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Creating the perfect summer day for you and the kiddos isn’t an easy feat in the most normal of times – and these times are anything but normal. That’s why happyly has partnered with Free Fun in Austin to offer readers a bevy of curated activities for an active family day. It’s our mission to inspire fun and safe summer outings so you can spend less time planning and more time playing.
Before we continue, we want to remind you that with the rise of COVID-19, it’s best to stay home. We encourage you to consider the safety of yourself and your neighbors. Our family fun day features will remain online as a reference that you can access when you are able to safely experience the highlighted locations.
Free Fun In Austin continues to highlight Austin area locations and activities that may not be available at this time. We encourage you to take all safety measures to keep yourself and your neighbors safe. It is our hope that the stories and features on this site will help inform your plans in the future.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Gather up your would-be botanists for a day exploring the roaming gardens and natural landscapes of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center located in southwest Austin. The Wildflower Center is great for children of all ages, but if you have little ones, we suggest making a game out of your visit! Consider putting together a scavenger hunt beforehand so the kids can get the most out of exploring the site’s many offerings (Check out the website’s facts page for ideas). There is an entry fee – $12 for adults and $6 for kids between five and 17, but it’s worth the price.
Known as the Botanic Garden of Texas, the Wildflower Center spotlights more than 900 species of plants native to the state on its 284 acres. And, with numerous trails to explore and garden plots to admire – including pollinator habitats, theme gardens, and woodland spots, it’s a great place to get the kids outside, appreciating nature, and learning about sustainability too! Visitors will be amused by, and should take note of, the “Beware of Snakes” signs located throughout the property!
The site is also home to the Texas Arboretum, which takes up 16 acres of the center’s grounds and showcases more than 70 species of native Texas trees. For admirers interested in learning and exploring sustainable design, the Luci and Ian Family Garden offers visitors educational material and a fun spot for the kids to play.
As you may have guessed, the Center was indeed founded by former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson. She, along with actress Helen Hayes, started the project in 1982 to protect, spotlight, and research Texas’ native wildflowers. Over the years, and especially upon joining with UT-Austin in 2006, the Center has become a “major botanic garden and research unit” of UT. According to the website, they focus on plant conservation, landscape restoration, and sustainable landscape design. As with any thriving garden, the Wildflower Center is also home to a plethora of animals. According to the website, 1,800 insect species, 148 bird species, and 15 species of mammals can be found roaming, nesting, and buzzing about.
What to know before you go:
The Wildflower Center is currently open to visitors, but reservations – and masks! – are required for entry. The Center allows you to book a two-hour block up to five days in advance via their website. Groups are limited to five or fewer people and some garden areas are now mapped out for one-way traffic to support social distancing efforts. During non-COVID times, the Center also features a gift shop and Wildflower Café to grab a bite pre or post exploring. Both are currently closed.
Though it can get toasty out on the meadow, one of our favorite spots to roam is the quarter-mile trail surrounding the Savanna Meadow, which you enter through a limestone archway known as Cecille’s Arch. If you happen to visit shortly after a rain, the meadow is also home to a shallow, ephemeral creek lined with grasses.
The Hill Country Trails are also great for exploring. Winding through 70 acres, there are two trail loops through a plot where researchers study prescribed fire and land response. The John Barr Trail (.25 miles) intersects with the longer Simmons Research Trail (.6 miles) to meet your hiking needs. Roadrunners are commonly seen running the trails too!
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Location: 4801 La Crosse Avenue
Hours: Daily 9 am – 5 pm
Price: Adults – $12; Youth (5-17) – $6; Children four and under are free. Free for members and UT Austin faculty, staff, and students with valid ID.
Want to Keep the Fun Going? Take a Dip at McKinney Falls!
Keep your family day going by making the journey across town to southeast Austin to swim – and explore – at McKinney Falls. The state park offers several swimming holes along Onion Creek, including the Upper and Lower Falls areas. Depending on when the last rainfall occurred, the falls may be a little slower during the summer months, but the water is usually cool and clean. Leashed dogs are welcome at the park, but are not permitted in the falls area and food and drink be consumed before entering the swimming areas.
The park offers numerous picnic spots (check the website for current openings and availability), as well as a paved hiking and biking trail, and more rugged hiking spots depending on what you’re looking for during your visit. Fishing is also permitted in the creeks flowing through the parks. For camping enthusiasts, McKinney Falls has 80 spots for tent and RV camping just a short distance from the trailhead entrance to the falls. The sites fill up quickly so make reservations well in advance.
The park is currently opening, but social distancing is enforced and masks must be worn if and when entering any onsite buildings. Some parks have reduced their capacity so we suggest making reservations for a day pass in advance to secure your spot. Reserve online or call (512) 389-8900.
McKinney Falls State Park
Location: 5808 McKinney Falls Parkway
Hours: Daily 8 am – 10 pm
Price: $6, free for children 12 and under
- The Wildflower recommends you bring plenty of water.
- Don’t forget bathing suits and towels for McKinney Falls.
- We like to bring water shoes for swimming and hiking around the falls.
Happyly is the country’s only mobile-first family activity planning app focused on helping families live their best life.
We are passionate about supporting families in a fulfilling, balanced, and active outdoor lifestyle. How? By developing resources and delivering inspiration to fit your personal needs, whether it be for planning an afternoon or a long journey. With the help of happyly, you will save hours of wasted time planning, as well as the frustration and disappointment your tribe feels when your plans don’t turn out as you hoped.
By doing the leg work and endorsing our favorite activities based on first-hand knowledge, our expert team saves valuable time for our community, empowering parents to be fully present when it matters most. Working parents spend an average of twelve waking hours a week with their children. When you break it all down, it’s not a lot. So even just one or two hours a week spent searching or planning is just too many. Let us help you spend less time planning and more time experiencing life together.
If you have ideas for our next installment in our Family Fun Day Austin Series, we welcome them at [email protected]. Enjoying our content? Please download the free happyly app for fast access to all of our blog content, favorite activities, and expertly designed curated days, both locally and in many communities and travel destinations across the country.