Every time I would hear about the planning and construction surrounding Austin’s Boardwalk, I immediately thought of the movie Beaches and the song “Under the Boardwalk.” While I am totally on board with the idea that the Hike and Bike Trail should extend as far east as possible along Lady Bird Lake, I find that we spend most of our time around the most popular section of it, the 3-mile loop that starts at the Austin High pedestrian bridge and goes east to the Pfluger Bridge. Let’s be honest: that loop is the busiest part of the trail. It can be narrow, and it’s hard to keep less-spatially aware kids from standing right in the middle of the trail while runners and bikers are trying to navigate it.
While it’s great to feed the ducks by Lou Neff Point, spending time on the busy parts of the trail can make you feel like a cat herder and can be anything but what you’d imagine to be idyllic free time outside. Despite all that, I find that we do tend to stick to the more popular parts of the trail.
Finally, one weekend, soon after we adopted a dog, we decided to go to Lady Bird Lake and take our new pup to the Boardwalk. After we left, I wished we had visited earlier, and I knew we’d return often to get a totally different perspective on the city.
Technically, the Boardwalk begins near the Austin American-Statesman on East Riverside (see the map to get a visual of the entire length of the Boardwalk), but we chose to park just east of IH-35, near Festival Beach. It was a nice day, so there were plenty of people out the day we visited, but it wasn’t hard to find street parking. The Trail Foundation has a map of all the entrances to the Boardwalk and parking nearby.
We then crossed the pedestrian bridge to be on the south side of IH-35. This took us quite close to the road, which might be stressful if you had little kids with you (our pup was not a huge fan of the noise from all the cars going by). Soon, we were on the path, heading east on the south side of Lady Bird Lake.
It seemed that most people were walking, but there were quite a few bike riders (young and older), as well as runners. Looking out to the water, we saw a lone sailboat. It struck me that this was nothing like the main area of Lady Bird Lake, which is often filled with people on kayaks, canoes and SUPs. Across the lake, it was refreshing to see little or no development, although of course that might soon change. There were plenty of people on our side of the Boardwalk, but it never felt particularly crowded. The path alternates between crushed granite and steel, with seven viewing areas and a brand-new restroom.
I was shocked to see all the development along the lake’s south side. I had heard about the South Shore District, but had never checked it out. New apartment buildings were nestled in between existing, smaller complexes. I could see why it would be very attractive to live right by the water and so close to downtown. We saw signs to a food court and a stand to rent canoes, kayaks and SUPs, although we didn’t check out either on our first visit. There is always next time, right?
We made it to Lakeshore Point, where the new restrooms are located, as well as a large area for sitting and stretching. We decided to turn around, so we headed back. I remembered that there was a public art installation along the Boardwalk which showcased classic song lyrics on belts, so I went a bit further west than IH-35 in search of Belting It Out. Sure enough, I found a belt emblazoned with lyrics from a Robert Earl Keen tune. Nice!
I think what struck me the most, as an Austin native visiting the Boardwalk, was that I felt as though we were in a totally different city as we were walking. It was a different side of Austin, yet still beautiful, pleasant, expansive and new. I’m looking forward to visiting again soon.
Hours: The Boardwalk is open from 5 a.m. to midnight each day.
Boardwalk Access: The Boardwalk can be accessed at several points: the northeast corner of the American-Statesman parking lot, off the Riverside Drive sidewalk at Blunn Creek, from the northeast corner of the Riverside and IH-35 intersection and at International Shores Park, 1820 S. Lakeshore Blvd.
Parking: Street parking is available along S. Lakeshore Blvd. between Pleasant Valley Road and Riverside. Or if you are walking the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail loop, you can park at Festival Beach across the river, or at any of the parking areas near the trail.
For more information, visit the City of Austin website.