Bull Creek District Park and Greenbelt: Outdoor Adventures Year-Round

When the weather is nice in Austin, residents and visitors alike flock to the many outdoor spaces which make our city special. While it’s easy to understand why so many people head out to enjoy Mayfield Park, Mount Bonnell, the Barton Creek Greenbelt and the Boardwalk, I’d like to suggest another place you can visit year-round: Bull Creek District Park and Greenbelt.

Bull Creek is 11 miles in length and is located in north central Austin. The watershed’s boundaries are highways 183, 620, Capital of Texas Highway and 2222. The creek’s name is thought to have harkened back to the days that longhorn cattle grazed the area or when wild bison roamed nearby. The Park itself was once run as a private park by the Moore family in the 1950s before being sold to the city.

The centerpiece of the watershed is Bull Creek District Park, a 48-acre oasis which has long been a favorite for dog owners and their furry companions.

Here are five reasons we enjoy this park:

It’s a nice place to cool off. Yes, Austin is blessed with amazing weather, but there are also plenty of occasions when you find yourself overheated, even in the winter months. On those days, it’s nice to dip your toes into the nearest available water source. Thanks to Bull Creek running through the middle of the park, relief is just a few short steps away.

As much as I hate to mention this, as I don’t want to be a downer, in the spirit of full disclosure I must mention that studies have shown that Bull Creek has had unsafe levels of fecal contamination in the past. Although the last research I can find dates back to 2011, I no longer allow my 8-year-old son to fully immerse himself in Bull Creek and opt instead for wading in the shallower areas, knowing he will bathe soon after our visits. Signs saying Swim at Your Own Risk don’t keep many people from doing so, however. There is also plenty of stagnant water across the Greenbelt, and by now my son is old enough to know to steer clear of these murky puddles.

On a recent visit, we had two discoveries. First, we found a limestone overhang from which water was dripping in a steady stream. I’m guessing that in the drier months this is now flowing, but it was amazing to see all of the ferns growing underneath. It was shady and cool nearby, so I would think it’s a nice spot to escape from the heat in the summer. To find this area, head down to the water from the Park parking lot and turn left. The overhang is located only a few hundred feet from the park on your left, next to a large boulder.

Just before the overhang, we noticed deep grooves in the limestone underneath our feet. When I came home to research what they were, I found that these are wagon tracks which date back to the 1800s, when the creek bed was a way settlers got their goods to market.

It’s a great place to bring your pooch. We have a furry family member and are always on the lookout for places dogs enjoy too, and Bull Creek definitely fits the bill. Although the Park is not leash-free, many dog owners either don’t realize this rule was put into effect in 2011 or choose not to follow it. So, if you have a little one who is frightened of dogs, this is probably not the place to go. Just make sure that if you do bring your dog, you clean up after him or her. There are bags near the parking lot just for that purpose.

It’s fun for climbing. The east side of the park has its own small parking lot, area with picnic tables and lots of boulders of all sizes to climb. When we visited, one couple was on top of one of the huge rocks, enjoying a picnic. We’ve often seen rock climbers with their equipment bouldering on one of the rocks, hidden from view. My son always makes a beeline for this section of the park and makes sure to point out his climbing prowess.

Speaking of rocks, there are plenty of places to teach a kid how to skip rocks or just to throw rocks in the creek to see which ones produce the biggest splash.

It’s great for a picnic. Mature oak trees provide Bull Creek with ample shade for a picnic and there are plenty of tables scattered around the park for that purpose. There is even a volleyball court with a good-sized grassy field for throwing a Frisbee. Although it’s hard to manage the water or the trails with a stroller, you could bring one if you were just coming to enjoy the fresh air and some time in nature. Restrooms and water fountains are located right next to the parking lot.

There are trails. When the water is low or it’s too chilly to dip your toes in, you can also explore the Park and Greenbelt by exploring the Inga Van Nynatten Memorial Trail. The trail is .9 mile and honors a loved volunteer of the Bull Creek Foundation who passed away in 2000. The south trailhead can be found near Lakewood Drive. Other trails line Bull Creek, throughout the Greenbelt, although you may be forced to cross the Creek at points and the water can be deep, depending on the time of year you visit and the water levels.
Speaking of trails, Bull Creek Park is part of the larger Bull Creek Watershed, which allows for lots more exploring and adventures. Our family’s favorite is the Upper Greenbelt, which is just inside of 360 and south of Spicewood Springs Road on Old Spicewood Springs Road. We can drive there straight from school and easily spend the entire afternoon looking for tadpoles (usually in May or June), snakes, fish, insects and fossils.

The water is very low in some parts, so we like to visit after rainfalls replenish the creekbed. Just like in other parts of Bull Creek, surfaces can get slippery, so exercise caution, or even use your water shoes. There is a spillway right where the road crosses the Creek where water can get pretty deep, and you’ll see plenty of swimmers in nice weather. There are not many parking spots alongside of the road, but there is a restroom facility next to a small paved lot. Old Spicewood Springs serves as a cut through and there is not much of a shoulder, so it can be a little harrowing to cross with small children, but it’s worth it once you arrive.

The Lower Greenbelt extends from the Upper Greenbelt to Bull Creek Park and offers some amazing scenery. We parked at the entrance on Lakewood Drive and 360 and joined the Austinites who were taking advantage of a beautiful February day. Trail runners, dog walkers and even bikers were taking advantage of the Bull Creek trails. We even spotted a few hammocks strung up among the trees and someone lying across a wall with water flowing over it. There is also a West Greenbelt, although we have yet to explore that portion of the watershed.

Wherever your launching off point, a visit to Bull Creek will leave you appreciating Austin and all the beautiful places there are to enjoy the outdoors, any time of year.

Bull Creek District Park
6701 Lakewood Dr.
Austin, Texas 78731

 

 

About the Author

Nicole Basham
A recovering workaholic, Nicole Basham now spends her time rediscovering Austin through her 9-year-old son's eyes. A soccer-playing mom, Nicole also enjoys tickling too close to bedtime, taking in some live music and being silly.