Sometimes the best rides are the ones that go somewhere. Austin is a great hub for state park visits, so check out the routes below to get in your workout and see more than just the pavement.
All routes are from MapMyRide users, so starting points differ. For distance, we use an approximation from downtown Austin to the park.
Pedernales Falls State Park - ~80 miles
A route to Johnson City, out and back
This route takes Fitzhugh Road – pretty scenery in itself – for roughly 20 miles. You can also tack on some extra mileage on the park roads. To see the falls area you'll need to walk a short trail, so bring a lock and a pair of shoes with you, or plan to carry your bike half a mile or so. There's also a swimming area in a separate part of the park – again, you'll need to walk a little to get there. The river is often very shallow, so don't expect to get your swim practice in.
The falls area is worth spending some time exploring – there are lots of fossils, interesting rocks and eddies, and climbing around. The swimming area is typical Hill Country river, with cold, clear water and old cypress trees lining the banks.
Fitzhugh doesn't have a shoulder, so it's best to start early or on a weekday.
Bastrop State Park - ~80 miles, or ~24 miles if you drive to the park
The route to Bastrop, out and back
For the route within the park, just grab a map at the park and follow Park Road 1C to Buescher
This park is a great place to take the family or a beginning rider. The paved, rolling road from Bastrop State Park to Buescher State Park is about 12 miles and has very little traffic – it's just you and the "lost" pines. Within the park there are many good running trails and a few CCC-built cabins that make a nice overnight stop.
Or if you're looking to spend more time in the saddle, the 80-mile route takes the back back roads to Bastrop. Leave the race wheels at home, though – you may encounter some unpaved portions. And plan to meet some unfriendly dogs, as well.
McKinney Falls State Park, ~24 miles
This ride is fairly short and not scenic at all, but McKinney Falls is the closest state park to town, and offers great running trails and a good swimming hole. The swimming area is, again, too small and shallow for open water training, but it's perfect for cooling down mid-ride in the summer.
More than 90 percent of Texas is privately owned, so every green spot on the map is something special. With the current budget crisis, the axe is coming down hard on all state agencies, the Texas Parks & Wildlife department included. If you like your state parks and other green spaces, the best way to keep them around is to use them.
For other ideas of where to go and what to see in Texas (cycling and otherwise), check out Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. (This month's feature is "The Best of Texas, Naturally: 25 Outdoor Favorites for 2011.")