Reimers' Ranch Park
Hamilton Pool is an extremely popular place to get out of Austin and swim in a beautiful spot just off the Pedernales River. Unfortunately, at times this translates to a several-hour wait to get into the parking lot! Instead, Reimers' Ranch Park (just down Hamilton Pool Road) offers beach access to the Pedernales without nearly the same level of crowds. In addition to swimming, hiking and mountain bike trails run through the park and past some of the most popular rock-climbing spots near Austin.
- Location: 24100 Hamilton Pool Rd.
- Cost: $10 per vehicle, which is good all day for all Travis County Parks.
Pedernales Falls State Park
Similarly, the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is so popular that on many weekends the park reaches capacity as early as 11 a.m. Nearby Pedernales Falls is just as beautiful, and you can climb over the rocky riverbed or swim in hidden pools without the crowds. For a really special spot, hike into the primitive camping area and follow the paths that cut down below the bluffs for a pristine riverfront swimming area.
- Location: Johnson City, Tx
- Cost: $6 per adult, free for children 12 and under
Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
Want some easy hiking close to town but don't have time for the extensive trail networks of the state parks nearby? Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge is a relatively unknown park open daily outside of certain posted hunting dates. Just beyond North Austin, Balcones has three separate hiking and birding areas open to the public. A personal favorite is the Doeskin Ranch section, where just over 5 miles of loop trails wind up and over the Texas Hill Country.
- Location of Headquarters: 24518 FM 1431, Marble Falls, TX
- Cost: Free
H29 Eagles' Nest
A more spectatorial experience, the Highway 29 Eagles' Nest outside of Llano can be a great (and free) educational experience for kids or an easy day of exploring for adults. On Highway 29 just East of Llano, a pair of bald eagles return annually to nest and lay eggs. Eagles generally arrive sometime in mid- to late October, babies hatch in December, and all will leave sometime around March. The nests are often at some distance (currently over 100 yards) from the highway pull-off, so consider packing a pair of binoculars. Note that the nest is on a privately-owned ranch, but spectators are welcome to watch from the popular pull-off on the highway.
- Location: TX Highway 29, approximately nine miles east of Llano.
- Cost: Free