We are so blessed in Austin with abundant outdoor opportunities. I hate to generalize, but I will…I think most people with autism are calmed by nature. I have never seen my son throw a tantrum when we are hiking or walking or skiing or doing something active in a gorgeous natural surrounding. I’ve had lots of tantrums in my house related to media–can I watch more TV, can I watch that inappropriate YouTube video, can I keep playing angry birds and on and on. Therefore, when the weather is pleasant in Central Texas (this means not summer), there are lots of ways to enjoy what Austin has to offer. Here are five of my favorite outdoor picks:
1) Town Lake Hike and Bike–it can be a bit overwhelming with the crowds on a gorgeous day, but I find that looking at the lake and wandering around on the trail allows my son to get some much needed exercise along with allowing us a chance to look at downtown buildings and huge river cypress trees in the same view. The trails are free and accessible from the north and south sides of the lake.
2) McKinney Falls State Park–Located close to Austin’s airport in Southeast Austin, sits a little gem of a state park, McKinney Falls State Park. I try to head out there with my son before the summer drought because we enjoy wading and playing in the water at the “lower falls” portion of the park. The upper falls are really beautiful, but the lower falls offer visitors the chance to splash and swim in the portion of Onion Creek that flows through the park. It’s so close to Austin, yet feels so far away. There is no easy access to the lower falls for handicapped visitors. My son is able to walk without assistance and so can make the 1/2 mile hike over the rock formations to get to the water feature. Other areas of the park are ADA compliant. There are 7 miles of trails within the park and many of these are paved. There is a daily admissions fee of $6/per person, 13 and older.
3) Bull Creek District Park–There are lots of places to explore trails and falls within this Northwest Austin park. Here is a good map of the entire trail from austinexplorer.com’s website. We stick to the north part of the falls for it’s serenity. There are lots of neat things to see here, lots of frogs, fish and turtles in the water. Free.
4) City Park Beach–I’m not sure if that’s it’s official name, but that’s what I call it. Probably the only beach in the world with a sticker burr problem, Austin’s Emma Long Metropolitan Park boasts an actual beach on the frigid waters of Lake Austin. For a recent spring break, I took my son here every day and he swam up and down in the chilly water, while I waded with teeth chattering. This is actually a great place to go in summer when the outside temperature makes swimming more palatable. Sitting on the dock is peaceful and serene. There are loads of campers here during the major holidays, but during the week, you can be entirely alone with nature and of course the huge houses that sit right across the lake. I wish the city had bought that land as well so the view would be completely naturalistic, but oh well. There is a per car admissions fee of $8.
5) Art Park–This is what my son and I call the grounds of the Austin Museum of Art at Laguna Gloria. We will sprint over here on a school day before it closes at 5 p.m. just to take a 30-minute walk on the grounds. We hardly ever go in the actual museum, well, because my son wants to touch everything, and that is pretty much frowned upon. We enjoy strolling the grounds while admiring Lake Austin, the gorgeous Italianate-style villa originally owned by Clara Driscoll and the variety of sculptural works dotted throughout the property. My son and I love going here. It’s calm and cultured. The grounds are free to wander.