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"Life is Change: Be Flexible"
~ words of wisdom painted on rail bridge
across the Colorado River near downtown Austin

I had to smile when I saw that quote painted on the bridge shown in the photos below:

The two white dots in the water are geese -- lots of birds around here.

That art work is more than just urban graffiti. It's classic advice for remaining sane in a stressful world. If there's anything I've learned in my life, it's that change is inevitable and the more flexible I can be while adapting to those changes, the happier I'll be.

This is another view of the bridge and two of its other artistic expressions from the Town Lake Trail on the north side of the river:

I like the perspective of the bridge and the reflections in the water.


I wrote an introduction to Town Lake Trail during our first visit to Austin in December, 2009. This wide, smooth dirt/crushed rock trail is part of an extensive system of scenic paths that follow natural greenbelts all over the city. A year ago the Austin City Parks & Recreation Dept. website said there are "over 50 miles" of trails in the system. Now it says 193 miles, which is hard for me to believe. The RunTex site still says 50 miles.

Walkers and runners follow the trail through Butler Park.

If you click on this link you can see the photos I took a year ago of the very popular western section of the 10-mile running-walking-cycling path that follows both banks of the Colorado River from the Mopac Bridge to the First Street Bridge near downtown Austin.

How popular? The Parks & Rec website says 1.5 million people use this trail each year!

That link takes you to a map of the loop from the Mopac Bridge and Zilker Park on the west to Lady Bird Lake and Guerro Colorado River Park on the east. I broke the map into two sections so you can see it here:

Western half of loop, including spurs along Barton, Johnson, and Shoal Creeks

Eastern half of loop, including spurs along Bunn and Waller Creeks;
another spur goes east through Guerrero Park. Note the "Norwood Tract!"

There are additional maps of these and other trails on the Parks & Rec and RunTex sites above.

Jim and I still haven't seen all of Town Lake Trail, let alone the greenbelt paths that run off from it. This time we did explore several more miles of the main trail from the First Street Bridge through Rendon Park in the eastern half of the loop. Next time we'll check out the Longhorn Dam and the paths around Lady Bird Lake (shown to the right in the second map above).


The photos in this entry are from three walks and one bike ride I took on the Town Lake Trail. Most of them are from sections of the trail that I haven't shown you before. Jim ran and walked those days, too, but didn't have a camera. The only place he's gone that I didn't was on sidewalks below the Norwood Tract and on a pedestrian bridge on I-35 across the river (shown on second map above).

The busiest day was the MLK holiday Monday when the sun finally came out after days of overcast skies:

Lots of folks on the trail near the Pfluger pedestrian bridge and YMCA

Even on cloudy weekdays with temperatures in the 40s, however, we were never lonely on the Town Lake Trail! This place is as athletically-inclined as anywhere you'll find in outdoorsy states like Colorado, Utah, or California.

What a great resource for residents and visitors.

Each of our trail forays began at the YMCA on one of two trails that go either across or under busy Cesar Chavez Street near its intersection with Lamar Street. Both paths link to Town Lake Trail, which runs along a grassy, treed area between Cesar Chavez and the Colorado River (photo above) on the north side of the river. Once on the trail you can go either east or west.

There are convenient parking lots at other points along the trail but that one was handy for us since we like to work out at the Y two or three times a week. It's also a couple blocks from Whole Foods and REI, two of our favorite stores.

Above and below:  oars-women-in-training glide under the Mopac Bridge west of the YMCA

Once on the Town Lake Trail, folks can remain on the north side of the river or cross one of several bridges to the trail on the other side of the river.

The bridge closest to the Y is the handsome Pfluger pedestrian bridge that parallels the Lamar Street vehicular bridge. I was on this bridge a couple days after we arrived in Austin when I noticed the rail bridge artwork; that's where I took the first two photos at the top of this entry.

Pfluger pedestrian bridge

The south side of the foot bridge connects to W. Riverside Dr. The north side by Cesar Chavez St. has both steps and a multi-tiered ramp for cyclists, strollers, and people with bad knees (!) to use.

