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River Place Nature Trail

Trail (4.16)42
(3.70) (3.38)
3.50 Miles 1800 Feet
No
Yes No
N/A
Austin Travis
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Warning: Portions of the trail have been closed to the public due to encroachment onto neighboring city land. As steps are being made to mitigate the problem more of the trail is being reopened. We've put together a timeline of events which led to the current situation.

The southern trailhead features a boardwalk along the edge of a nice pond.

Request: The opposing parties in the controversy about the River Place Nature Trail feel strongly enough to try and express their opinions in the hike log entries. In part, this is because of the lack of a commenting functionality on the site. We hope to address this in the future. For now, we ask that you please leave hike logs for actual hikes and utilize the forum thread that discusses the closure of part of the trail.

Hiked just about every trail in the Austin area and looking for something new or challenging? The River Place Nature Trail just might be the trail you've been looking for.

Much of the trail follows along stream beds through the canyon.

This new trail was created by the Municipal Utility District that serves the River Place neighborhood. In a word, the trail is fantastic. There are some steep elevation gains and descents that are mitigated somewhat by the ubiquitous placement of steps and stairs.

One of three trailheads are located on Big View Drive across the street from the tennis courts and small soccer fields. The trailhead here includes a nice kiosk detailing the trail map and animals that one might find along the trail.

The first section of the trail is a boardwalk that follows the boundary of a retention pond. You'll find lots of turtles here and sometimes folks that are fishing. The trail soon turns rough and disappears into the brush uphill.

A few spots here and there feature nice waterfalls and interesting formations like this depression in the stream bed.

This first section of trail is referred to as Lower Panther Trail, named after the surrounding area, Panther Hollow. How did this name come about? When the area was still a working ranch several dead goats kept turning up near cave entrances. Ranch hands tracked down a Mountain Lion in this area thought to be responsible for the kills and dispatched it. There have been no Mountain Lion sightings in the area for quite some time.

The trail surface is hard pack and rock. It's uneven and often hugs the side of steep slopes above Panther Hollow creek. The trail builders used a lot of logs to buttress the downhill side of the trail for stabilization. It obviously required a lot of work to put this trail into place.

About a half mile into the hike there's a junction point that leads into two possible directions. To the right is the trail segment marked as Little Fern Trail. It leads to one of two trailheads along River Place Blvd.

Did we mention that there are lots of stairs on this trail?

If one takes the Little Fern Trail option, there's is yet another another trail segment option. The Water Line Trail parallels Lower Panther Trail on the opposite side of the creek. Unlike the rest of the trail system, this segment is relatively flat and wide open to the sky. It's really more of a utility service path, but it's an option none the less.

The main option continues north and encompasses the newest addition to the trail system which includes trail segments entitled Upper Panther Trail and Canyon Trail. Here you'll find the roughest terrain with the biggest elevation variation. Expect quite a stairmaster-like workout as you descend into and ascend out of creek beds and ravines.

The northern portions of the trail feature a couple of vistas, otherwise your path is well sheltered by trees and brush.

The northern sections of trail also feature a few vista views of the surrounding canyon lands and the River Place golf club below. According to the official maps there are a couple of emergency exits onto the golf course along the northern trail segment.

The northern trail segment also empties out onto River Place Blvd. Although the River Place Blvd. trailheads lack explicit parking, there is space along the road to park.

In looking at the satellite views of the area it's quite possible that the trail system here could be expanded a bit further, though I have seen no plans put forward to do this. Whether the mileage gets increased or not, this trail is worth the visit.


