Great Texas Wildlife Trails

Capitol Loop

Capitol Loop map

Capitol Loop mapCongress Avenue BridgeTown LakeZilker Botanical Gardens/Austin Science and Nature CenterRed Bud Isle ParkBright Leaf State Natural AreaWild Basin Wilderness PreserveLady Bird Johnson Wildflower CenterHamilton Pool PreserveWestcave Preserve

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More information:

  • Austin CVB
    512-478-0098; 512-474-5171 800-926-2282,

041.gif HOTE 041 Congress Avenue Bridge

Suggested Seasons to visit: Spring, Summer, Fall

Site open for day use only.

From I-35 take Riverside Drive west 0.8 miles to Congress Avenue and turn north. The bridge spans Town Lake. Parking is limited but free in the Austin American-Statesman’s west parking lot.

The bridge hosts the largest urban concentration of bats in North America, estimated at 1.5 million. It is also the site at which mother Mexican Free-tailed Bats raise an estimated 750,000 pups each year. The bridge became a bat nursery after bridge expansion work in the 1980’s created deep concrete crevices that act as excellent roosts for bats raising their pups. The bridge is popular with tourists; summer nights have been known to attract as many as 2,000 bat watchers, where the nightly exodus is impressive to behold.

042.gif HOTE 042 Town Lake

Suggested Seasons to visit: All Seasons

Site open for day use only.

Cross the Congress Bridge and turn left on 2nd St. Follow 2nd St. 0.3 mile until it turns left to Cesar Chavez. Turn right on Cesar Chavez and go 0.3 mile to parking area on left.

Town Lake is a six-mile lake formed by Tom Miller and Longhorn Dams. It runs through central downtown Austin, and is one of the most popular places in Austin to run, bike, walk, and kayak. Habitats include riparian woodlands, open fields, thickets, and parkland. Monk Parakeets are commonly seen along the trail, and often nest in the tall light towers that illuminate the ball fields. Nesting birds include Summer Tanager, Wood Duck, Crested Caracara, Western Kingbird, Painted Bunting, and Broad-winged Hawk. During winter, look for Gadwall, American Wigeon, Bufflehead, Lesser Scaup, and Double-crested Cormorant.

043.gif HOTE 043 Zilker Botanical Gardens/Austin Science and Nature Center

Suggested Seasons to visit: Spring

Site open for day use only.

Return to Cesar Chavez/ West 1st St. and turn left. Go 0.3 mile to Lamar. Go south on Lamar for 0.5 mile to the next traffic signal, Barton Springs Road. Turn right/west and go 0.9 mile; the botanical garden entrance is on the right. From the botanical gardens you can either walk to the nature center, which takes about ten minutes, or return east on Barton Springs Road and make the first left after leaving the gardens, on Stratford Drive. This leads to a large parking area underneath the freeway. The nature center is a short walk to the left.

The botanical gardens include beautiful plantings of native trees, as well as an Oriental garden, both of which provide cover for migrating woodland birds. The nature center has feeders in the wooded and grassy area immediately in front of the building, as well as a marsh that attracts ducks, cormorants, and herons. The trails provide a good place to observe wildlife, especially during spring.

Zilker Botanical Gardens 512-477-8672 Austin Science and Nature Center 512-327-8181.

044.gif HOTE 044 Red Bud Isle Park

Suggested Seasons to visit: Spring, Winter

Site open for day use only.

Go west on Stratford Drive 2.2 miles until its intersection with Red Bud Trail. Turn right on Redbud Trail and follow 0.2 mile to the park entrance.

This park, on the Colorado River just below Tom Miller Dam, is a good place to look for spring migrants. It is also an excellent spot to scope the river. The spring and summer are good times to see dragonflies such as Widow Skimmer, Eastern Ringtail, Eastern Pondhawk, and Roseate Skimmer. The riparian woodlands offer shelter to nesting White-eyed Vireo and Summer Tanager. Belted Kingfisher is common here, and Ringed Kingfisher has been seen here as well. Look for ducks and Osprey during winter.

Phone: 512-974-6700.

045.gif HOTE 045 Bright Leaf State Natural Area

Suggested Seasons to visit: All Seasons

Site access restricted. Call ahead.

From Red Bud Isle Park, go east 0.2 mile on Red Bud Trail to Lake Austin Blvd. Turn right and go 1.4 miles to Mopac/ Loop 1. Go north on Mopac/ Loop 1 for 4.4 miles and exit at FM 2222. Go left at the light, under Mopac, and continue west on FM 2222 for 1.2 miles. After passing the traffic signal for Mesa Blvd., make the next left at Creek Mountain. Creek Mountain then bends to the right, becoming Old Bull Creek Rd. The parking area is on the left.

