If this week’s forecast for consistent sunny skies and warm temperatures is any indication, it looks like the ridiculous gloom that plagued us all winter is well behind us. Now, it’s time for us Austinites to do some spring carpe diem-ing. Plant some the flowers before the earth cracks. Learn to identify a few different songbird species before they all fly the heck away from the heat. Relish the sun before it starts its summer beat down.
To that end, here are ten activities that you should definitely try this spring in Austin:
1) Get in the water
Up north, spring generally means snowmelt and cool weather, but Texas springs — however short-lived they may be — tend to be comfortably warm. You may see this as a downside to living down south, but remember what G. K. Chesterton once said about less-than-ideal situations and you’ll come around: “An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” Look on the bright side! Toasty spring temperatures mean that you don’t need to wait until summer to learn to paddleboard at Rowing Dock, take the kids to a community splash pad, or swim in any of the greater Austin area’s amazing natural swimming holes.
Rowing Dock: 2418 Stratford Dr. 512-459-0999. Open daily 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Website.
2) Go wild
If you haven’t explored any of Texas’ state and national parks, natural areas, or wildlife preserves, spring is a great time to get in touch with your wild side! Within a 50-mile radius of the Capitol, you’ve got six state parks and countless city parks and nature preserves with plenty of trail riding and hiking, camping, stargazing, rock climbing, and fishing potential. Some of our favorite natural areas in town are McKinney Falls State Park, the Barton Creek and Bull Creek Greenbelt trail networks, and Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve. Pedernales Falls State Park, Westcave Preserve, and Lake Georgetown’s 28-mile Goodwater Trail are equally awesome, but farther from home.
Barton Creek Greenbelt: 3755-B Capital of Texas Hwy. 512-477-1566. Open daily sunrise to sunset. Free. Website.
Bull Creek Greenbelt: 7806 N Capital of Texas Hwy. 512-477-1566. Open daily sunrise to sunset. Free. Website.
3) Make new feathered friends
Ask any local birder and they’ll tell you straight: Austin is home to a huge number of birds — even some endangered species — and spring is the perfect time to seek them out with a trusty pair of binoculars and a bird identification guidebook. According to the Travis Audubon, two of the best places to birdwatch in and around ATX are Hornsby Bend Bird Observatory and Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. You’ll find plenty of other great location suggestions in Texas Parks & Wildlife’s “Austin Birding Sites” online guide. Be on the lookout for endangered species like the golden-cheeked warbler and the black-capped vireo!
If you’re a noob birdwatcher, take a birding class to get up to speed on the basic principles and techniques of birding. The Travis Audubon offers multiple classes throughout the year. On March 12, Jane Tillman is teaming up with REI (Austin-Gateway) to teach a “Birding Around Austin” class and in April, Audubon members Shelia Hargis and Laurie Foss will teach “Birding-102” at Balcones.
Experienced birders should consider signing up for Bird-A-Thon 2015 to raise money for the Travis Audubon. Grab several likeminded pals and register your team online in a specific time-length category ranging from 6 to 24 hours. The team who sights the highest number of different species wins!
Balcones Canyonlands NWR: FM 1431 (Marble Falls). 512-339-9432. Open Mon-Fri 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Free. Website.
4) Explore local nature centers and gardens
Admiring the blooms at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and walking among the dinosaurs at Zilker Botanical Garden are pretty much rites of passage to becoming a true Austinite, so if you haven’t been to either of those places yet, make that a priority adventure this spring! Besides opportunities to learn to identify plant and wildflower species through guided tours and classes, the LBJ Wildflower Center houses art exhibits, roughly 3 miles of walking trails, and a nature-themed play area for the kiddos, among other activities.
Likewise, Zilker Park maintains not one but two facilities for nature-lovers: Zilker Botanical Garden and Austin Nature & Science Center. The Botanical Garden features gorgeous gardens, pools, and waterfalls, gardening classes, walking trails, and an annual Garden Festival that draws crowds from all over the state. The Nature & Science Center is a place where the young at heart can learn about conservation topics ranging from cave ecosystems to butterflies, so keep it on your radar as well!
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: 4801 La Crosse Ave. 512-232-0100. Open Tues-Sun 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. $4-10. Website.
Zilker Botanical Garden: 2220 Barton Springs Rd. 512-477-8672. Open daily 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. $1-3. Website.
Austin Nature & Science Center: 2389 Stratford Dr. 512-974-3888. Open Mon-Sat 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sun 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Free. Website.
5) Take bluebonnet photos
Every true Texan’s got a photo of themselves grinning in a patch of bluebonnets. It’s basically unavoidable, so we might as well feed the tradition in Austin too. To those who prefer “weirdness” over conventionality, we suggest: like the Loop 360 Christmas Trees, don’t ditch the tradition — make it your own. Here’s betting that no one has a portrait of themselves sitting amidst bluebonnets while surrounded by a dozen hot pink flamingo lawn ornaments. Wearing a flamingo costume. Holding a small animal who is also wearing a flamingo costume. Anything odd goes!
In part thanks to TxDOT’s genius roadside wildflower planting program, Texas’ highways are known as being some of the most beautiful in the nation, especially in the hill country. Among all of the reds and yellows, you’ll find plenty of blues, so as long as it’s safe to stop, roadsides are a great place to take bluebonnet photos. Last year, the bluebonnets along Highways 71, 195, and 360, FM 1431, RR 2244, and Quinlan Park Road were reportedly quite impressive.
Other great places to source bluebonnets are wilder city parks and gardens such as Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park, Brushy Creek Lake Park, and Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Both the Barton Creek and Bull Creek Greenbelts boast lovely patches, and you can bet that McKinney Falls State Park and Lake Georgetown have impressive bluebonnet collections as well. However, if you’re looking for bluebonnets plus Austin skyline views, St. Edwards University‘s fields take the cake.
Roy G. Guerrero Park: 400 Grove Blvd. 512-477-1566. Open daily sunrise to sunset. Free. Website.
Brushy Creek Lake Park: 3300 Brushy Creek Rd (Cedar Park). 512-401-5500. Open daily sunrise to sunset. Free. Website.
St. Edwards University: 3001 South Congress Ave. 512-448-8400. Open daily sunrise to sunset. Free. Website.
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