Photos

Trailhead One of the two trailheads along River Place Blvd. (Photo by Austin Explorer) Stairs Stairs, stairs and more stairs. This trail has them. There are some nice benches on which to rest as well though. (Photo by Austin Explorer) Wooden bridges There are many wooden bridges throughout the "Lower Panther Trail" section (Photo by jtkatie)
Trail As you can see, the trail is well-constructed and well-used (Photo by jtkatie) Nice spot One of the lovely resting areas with what seem to be brand new benches (Photo by jtkatie) Stairmaster! The beginning of one of the most strenuous sections of the trail! (Photo by jtkatie)
The view! The view from the top of the hill is quite spectacular! (Photo by jtkatie) Mile marker The trail has very well-marked distances... although the gap from 1.5-2.0 on the way up seems a LOT longer! (Photo by jtkatie) Warning at the top trailhead Always a sign of great things to come when there are Emergency Exits off of the trail you are about to go on! (Photo by jtkatie)
Map of trail Featuring the Emergency Exits in red. :-) (Photo by jtkatie) Golf Course view A view from one of the higher points on the hike (Photo by jloop17) Small Pond One of the few times I saw water on the hike (not counting the times I was pouring my bottled water all over myself) (Photo by jloop17)
Texas Rocks Yeah I didn't do this, but it's pretty cool anyways (Photo by jloop17) Max My pooch taking in the creek ;) (Photo by maddix) Creek Really liked the creeks here. Great for dogs and people of all ages. (Photo by 2AOutdoorsman)
Trail Marker Sort of a weird, jenga kind of trail marker. (Photo by Lone_Star) Cute Good trail karma. (Photo by Lone_Star) View Of The Trail The trail runs past an interesting rock ledge. (Photo by Lone_Star)
Lake There is a nice lake near one of the trailheads. (Photo by Lone_Star) What a dork Me at the end of the hike. I was pretty gassed. (Photo by texaskdog)

Log Entries

Great weather for a Christmas day hike!
By AustinWhitewater on 12/25/2014
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 6.00 MilesDuration: N/A

Contrary to what the WARNING in the description above says, the trail is now open all the way from the Canyon Trail Kiosk (highest point) to the Boardwalk Kiosk (lowest point), a distance of 3 miles, and that is exactly the direction I hiked it. Then I turned around and went back up.

As others have said, most, but not all, of the steep steps are in the 1 mile Canyon Trail, which has the largest overall elevation change from 920 feet to 680 feet. In this section, however, the accumulated gain and loss is greater as the trail and steps meander up and down several times.

The Canyon Trail then connects to the 1.5 mile Upper Panther Trail. It has a few steep sections but also some level sections. This section ranges from 700 feet down to 530 feet, but again the accumulated gain and loss is a bit more as there are some uphill stretches.

The Upper Panther Trail connects to the 0.5 mile Lower Panther Trail, which terminates at the Boardwalk Kiosk. This trail is fairly flat, only ranging from 560 feet to 520 feet.

Had great weather and quite a few people were out on the trail, but I had a fair amount of solitude as well. There wasn't much water in the creek but it was still a very pleasant day. Thanks to all the people from River Place and elsewhere that worked long and hard to get this trail open again!

Starting the out and back at the Boardwalk Kiosk is easier as you don't have to finish on the steep steps of Canyon Trail as I chose to do.

And if you only want to go one way, you will need to have transportation parked at both trailheads.

Counted the stairs
By texaskdog on 3/23/2014
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 3.00 MilesDuration: 1 hour, 20 minutes

I counted every stair in the open portion.  923 each way! 366 up and 557 down on the way in.  If anyone really cares I logged everything.  "EE" is emergency exit.  "FEE" is fake emergency exit, small crosspath that looks like the real ones.

Start

20D, 54D, (Bench), 10U, 20D, 7U, 1D, 2U, 19D

Dry creek (:05)

42U, 4D, 1U, 9D

2nd creek

13U, 10D, 34U (steep), 2D, 19D, (rim), 22D

.5 mile marker (:11)

Slope down, 46D, deep ditch crossing, 52U (steep)

50 U

Cairns (:15)

7U, (FEE), 1D, 13U

Bench overlook

98D (partway down EE), 5D, 1U, 33D, 4U, 19D, 4U, 15D, 4U, 2D, 4U, walk rim

35D (nice view)(FEE), 92D

Arrive at creek/1 mile (:24)

2D, cross creek

6D, cross creek again

3U, 6U, 7D, 2U, 1D, muddy areas, 5U, 1D, (bench), 3U, 3D, 1U, 1D, 6U, 9D

Cross creek again (:32),  (bench)

arrive at staircase (:33), 1.5 miles on staircase

87U, 1D, (EE), 5U

Reach end (:36)

leave Creek (:50)

Cairns (:62)

1/2 mile (:67)

first V (:72), 2nd V (:73)

Finish hike (:79)

I don't believe you are allowed to go further even if the trees have orange ribbons on them.  The hike will be less challenging when the path is reconnected.

