As a mother with young kids, sometimes I’ve just got to get out of the house. When that feeling strikes me, and I don’t feel like making a big production out of it, I pack a few sandwiches and head to our favorite picnic place, the Learning Tree.
The Learning Tree is the name for a large oak tree in southwest Austin whose branches spread over four picnic tables. It is located on the Oak Hill Rotary Trail, just a short walk behind the Hampton Branch Library.
For our family, the distance between the library parking lot and the picnic tables is just right. It is far enough from the street to allow the kids to run around freely while we eat. It is deep enough into the greenspace to feel we are sort of out in nature, but the bathrooms are still close by, and no one gets tired out and begs me to carry them like they do on some hikes.
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Along the trail on the way to the tree and tables, we pass a pond. Every good children’s hike needs at least one pond. It gives them a chance to poke their sticks around in the mud, and sometimes we see frogs and ducks there.
The tree itself is old, gnarled, and beautiful. It was named Austin Tree of the Year in 2007. With a boost, my girls can sit up in its branches. They like to eat their lunch up there. My toddler son and I eat at the picnic tables, which are metal and have a blue rubber coating. I like that because it means they can be cleaned to good effect (unlike wooden picnic tables).
There is no trash can nearby, so we have to carry out our garbage, but the area is always clean, and usually very quiet. We can hear the faint sound of traffic on MoPac in the distance, but I have never actually encountered another family taking advantage of this picnic spot.
Depending on the time of year, we may see a variety of wildflowers along the trail, and several owls live in the nearby woods. On summer evenings, as the sun is going down, it’s not uncommon to hear or see them.
After we finish eating, we either head back to the library to browse the books (The Hampton Oak Hill library has a very nice children’s section), or we can continue on the trail through the woods to The Dick Nichols Park where there are several playground structures, a pool, and seal who squirts water out of his mouth (during the spring and summer).
Hampton Branch at Oak Hill
Austin Public Library
5125 Convict Hill Road
For more information about the library go here.
So now you’ve heard about my favorite place to have a picnic in Austin. What’s your favorite picnic spot? I’d love to read about it in the comments section!
Katey writes about her family’s adventures and gives inspiration for fun and educational children’s activities at her blog Having Fun at Home.