Austin is a classic example of urban overachievement. Not content to simply house the Texas state capitol, the city has set itself up as the antithesis to neighboring behemoths like Houston and Dallas, even going so far as to promulgate its homegrown weirdness.
But while brisket and tech festivals might win the day in tourism circles, Austin’s most unique characteristic is arguably its bike-friendliness. The city has long been lauded for its progressive attitude towards cycling, and is consistently ranked among the Top 10 most bikeable centers in the US. Case in point: the Ann and Roy Butler Bike Trail.
Wrapping around the Colorado River from Zilker Park to Lady Bird Lake, this celebrated 10-mile loop is the brainchild of former city mayor Roy Butler, his wife Ann, and former first lady Claudia Alta Johnson. It runs directly through the heart of the Texan capital, which is why, on average, around 2 million visitors take to its hard-packed surface every year. Along the way there are myriad sights to admire, from the natural to the metropolitan. And come dusk, when it’s time to watch Austin’s 1.5-million resident bats take to the sky in search of supper – well, let’s just say you could find worse views of the famed Congress Avenue Bridge.
While the bulk of the Ann and Roy Butler Bike Trail is unpaved, one of its most distinctive features is the 1.3-mile boardwalk along Lady Bird Lake. Its modern concrete and structural steel design literally brings pedestrians and cyclists out onto the water, which is why it tends to be one of the busiest portions of the pathway. That and the skyline views, which aren’t too shabby, either.
Completed in 2014, the boardwalk is the newest addition to the trail, and the one that finally completed its uninterrupted, off-street loop around the city.
If you’re interested in taking a ride, simply point your rental bike in the direction of the Colorado River. It’s the sizeable body of flowing water that bisects the city from east to west, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find. You’ll be able to pick up the Ann and Roy Butler Bike Trail from any of its 20+ street-level entrances and pedestrian bridges. These bridges also enable shorter loops around the trail, just in case you’re pressed for time.
The surface is generally smooth enough for road bikes, however we’d recommend a tire with a little more width and traction. If you haven’t ridden in a while, a hybrid will be your best bet. There are a few narrow sections along the southern half, but otherwise the riding here is about as non-technical and carefree as you can get. All the better for enjoying the quintessential bike trail in Texas’ cycling (and legislative) capital.