This month we have really been enjoying sharing some of our favorite parks to enjoy with your pups on leash, so I also wanted to share some of my favorite off leash spots around town for you to check out. All of these parks have designated off leash areas to enjoy with your pups! Keep in mind when you are exploring these parks that you will be out in nature with your dog, not man made spaces. Make sure your dog is safely able to navigate the terrain, that they have a recall cue that they understand, and that you are aware of any wildlife dangers in the area.
You will notice as you read through this list that none of these parks are fenced in. I personally tend to avoid the fenced dog parks as they tend to attract the types of dogs that I don’t want my dogs around. I also do not go to off leash areas for my dogs to play with other dogs. I go to off leash spaces to give my dogs an opportunity to run free somewhere other than their backyard. The other dogs are just a side effect of the space, not the purpose of it for us, so I’m usually more concerned about space to move around. I’m also usually looking for more of wild nature environment than a backyard, and fenced dog parks still have a very backyard feel to me.
No matter what off leash space you choose to go to, try to keep moving. Humans have a habit of clustering together to watch our pups play and to socialize with each other. It’s very fun to do, but unfortunately where the humans cluster the dogs will cluster, and that tends to be where we have problems at the dog park pop up. Even at a fenced park, if you simply pace the perimeter, your dog will likely keep moving with you and will stay out of those cluster spots. The unfenced parks tend to have those cluster or congregation points too, so I usually avoid those spots or just walk through them with my dogs to keep them out of trouble.
So, what are my favorite off leash spots around Austin?
Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park
This is one of the parks I frequent the most. It helps that it’s just across the road from our house in North Austin! This park is huge, with a ton of winding trails that lead back and forth across the creek, as well as through trees and open meadow spaces. You can easily do a different hike each time you come here, or even do the same hike over and over and your pup will have a different experience. When the creek is full this is a great hot weather spot, and I highly recommend wearing water shoes to enjoy the refreshing water with your pup. It can get crowded on the weekends, especially around the water, so I check it out during off peak hours. Earlier on the weekends, and on the weekdays. Don’t stick to the congregation points for too long and you should be fine. Most of the crowds tend to hike to the water and stay there, so pick a path that brings you back and forth so that your pup can cool down, and you might not really see anyone for most of your hike!
Turkey Creek Nature Trail
Turkey Creek is part of Emma Long Metropolitan Park. It is a great off leash hiking trail in a beautiful park. There are even more trails to explore on leash as well in the main park! Turkey Creek hikes along a creek for a while in the trees, and then up onto a field and meadow type area. It’s a great example of the different environments in the hill country, and keeps the hike interesting. There are a couple of different loops to take, but the main loop is about 3 miles long and just an amazing hike.
Onion Creek Metropolitan Park
This is a great spot in South Austin, very close to Buda. There is a specific designated off leash trail that is just gorgeous. Again, it hikes along a creek but you don’t see much of it except at specific points. There’s a lot of trees and undergrowth all along the creek and it makes for a very lush hike. Onion Creek also contains equestrian trails and there is some overlap with the off leash trails, so be aware of possible horses and make sure that you have a strong recall before heading out on those sections.
There isn’t much hiking to be done at Auditorium Shores, but this is a great spot for the dog who loves to swim! There are multiple entry points to get into the water, including a nice big dock, and some great open fields to run loose in. The Town Lake Hike & Bike trail winds through here, so be aware that there will be joggers and people on bicycles going through the park, and sometimes the occasional on leash dog. Fetch is also a very popular past time here so always be aware of who’s toy your pup might have just stolen and abandoned in the water! This park can definitely get crowded, so this is another one to try and hit at the off peak times for your first few visits while you get used to the park. This one is also pretty close to a main road, so it is very important to have a good recall and keep moving so that your dog moves with you, instead of across the street.
An obvious one, but I can’t help but love Zilker. This is usually a spot for me that I like to go with my mellow older dogs. The ones who still like to run around a little but then nap in the sun. Sometimes I’ll take the border collie here after a long hike elsewhere or a long swim in the lake. Being bordered by roads makes me a little nervous to take a dog who really needs to run run run here, plus I like to go to Zilker to lay out on a blanket and enjoy the day. If you do take a runner to Zilker, keep moving. It’s still really nice to move around the park and take in all the people watching around you. Rock Island, in the middle of the park, is the most popular congregation point. It’s a great spot to hang out, but don’t stay too long. The main downfall of Zilker is that it ends up closed half of the year due to festivals!
Red Bud Isle
Red Bud is a great mixture of hiking and chilling. It is a peninsula in Town Lake and has some really fun hiking trails winding around inside. There are also multiple great spots for your pup to get in and enjoy some swimming. Some of them are man made concrete steps, there are some nice natural slope areas, and some fun roots that your pup can leap off of if they are feeling brave. Definitely keep an eye on your pup while they are swimming and be ready to show them an exit route if they can’t find it. This is another great place to wear your water shoes. You can also kayak, SUP, or canoe up to the Isle from any of the great rental spots on Town Lake and hang out for a while with your dog. Parking is super limited, so get here early!
With any off leash space I recommend going more at off peak times if you can. This means weekdays during normal office hours, or early morning on the weekends. Most of these places can get pretty packed and it can be overwhelming for us and for our dogs, especially on your first visit. Make sure you keep your leash with you while you are hiking, just in case you need to use it or you wander into an on leash section. I usually carry treats with me wherever I go in order to reinforce good choices my dogs make on our hikes, and just ignore any dogs who are sniffing around my pouch. As soon as they realize I’m not stopping and I’m not going to pay out, they leave me alone.
Summer is almost upon us, so go and explore these spaces before it’s a million degrees outside! If you aren’t confident enough in your dogs off leash skills to explore these spaces, or you want to get your non dog friendly dog out off their leash, there are a couple of Private Dog Parks in town that I highly recommend. There is DogBoy’s Dog Ranch in Pflugerville, The Dog Alliance in Leander, and Jumping Jack Dog Ranch in Manchaca. All of them have great parks that are a ton of fun to explore, and you get them all to yourself during your rental. We are also here and happy to help build your dogs off leash skills and help you feel more confident if you want to go hiking, but just aren’t sure how to get them there. Just drop us a line here!