bird Lake have been dedicated, The Trail Foundation has an Adopt a Tree program for honoring loved ones with a living memorial along the path.
Edward Rendon Sr. Park at Festival Beach
If there’s a tricky section to the eastside loop, this is it. Still on the crushed granite lakeside path, you’ll pass a small parking lot and boat launch area, an entryway to the Lady Bird Lake Paddling Trail. As you come to the 5 3/4-mile marker, the trail veers left, away from the lake, to cross a rusty, arched metal pedestrian bridge above Festival Beach cove (in warm weather, area slackliners string their lines to practice, seemingly suspended in air).
After crossing the bridge, the crushed granite trail is interrupted. A baseball field appears on the right (Mendoza Field), a large parking lot to the left—all part of Edward Rendon Sr. Park. This area is slated for some major upgrades, including new sections of trail and Boardwalk, a pedestrian bridge spanning the lake, and more parkland (an additional nine acres, known as the Holly Shores Park).
Head away from the lake; a public restroom and water fountain are located slightly off the trail, near the bleachers. At the split, continue to the right, passing between the Ray Morgan Batting Cages and the blue Central Austin Youth League buildings to the right and the Lorraine “Grandma” Camacho Activity Center in white stone to the left. A pedestrian walkway guides you across the street toward a portal. Walls surrounding the Holly Street Power plant covered with murals loom to the right of the crushed granite trail. In the grass on the left are picnic tables, benches, and an old-fashioned street lamp.
After passing beneath another trail arch, take the sidewalk to the right, cross the road, and bypass the entrance to the Holly Street Power Plant Decommissioning Project office. Now you’re back on the crushed granite path, which skirts a bathroom (the green building to your left), water fountain, bike racks, and basketball courts by the dead-end street.
Cross over the old, unused railroad tracks and onto the aggregate sidewalk that runs downhill between the road and the former power plant. The secluded wooded area just beyond provides excellent bird watching and fishing sites—there’s a paved fishing area to the right of the pedestrian bridge that crosses the water collection pond.
Veer left to cross the bridge; on the other side is the 6 3/4-mile marker, located near the intersection of Canterbury and Pleasant Valley Road. There’s street access plus a small parking lot (five spaces, plus two handicapped parking slots) and another stop on the Tejano Trail. The Roy Montelango Scenic Overlook installation celebrates the 1991 Tejano Music Hall of Fame inductee’s popular radio show !Estamos en Tejas!
Longhorn Dam Crossing
Ahead lies Pleasant Valley Road, Longhorn Dam, and the eastern end of the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail. Move up the slight hill to the sidewalk before turning right to utilize the pedestrian walkway to cross Lady Bird Lake. In the past, cyclists have been encouraged to use the road, but doing so can be dangerous. This trail section is very narrow; all should proceed single file, vigilantly on the watch for anyone approaching. Chained-link fencing protects trail users from street traffic and a low railing separates pedestrians from the lake below.
Once across, continue straight ahead to take either the aggregate sidewalk or a rutted dirt path down the slope to return to the crushed granite trail (this area will be difficult for those who are mobility impaired and problematic for small children).
Returning to Lakeshore Drive
A narrow strip of street parking is available along Pleasant Valley, across from the Krieg Softball Complex and the Austin Fire Department’s drill tower. At the 7 1/4-mile marker are a picnic table and bench. Sometimes a vegetable stand sets up shop here.
Veer right to stay on the trail, keeping the lake on your right, to catch a beautiful skyline view of downtown Austin. At the intersection of Pleasant Valley and Lakeshore Drive, there is street access via a sidewalk to the left and a viewing area with picnic table to the right. Continue up the little hill toward the street. At the 7 1/2-mile marker, there is a bus stop on the road to the left (672 Lakeshore).
Depending on where your car is parked, you may be nearing the end of the loop. If you are near your car, follow the sidewalk. If not, move down next to the lake to continue enjoying the crushed granite trail.
New Pedestrian Bridge and Gazebo
Whether on the sidewalk or trail, your path is soon interrupted by trail construction, the next step in TTF’s planned improvements. To explore a bit more, turn right for a short out-and-back trip to the gazebo located on the south-side peninsula. Stop to look across the lake at the future Holly Shores Park—this spot is where a proposed pedestrian bridge would connect north and south shores.
Return, moving in front of the fenced construction area near Hostelling International USA and EpicSUP off Lakeshore Boulevard. The new eastside pedestrian bridge near the Hostel will further improve eastside trail usage. Susan Rankin, executive director of TTF, explained: “The realigned approach will enable trail users to experience a beautiful meadow and remain lakefront when traveling east of the Boardwalk.”
The meadow referred to is a future project, the Lakeshore Park Rain Meadow, to be located at the eastern end of the Boardwalk. Some of the features “will include an exercise station and new trees to shade and beautify that area of the Trail,” as well as eco-friendly storm water infrastructure to help improve water quality and protect the watershed.
A few more steps, and you have returned to the Lakeshore Point Trailhead to complete the 4-mile eastside loop.
@theAustinot wants to know:
Have you tried the eastside loop? Share your experience in a comment!