The Barton Creek Greenbelt is an urban oasis. Bordered by the Central Business District, where Barton Creek empties into Town Lake, it winds 7.8 miles upstream into the open countryside of southwestern Travis County. The Greenbelt begins at Zilker Park, just above Barton Springs Pool, and passes through Gus Fruh District Park near Loop 360.
While Barton Springs flows year round, Barton Creek flows primarily during the rainy spring and fall seasons. The clear-running creek rushes over rocks and boulders and is punctuated occasionally by small waterfalls. During dry seasons, the creek disappears underground into the Edwards Aquifer, leaving a few spring-fed waterholes separated by miles of parched white limestone.
Barton Creek carves its way through the Edwards Plateau, the southern extension of the Great Plains. The Edwards Plateau consists of thick limestone beds deposited by a shallow sea about 100 million years ago. Water easily dissolves this limestone, creating caves and giant pure reservoirs underground and sculpting networks of canyons and valleys at the surface.
Barton Creek is flanked by soaring canyon walls and overhanging rock bluffs carved over hundreds of thousands of years. The canyon’s dense vegetation and steep canyon walls make visitors feel isolated and far from a major city.
Inside this oasis, you can find many species of native plants, birds, mammals, reptiles and insects. There are more types of butterflies here than at any other spot in Central Texas. There are grasslands and woodlands, and colorful varieties of birds whose songs reverberate against the canyon walls. But the Greenbelt isn‘t a zoo, so a bit of caution is called for: rattlesnakes, scorpions, and fire ants live here, too.
Look carefully, and you can see traces of Austin‘s past wagon ruts, carved when the creekbed served as a major route into town, are still visible. You might even find an artifact, or a section of old fence line. Look, but don’t touch; leave them for others to enjoy and study as well.
There are plenty of things you can do along the Barton Creek Greenbelt: hike, bike, climb, canoe, swim or kayak. You can picnic by the creek, look for butterflies and birds, or just enjoy the scenery.
Major access points include Zilker Park, Gus Fruh District Park, Barton Skyway, Capital of Texas Highway (Loop 360) and Camp Craft Road.
Much of the greenbelt is rugged, but the rewards of this urban oasis can make the effort worthwhile.
A Republic of Texas Officerdescribing Waterloo (now Austin) to President Mirabeau Lamar, 1838
It is the most beautiful and at the same time the most sublime scene I ever saw . . . The atmosphere was charged with the most delightful perfume and every shrub and every hill and every flower seemed to extend a welcome to the weary traveller.