Here's a top-down view of two levels of the ramp:

I put double red arrows on the ramp to indicate two-way foot/bicycle traffic and a check mark on an extension of the foot bridge that is being built across Cesar Chavez. That extension gives trail users a third option for getting across Cesar Chavez.

Here's another view of the ramp from ground level:

If you're already on Town Lake Trail and don't want to go across the river, you can just run right under the ramp on this concrete path. A few other places along the trail are also concrete instead of dirt, but most of it is soft-surfaced.

Town Lake Trail has all kinds of interesting features like this.


The following set of photos are along the south side of the river and east of the Pfluger foot bridge.

City-scape across the river from Butler Park; I'm on a tiered grassy area above the trail.

The first park trail users come to is Butler Park, a large tiered, grassy, leash-free area where dogs can run free. And boy, do they! Runners and cyclists really have to be careful for about a quarter mile along the river trail so they don't trip over or run into frisky dogs of all breeds. Cody loved chasing after sticks in this area.

I took this shot looking back at the dog park from the First Street Bridge. It's only a part of the huge area where dogs are off-leash:

There are always several large orange containers full of water here for trail users. I don't remember seeing any water fountains anywhere along Town Lake Trail.

At this end of the park, next to the river (past lower right corner in photo above), is a handsome Oriental-style pavilion and pool of water with fountains:

The pavilion on a blue-sky day

On cloudy days, the white roof of the pavilion simply disappears in the clouds!

I love that area beside the trail; it's very peaceful and provides a shady respite in the summer.

That's as far as I'd previously gotten east-bound on this side of the river. These photos show the next half mile right above the river and past some businesses:

Above and below:  rental canoes, paddleboats, houseboats, etc.


Above and below:  nice city skyline views across the river (Congress St. Bridge below)

Shortly after the quiet, wooded section in the next photo the dirt trail ends up in a parking lot. Twice I chose to turn around and retrace my steps.

To continue around the Town Lake Trail loop trail users must follow W. Riverside Drive on sidewalks for about a mile to I-35. There they can either cross the northbound freeway bridge (yes, there's a protected path for pedestrians but it's very noisy, according to Jim) or they can continue east along Riverside Drive until the dirt trail resumes at International Shores.

You can see the route on the second map in this entry above. Why it doesn't go through the green space identified as "Norwood Tract" is beyond me . . .


Two other times I accessed Town Lake Trail from the Y and headed east, walking and cycling out-and-back without crossing the river. It was new territory for me from the Pfluger pedestrian bridge to the far side of Rendon Park, a distance of about 2 miles one way.

I took the first photos going eastbound under the Congress Street Bridge:


On the other side I found a large, attractive hotel or condominium with huge palm trees and a large four-board display about the largest urban colony of bats in the U.S.:

Between March and November an estimated 750,000 Mexican free-tailed bats migrate to Austin from central Mexico and live in the small protected spaces under the Congress Street Bridge.

Residents and visitors from all over the world come to see the bats emerge to feed on insects each evening around sunset. The signs provide all sorts of information about the bats, including when the best times are to watch for them (the most spectacular flights are the second half of August).

Someday we need to visit Austin in the spring or fall (summer would be pretty hot) so we can watch this natural spectacle. I've seen bats emerging from Carlsbad Caverns but watching them fly from the bridge would be different.

Continuing along the trail, heading east toward I-35:

The trail has some hills and curves in the next mile. It's noisy going under the freeway but soon becomes much more pleasant right next to the lake through Rendon Park:

Jim and Cody walk along the Colorado River/Lady Bird Lake.

I took this picture at my turn-around point the day I rode my bike on this part of the trail:

This is an attractive little arched bridge at the confluence of Waller Creek and the Colorado River:


That bridge was fun to ride over!

Next time we plan to find even more of this trail system. Jim isn't interested in riding much of it because there are so many people who use the trail. He'd rather run and walk on it. Since I can't run any more, the only way I can see much of the trail is to ride my bike. Carefully!


Here are some links for more information about Austin's great trail system:

Austin Parks & Recreation Department/Trails: there are several links to maps at this page.

Town Lake Trail Dot Org also has map links.

RunTex Dot Com has links to almost 60 different, detailed trail segments.

Next entry:  exploring Bastrop and Buescher state parks

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil