How’d you like to hike, run and bike your way across 30 miles of pathway connecting central Austin to Hays County? Thanks to Violet Crown Trail, local nature lovers will soon be able to do just that.
What Is Violet Crown Trail?
Violet Crown Trail has been a long time in the making. From 1990 until 2010, forward-thinking conservationists purchased some 23,000 acres in central Texas to preserve sensitive water quality protection lands. In 2010, local voters approved a resolution outing the master plan for a pathway to connect these areas, which became known as Violet Crown Trail.
This point-to-point route merges new and existing pathways, allowing users to experience the variety of central Texas’ landscape and access alternative transportation routes, all while helping to protect the Barton Spring aquifer’s water quality.
Phase I of Violet Crown Trail Now Open
This multi-stage project will take years to complete. Phase I (shown above) opened on August 14, 2015.
Phase I consists of 6 miles of “urban wildland” trail. The segment begins at Barton Creek Greenbelt’s 0.0 mile marker, located at the Zilker Park trailhead by the Barton Springs pool parking lot.
Tip: Not sure where the trailheads are? Check out “The Complete Guide to Austin Greenbelt Access Points and Trails.”
Violet Crown Trail incorporates existing pathways with newly constructed segments. From the 0.0 mile marker, it follows the main Barton Creek Greenbelt trail until it intersects with Gains Creek, at approximately the 4-mile marker (past the Hwy 360 trailhead). There, the two trails diverge and Violet Crown Trail begins.
The new route meanders through a shaded creek valley before climbing upward via steep, rocky switchbacks, and ends at the 6-mile trail marker located under the new trailhead archway.
Violet Crown Trail Step-by-Step Guide (Phase I)
Start at the new Hwy 290 trailhead, near the intersection of Brodie Lane and Hwy 290 service road. This allows you to experience the new trail first.
1. Park in the parking lot to the west of Spec’s (4970 W Hwy 290). Cross the parking lot entrance at the light. Find the crushed granite pathway running parallel to the service road.
2. The trailhead access, marked by limestone columns and a metal archway, is located to the left.
3. Note the first mileage marker. Because you are progressing from the end point, the numbers will get smaller as you go. (When you return, the trail will be marked as though you had started from the 0.0 mile marker at the Zilker Park trailhead.)
4. The first segment consists of rocky switchbacks that work their way down a steep hill. At the bottom of the incline, there is a trail to the left, but ignore it (it connects to several other paths that lead to a drainage area). Proceed straight ahead.
5. Mile 4.88 marks the first of several creek bed crossings. At this writing, they are all dry, but they will have water at other times of the year. Creek crossings are marked with signs at both banks. Be sure to stay on the trail and not wander into the creek bed.
Tip: Having trouble finding the trail? Look ahead about 5 to 10 feet, and the pathway is easier to see.
6. The trail forks near the 4.5 mile marker. If you go to the left, the trail dead-ends but there’s a spectacular view of a cave. To stay on Violet Crown Trail, head to the right. As you follow the trail, several short paths branch off to the left, but stay right.
7. Violet Crown Trail “tees” into the Barton Creek Greenbelt trail here. This ends the new segment of the trail. If your objective is to focus on the new segment, this is the turn-around point. You will have covered approximately three miles round trip by the time you return to the Hwy 290 trailhead.
Good to Know Before You Go
- Trail miles take longer to traverse than road miles.
- Carry your own water.
- Use the bathroom (there’s a primitive toilet located at the 360 trailhead, about two miles down the trail).
- Wear shoes appropriate for rocky terrain.
- During wet seasons, creek crossings will have water.
- Dogs must be leashed.
- Leave no trace. Carry out any waste; this means hauling out dog poop bags.
- Cyclists yield to pedestrians.
- Be aware: the trails are single-track (wide enough for one person at a time).
Want to Check out the Rest of the Trail?
8. At the Violet Crown Trail/Barton Creek trail “tee,” look to the left. The main Greenbelt trail dips down. Just a short time ago, this crossing was underwater. Those left-hand paths you passed before the “tee” detour around this water crossing. If you opt to take the Barton Creek Greenbelt trail to the left, you are proceeding toward the Gaines/MoPac trailhead, Twin Falls, Sculpture Falls and the final 7.5 mile marker, located at the Camp Craft Road trailhead (more commonly known as “the Hill of Life”).