 

Hidden Gem
By Lone_Star on 3/15/2014
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 6.30 MilesDuration: N/A

I hiked the River Place Nature Trail with a friend as a training hike.  We were both looking for some elevation change without travelling too far and River Place sounded like the perfect place.

I found the trail to be scenic, especially the Lower Panther Trail section.  Absolutely charming.  It was also refreshing to see the trail well-marked with display maps and distance markers.  The people that developed and maintain the trail have done a very nice job.

I was a little disappointed in the difficulty level, though.  I expected it to be harder.  Maybe I am more accustomed to hiking up mountains with a full pack, but I expected a better cardio workout.  Just when I started to break a sweat, I reached the top and leveled off.  On balance, it is still a decent workout, but I was hoping for a bigger challenge.

A small part of the mid-section of the trail is currently closed due to trail renovation.  There is a detour route marked by orange tape streamers on the tree branches, but my friend and I didn't take the detour since it was steep and slippery and her shoes didn't provide enough traction.  So we hiked back to the original trailhead, then drove around to the second trailhead and did the remaining part of the trail up to the "closed" section and hiked back.

I accidentally deleted the 2nd half of our hike's GPX file, so I am only able to upload the first section we hiked. :(

It reopened!
By texaskdog on 2/16/2014
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 3.00 MilesDuration: 1 hour, 26 minutes

They reopened the 1.5 miles on the north end.  The connection wont be open until the fall, but its HARDER now because you can't loop it anymore, a nice strenuous 3 miles RT.  You'll never see so many stairs.  You go up and down a lot but mainly down.  At one point 120 stairs down, then another 129 before you get to the flat section at the creek.  When you leave the creek its another 87 stairs with no break but you may not want to do it as it is closed just past the top.  This is the outdoor stairmaster for sure!  Loses solitude points today since it's been reopened for a week and was quite packed, but for being near a golf course they do a good job of making it seem isolated.  #3 on my list of favorite Austin hikes (behind McKinney Roughs and Walnut Creek). 

River Place Trail
By maddix on 1/26/2014
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 6.70 MilesDuration: N/A

Very nice senic trail, with a fair amount along a spring fed creek.  A fair amount of elevation change with the trail having stairs built in.

Nice shaded hike w/spring fed creeks and decent elevation changes.
By 2AOutdoorsman on 1/26/2014
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 6.70 MilesDuration: N/A

Clear running water in the creeks.  Elevation changes make for a good workout.  Stairs built into the trail.  Very nice, but 6.7 is the max unless you start repeating more of the trail.

The whole upper trail is now closed
By texaskdog on 6/11/2012
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 2.00 MilesDuration: N/A

Whole upper trail from the junction to the north end is now closed.  The environmentalists won.  Don't bother going anymore.  Can still do the bottom stub until they close that too.

Did the north half
By texaskdog on 3/29/2012
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 3.00 MilesDuration: 1 hour, 15 minutes

We were going to do the loop starting on the south end but saw the closure so decided to start from the north.  You can actually go about 1.25 miles from the north, ending just after the longest staircase.  Not an ideal situation but at least we got a 75 minute EXHAUSTING hike in.  The species didnt die off since the trail opened, maybe they can just ban dogs from that portion, or maybe route the path along the edge of the golf course.  Birds aren't dumb, they'd move, there is plenty of room there that has no trail on it.  Be forewarned, other parks could be next (like at Forest Ridge)

My favorite hike ever
By tarrains on 1/22/2012
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 5.00 MilesDuration: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Be ready for STEPS.

By kfergu3 on 1/13/2012
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 3.50 MilesDuration: 2 hours

It's like Alice's underworld in some places! Other spots have great outlook views, and places to rest, or meditate. The coyotes and owls make their presence known out there (dusk). Watch your step for native lounging lizards! It's easy to lose yourself in the stairstepping--counting them is a fun challenge. Sometimes there are nice pools, where your barking dogs can cool off, and your canines. I ran into one guy who was doing one of those satellite scavenger hunts. Found out there's stuff hidden back there with log books! Pretty cool.


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