Bright Leaf is best during spring, when migrating songbirds swell the species list. The tract’s proximity to Town Lake makes it an excellent spot to observe the gulls and terns that move about from different bends along the river. Craggy outcrops at various locations around the park provide excellent vantage points from which to observe migrating hawks, and the juniper provides nesting habitat for Golden-cheeked Warblers in spring. Noteworthy plant species include two types of orchid (Glass Mountain coral root and ladies tresses), sycamore-leaf snowbells, Heller’s marbleseed, and shooting star.

Access to Bright Leaf is currently by appointment only. Although public use is encouraged, limited manpower currently requires visitors to register before using the trails. Dogs and bikes are not permitted on the tract. Bright Leaf offers numerous guided tours throughout the year, led by Parks and Wildlife and volunteer staff.

Phone: 512-459-7269. Bright Leaf State Natural Area now operated by the Austin Community Foundation

046.gif HOTE 046 Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve

Suggested Seasons to visit: Spring, Summer, Fall

Site open for day use only.

Return to FM 2222 and go west 2.3 miles to Capital of Texas Highway/Loop 360. Go south on Loop 360 for 4.0 miles to the preserve entrance on the left.

Wild Basin was founded in 1974 to protect 227 acres of Hill Country habitat and to provide nature education programs. Visitors enjoy 2 1/2 miles of hiking trails that pass through woodland, grassland, and streamside habitats. Located at the trail head is a map with an interpretive self-guided tour of Wild Basin. Follow the numbered posts along the half mile Easy Access Trail or the lettered posts along the one and a half mile loop down to the creek and back.

Phone: 512-327-7622.

047.gif HOTE 047 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Suggested Seasons to visit: All Seasons

Site open for day use only. Fee charged.

Return to Loop 360 and go south 4.7 miles to Mopac/ Loop 1. Go south 6.1 miles to La Crosse Avenue. Turn left on La Crosse Avenue for 0.4 mile to the gated entrance on the right.

This is wonderful site for those interested in learning more about the native plants of central Texas and how to garden for wildlife. Habitats at the center include juniper-oak woodland, oak savannah, and grassland. Visitors can enjoy interpretive hiking trails and formal display gardens. The gardens attract a wide variety of butterflies and dragonflies. Birds such as Painted Bunting, Summer Tanager, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Dickcissel, Lark Sparrow, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher occur in summer, and winter brings a variety of sparrows. The center offers educational programs, a gift shop, and a restaurant.

Phone: 512-292-4200.

048.gif HOTE 048 Hamilton Pool Preserve

Suggested Seasons to visit: Spring, Summer

Site open for day use only. Fee charged.

From the intersection of US 290 and TX 71 in Oak Hill (the “Y”), go west on TX 71 for 11.4 miles to FM 3238/ Hamilton Pool Road. Turn left and go 12.5 miles to the entrance on the right.

The preserve’s pool and grotto were formed when the dome of an underground river collapsed due to massive erosion thousands of years ago. The pool is famed for its cool waters, spectacular falls and grotto, and beautiful cypress trees that line the creek all the way to its confluence with the Pedernales River. Golden-cheeked Warbler, Bell’s Vireo, Canyon Wren, Painted Bunting, and Green Kingfisher can be seen here. Bald cypress trees, diverse plant communities, and a variety of wildlife species occupy the grotto and downstream areas. The preserve is managed as a natural area with emphasis on habitat protection and restoration, environmental education, and research. The preserve offers picnicking, hiking, swimming and nature study.

Phone: 512-264-2740.

049.gif HOTE 049 WestCave Preserve

Suggested Seasons to visit: All Seasons

Site access restricted. Call ahead. Fee charged.

Return to Hamilton Pool Road/ FM 3238, turn right and go 1.0 mile. The entrance is on the right, just past the Pedernales River crossing.

Westcave Preserve offers visitors a chance to experience and learn about the plants, wildlife, and geology of central Texas. The hiking trail begins in oak-juniper savannahs, proceeding along creekside riparian woodlands and through a cool limestone canyon created over 100,000 years ago. Spring-fed waters tumble from 40 feet above, glazing over travertine columns. Visitors can step into the grotto behind this waterfall and explore the travertine, stalagmite, shallow pool, and other formations within the cave. Golden-cheeked Warbler, Painted Bunting, Canyon Wren, Lark Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Summer Tanager, and White-eyed Vireo nest here. Spicebush Swallowtail is abundant, as its larval host plant, spicebush, grows prolifically beneath the cypress and elm trees.

Phone: 830-825-3442.

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