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How to Hike the River Place Nature Trail in Austin

If you’re looking for a great workout when hiking in Austin, there may be no better place to head than the gorgeous River Place Nature Trail–known, above all else, for the 2,763 wooden steps that you’ll need to climb in order to complete it.

… And just to be clear, that’s the number of steps you’ll need to climb one way, and this is an out-and-back trail.

If you’re hoping to tackle Austin’s River Place Nature Trail soon, here’s absolutely everything you need to know before you go, from what the hike is like to whether you need to pay to access it.

kate storm standing under a tree that fell across the river place trail austin

Where is the River Place Nature Trail?

The River Place Nature Trail is located in the River Place Limited District in northwest Austin.

If you’re familiar with the Turkey Creek Trail in Emma Long Metropolitan Park, it’s about a 10-minute drive from there.

The trailhead is surrounded by beautiful homes and the River Place Country Club–you can catch rare glimpses of the golf course during portions of the hike, but for the most part, the outside world entirely melts away when on the trail.

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How Long is the River Place Trail?

The standard River Place hike is just under 6 miles, with lots of elevation changes!

There is also an option to add on another short section of trail–more on that below.

jeremy storm climbing a long staircase of wooden steps when hiking river place nature trail austin

What’s it Like to Hike the River Place Nature Trail in Austin?

This Austin hike lives up to its reputation. Be prepared for your legs to burn when you’re finished!

Having experienced it, though, I definitely agree that this trail is among the most beautiful in Austin–and the fact that nearly all of it is shaded sure doesn’t hurt.

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The River Place hiking trail winds along creeks and streams, regularly ascending and descending the famous wooden steps.

If you start from the Boardwalk trailhead, as we did (more on that below), you’ll find that the hike gains in intensity over time.

However, don’t mistake that for a long climb that ends in an overlook and then offers relief on the way back, though there is a beautiful overlook to enjoy.

sunny upper portion of trail with texas hill country in background

The steps on the River Place Nature Trail regularly roll up and down: you might find yourself climbing up 30 steps, then a few minutes later find yourself making your way down 20.

If the water is high enough, your feet may get wet on some of the water crossings, though there are chains set up to help hikers keep their balance.

Most sections of the trail will have a water view if levels are high enough–in our case, there were some dry areas.

water running in a creek in austin texas

Essential Tips for Hiking the River Place Trail

There is a $10 fee to hike… sometimes.

Per the River Place Limited District’s website, there is a $10 fee per person during “peak usage hours” on Saturdays and Sundays, and from sunrise to 4:00 PM on the holidays.

If there is a charge when you arrive to hike, attendants will be at the trailheads taking credit card payments (no cash is accepted).

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The River Place Nature Trail contains 3 distinct trails.

What is popularly considered the River Place Nature Trail is made up of 2 distinct trails, and there’s also a third offshoot to explore.

The short-and-shady Panther Hollow Trail, plus the long and arduous Canyon Trail, make up what is popularly considered the River Place Nature Trail, coming in at just under 6 miles round-trip.

The Little Fern Trail, which is fairly flat and short in addition to featuring some beautiful small waterfalls, is an additional option for your hike.

All 3 trails intersect at a single point, and you can easily hike any combination of them.

small waterfall along little fern trail

There are 3 ways to access the hike.

Each of the 3 trails mentioned above has its own trailhead in the River Place Limited District.

If you simply type “River Place Nature Trail” into Google Maps, you’ll be taken to the Boardwalk, which is the Panther Hollow Trailhead.

If you also type in “Little Fern Trailhead” or “Canyon Trailhead”, you can head there instead.

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Hikers who are short on time may want to start at the Canyon Trailhead–you’ll run into large staircases of the famous steps very quickly that way!

And, while the Panther Hollow Trail is nice, we personally found the Little Fern Trail prettier. 

When we return to hike River Place again, we’ll probably start there instead of Panther Hollow.

canyon trailhead for river place nature trail with stone sign to the left and list of rules to the right

There is no parking lot.

Hikers simply park on the side of the street at each trailhead.

Pets are allowed but must be leashed.

Don’t forget to pack out any waste! 

There are pet waste bags stocked at each trailhead and at a few spots along the way.

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There is no water or restroom access near the trail.

Come prepared: you’re going to want more water than you think after the first 1,000 stairs or so!

The hike is generally open from sunrise to sunset.

If you’re hiking the River Place Nature Trail in Austin during the summer or on the weekend, an early start is absolutely best.

wooden steps running along a cliff edge in river place hike

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