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Unexpected Austin

3 Adventures in Texas Hill Country

William Woodward is an adventure photographer and full time van-dweller. He went on the road with our Stoke Series crew to find out what Austin is all about.

Keep Austin Weird. The slogan of a city known for its music, culture, food, and more recently, technology. What you may not know about Austin is that it’s also an outdoor mecca, from water sports to rock climbing. Austin is even home to the first and only lift-accessed mountain biking in Texas.

Upon arriving in Austin, I learned about an area of Texas known as hill country. Defined by its limestone and granite hills rising upwards of 500 feet out of the surrounding plains, hill country is lush, green, filled with natural springs, lakes, and rivers, and shaded by Ashe Juniper and Texas Live Oak. We set off for the hills to see what adventures we could find.

Adventure 1: Mountain Bike at Spider Mountain

Austin is home to the only lift-accessed bike park in the country that’s open year-round, and the first in Texas. Spider Mountain, just a 45-minute drive from Austin, has five trails, from a long and flowing green  beginner trail to a double black route with challenging rock gardens. You can also lap a jump track to practice your airtime. Spider Mountain is hard at work to open more trails, including one with large wooden features that will challenge your riding. 

After the Texas heat picks up in the afternoon, cool off at Lake Buchanan where you can take a dip, rent boats or SUPs, or set up camp to do it all again the next day.

Adventure 2: Rock Climb at Reimer’s Ranch

Due to the geology of the greater Austin area, aquifer-fed springs create rivers that, over time, have worn down the limestone to create amazing riverside crags. Located above the Pedernales river, Reimer’s Ranch is a sport climbing mecca with grades from 5.5 all the way to 5.14. 

Walk from the park’s trailhead and along one of Texas’ beautiful springs, where you’ll be introduced to the overhung cave systems filled with tufas—rib-like rock features that protrude from the wall and are often the perfect size for pinching. If steep and pumpy 5.12s are your speed, you’ve found the spot.

Further down the trail, the rock becomes less steep. It’s on this wall that you’ll find morning shade—perfect for getting a few pitches in while escaping the Texas heat. This area is stacked with climbs, similar to most sport crags in the U.S., where you can be climbing a 5.8 right next to your friend sending a 5.11+. The climbs at Reimer’s are short but sweet and require some getting used to. Due to the variability of limestone, you might encounter some holds on a route that are pocketed and grippy and others that are slopey and polished.

Adventure 3: Paddle, Stargaze, and Camp at Canyon of the Eagles

Tucked away on the northeast end of Lake Buchanan, Canyon of the Eagles takes its name from the Bald Eagles that winter in the area. Rent kayaks or SUPs to explore the unique waterfalls that spill into the lake, a surefire way to beat the heat on a summer afternoon. 

After spending the day hiking, paddling, and swimming, cap the night with a hike to the Eagle Eye Observatory. The observatory at Canyon of the Eagles is considered one of the darkest sky-viewing sites in all of Texas and is equipped with several telescopes and staffed by astronomers who provide talks every evening.

If you’re planning on camping, there are both RV and tent campsites available at Canyon of the Eagles. 

While outdoor activities may not be the first thing you think of when you consider Austin, Texas, there’s certainly a plethora of exciting ways to spend your days. On top of that, most of Austin’s outdoor adventures can be accessed year-round. Perhaps we need to consider a different alternative to the slogan “Keep Austin Weird.” My vote? Keep Austin Outside.

William Woodward is an adventure photographer, writer, and full time van-dweller. He most enjoys capturing images and stories that revolve around a sense of place. Follow William on Instagram here.