Whether you’re a beginner just wanting to get out and try mountain biking on fun, easy trails, or an advanced rider craving hardcore single-track, Austin has it all. Below is a list of what many consider the Hill Country’s Top 5 mountain biking destinations, both in Austin and within a two-hour drive. They're listed from furthest to closest-in, and specified is whether or not they’re free or require a paid admittance. Some of these destinations also rent bikes and offer camping as well as various other amenities. Although there are many more options throughout the area, what keeps these spots on many bikers' bucket lists is their consistent popularity and wide variety of excellent trails designed for most skill levels.
Flat Rock Ranch – 2 hours away, $7 (per person) day use, $10 camping, 12 and under free
Definitely a go-to place for Austin mountain bikers who want a day trip out of the city and into beautiful ranchland. It’s closer to San Antonio, but well worth the drive. Lance Armstrong likes it too, so there’s an extra confirmation that it’s pretty darn good. There are simply miles and miles of all sorts of trails. There's also a house for “Bed and Bike” vacation rentals. The fact that, after over 100 years, this place remains a family-owned and operated cattle and goat ranch, lends an air of Texas authenticity that you just can’t get in many places anymore. Note that the ranch closes for hunting season, typically after the last weekend in October.
Reveille Peak Ranch – 1 hour away - $10 ($5 for kids under 12) – Bike rentals for $25 half-day/$35 full-day – Camping available
This place keeps getting better. My first time out here, they had almost zero signage, and people were getting lost on the massive spread of trails, but each year it gets more user-friendly. The best thing about this ranch is the granite, as opposed to the ubiquitous limestone that you normally find in Central Texas. The granite facilitates better tire grip and you can make steeper climbs and tighter turns than you can on limestone. And when you’re out there, you get the feeling of being way out in the old west. A true Texas ranch experience.
Rocky Hill Ranch – 45 minutes away - $10 – Camping available (tent or RV)
Rocky Hill is the place to race, whether against yourself or others. But you can also camp out and just take things slow. Like the other pay-for-play ranches above, it’s got about 25 miles of trails, so there are plenty of options. One thing that makes this place unique is that it’s the only area in the Hill Country with pine trees, and the sandy soil that supports them. Combined with all the various drops, climbs, and hairpin turns, the pine needles and sand give this ride the added challenge of sliding out. This place will keep your attention on full bore.
Walnut Creek Park – In town, about 25 minutes north of downtown. – Free. Picnic tables but no camping.
Besides being close to town, there’s another reason this place gets crowded on weekends... It’s good. Really good. The trail builders here have thought of everything, including easy-coasting mild downhill, tons of tight-winding single-track, very challenging long drops, and even a BMX loop pump-track portion that appeals especially to kids who like catching air. “Marks Art” is one my favorite sections, with log ramps and all. It’s hard to overstate the fun this place has to offer, and almost any local rider would say the same thing. So plan your timing accordingly to beat the weekend rush.
Barton Creek Greenbelt – In town, southwest, very close to downtown – Free.
If you want trails within riding distance of central town, this is the place. Easy access, great rides, miles of trails, including the deceptively named Hill of Life . This is such a full trail system that you’re bound to find a little side trail all to yourself. Plus, the creek and ample shade keep things relatively cool. Of course, although it’s free, it comes with a price: crowds. Weekdays are great, but forget about it on weekend afternoons, unless you like the challenge of dodging other bikers, hikers, and baby strollers. But hey, if things get too crowded on the Greenbelt, you can always head over to Barton Springs Pool for a cold dip, or Sixth Street for cold brews.
Bonus: Brushy Creek – 30 minutes northwest of town – Free.
I just had to sneak in this special spot that’s barely known to the general public, and for good reason. Most who live or visit Austin proper won’t bother driving up to suburban Cedar Park. Of those, a few may occasionally spend time at the main Brushy Creek park, perhaps for its skate park, baseball and soccer fields, lake, or for the long concrete Regional Trail that connects to other Williamson County parks and is a great stretch for runners, road cyclists, and walking families. But not many realize that there are also miles of mountain biking trails hidden throughout the woods and bluffs surrounding the concrete trail system. So this one’s for the urban explorer. The trails have no signage, and most are challenging. If you dare to go poking around in these parts, you’re probably adventurous enough to know how to make use of the rare map or two that exist online. Big kudos to the trail builders!