Tip: Always cross the creek carefully when there is water, especially after a rain. Flash flooding is possible.
9. To experience the combined Violet Crown Trail/Barton Creek Greenbelt trail, go to the right at the intersection. This will take you toward the 360, Gus Fruh, Spyglass and Zilker Park trailheads. You will see combined Violet Crown Trail and Greenbelt trail markers if you’re going the correct way.
10. Some fun features of the combined Violet Crown Trail/Barton Creek Greenbelt trail are beautiful rock formations, “the chain” (hold on while crossing the high, narrow trail) and wooden footbridges. You’ll pass under the 360 bridge (take a look at the murals). To get to the 0.0 mile marker, you’ll cross the creek several times and pass by some of Austin’s wonderful rock climbing walls.
Tip: Why are those wooden gates here and there? These mark pedestrian-only segments in more heavily used portions of the path. Both options end up in the same place. Cyclists take the higher trail without the gate, while pedestrians can use either. If you go through the cedar gate, you’ll avoid encountering cyclists who are also using the trail.
Help Violet Crown Trail with a Click
National outdoor retailer REI recognizes that central Texas’ Violet Crown Trail is something special. That’s why it’s one of 10 trails chosen nationally for a special fundraising program.
REI is donating $5 to the Violet Crown Trail for every online vote received. The goal is to raise $75,000 for Violet Crown Trail, and the event continues until the 10 trails’ combined donations reach $500,000. Voting started on August 14th, just in time for the official Violet Crown Trail opening in Sunset Valley.
Go to votevct.com to click. You can vote once a day for as long as the promotion lasts, and it costs nothing.
Want a Guided Tour of Violet Crown Trail?
Violet Crown Trail trail stewards REI and Hill Country Conservancy will guide users along the new Violet Crown Trail this Saturday, August 22nd. Free tours, on foot and mountain bike, will start at 8, 9 and 10 AM. The outing is suitable for all ability levels.
Please register at “Get to Know the Violet Crown Trail” to reserve your place, as group size is limited.
leahruns100 wants to know:
What’s your favorite part of the new Violet Crown Trail?
Can’t wait to check it out!
when you get to the chains, don’t forget to look up and see a SPECTACULAR mass of beehive, jutting from the cliff wall. No need to worry, they are harmless.
I’m going to make a point to look when I’m out there tonight. Somehow, I always forget to look…hope they’re still there!
This Saturday, Sept. 26, is National Public Lands Day. Visit the Violet Crown Trail, and pick a project to help with at one of Austin’s many other outdoor places: http://www.austinparks.org/multi-project-list.html?eventid=994
Great article! It really helped us find our way around. Had a great day biking the trail. Thanks!
Glad to hear it!
Can we get there from Camden Gaines Ranch?
@nicholaslittlejohn:disqus, it looks like you’re close to the Gaines/Mopac Trailhead. With the map at the top of the article and the directions given, you should be able to get on the Violet Crown without too much trouble!
Thank you, found it by liquor store and added to Google Maps!
FYI–I got a sneak peek at the next segment of the Violet Crown Trail, which will go from the Hwy. 290 trailhead all the way to the Wildflower Center. I’ll be sure to put together a guide to the next portion of trail when it’s ready!
Any updates on this? When is the new segment going to be open?!
No updates as yet. I’ll surely share the minute I know something. According to the website, construction will begin in 2018. Right now, Hill Country Conservancy is working to secure all the property, plans, and right of ways. Lots to do!
According to the Hill Country Conservancy’s facebook page, they posted on July 18th that construction of the next 7 miles have begun. So hoping we have it Spring 2017!
That’s awesome! (They probably just need to update the website.) I got a sneak peek at the route a while back, and it will be really wonderful. Lots to do to make it happen, though, so Spring 2017 might be a bit optimistic, but fingers crossed!
Please remember Hill Country Conservancy (@hereforever) when you donate via #AmplifyATX. This is the wonderful nonprofit that makes the Violet Crown Trail possible. They could use your support!