Off-Leash Hiking With Dogs in Austin: 7 Parks Where It’s Legal

Hiking with dogs is quickly becoming a more popular activity.  It’s a fantastic way to stay active while bonding with your best four-legged friend.  Humans and dogs alike will benefit from time spent together outdoors.  Unfortunately, most major cities require pet owners to keep a short leash on their dogs in public places.  Austin is a very dog friendly city, but it also requires leashes in most areas.  However, there are a few short trails for hiking with dogs in Austin, and you can do so off-leash.  Here are seven parks we’ve found to take your dog OFF-LEASH in Austin.  

Hiking at Barton Creek in Austin with a leash and backpack

Go hiking with your dog off-leash at any of these parks in Austin.  Each location is specified in relation to downtown. Keep in mind, other hikers may not appreciate being jumped on, sniffed, or approached aggressively. Please make sure your dog is trained, vaccinated and chipped before hitting the trails, and don’t expect the poop fairy to do your duty.  

Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park & Greenbelt (far northeast side)

Walnut Creek Metro Park is west of I-35, in north Austin.  15 miles of trails run through this park with multiple creek crossings.  This is a large park which can quickly become crowded, but you should find the trails to be less crowded than other areas of this 300-acre park.  Roughly 200 acres of space are good for off-leash hiking with dogs.  Some trails are paved and others are natural, but none are difficult to hike.  Check the map for park rules and observe the off-leash area which wraps around this park.  Restrooms are limited here; there are some near the sports fields (which is not an off-leash area) and portable toilets near the trails.  

Address:  12138 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78753

Hours of operation:  5am – 10pm

Important aspects:  Walnut Creek crossings

Great Northern Park (north Austin) 

This park is between Sheffield Northwest District Park and a pedestrian bridge running over Mopac.  Great Northern Park is the least scenic park on this list.  It has a short paved loop, circling a retention pond.  Dogs are free to roam off-leash throughout the park, except within the retention pond.  There is no fence or other enclosure around this park.  Many people do not seem to like that fact.  If you cannot trust your dog in a wide open space with dirty water, you may want to choose another park.  Great Northern Park lacks shade and restrooms as well, but has plenty of space to run and play off-leash.  

Address:  7099 Great Northern Blvd, Austin, TX 78757

Hours of operation:  5am – 10pm

Important aspects:  none, but there are motion sensors that illuminate the path at night

Hiking off-leash at Searight Metro Park in South Austin

Shoal Creek Greenbelt (near downtown & UT) 

This off-leash area is located north of Pease District Park, along Shoal Creek.  The entire trail runs for about five miles where the creek empties into the Colorado River.  However, off-leash hiking is only permitted between 24th and 29th street.  Stick to the trail in this area and you will cover roughly 1.5 miles out-and-back.  The Shoal Creek Greenbelt is very scenic and provides plenty of shade, despite its proximity to downtown Austin.  Parking is located along Shoal Creek Blvd, but there are no restrooms and the park is not enclosed.  

Address:  2600 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78705

Hours of operation:  open 24 hours

Important aspects:  rock walls and creek access

Red Bud Isle (west Austin)

This is a very unique park because it is also an island for dogs.  The small patch of land is surrounded by the Colorado River, just west of downtown.  Although it’s an off-leash dog area, it’s also a hotspot for fishing and paddling.  Red Bud Trail will get you to this island of fun, if you can beat the crowds.  Parking is limited, and there are no amenities on the island.  Simply hike around the island with your dogs off-leash and enjoy the views from the middle of the river.  

Address:  3401 Redbud Trail, Austin, TX 78746

Hours of operation:  7am – 10pm

Important aspects:  the only dog island around

Looking toward downtown from the off-leash dog area at Red Bud Isle

Searight Metropolitan Park (south Austin)

This off-leash trail is located on the north side of the park, between Mary Moore Searight Drive and South 1st Street.  Park at either end to access the fenced, off-leash area with a mile-long loop trail.  Although it may be muddy, the trail is well-shaded with plenty of space to hike through the woods.  There are no restrooms or amenities near the off-leash hiking area.  

Address:  907 W Slaughter Ln, Austin, TX 78748

Hours of operation:  5am – 10pm

Important aspects:  none, but squirrel chasing is available

Crossing Onion Creek to the off-leash hiking trail in Austin

Onion Creek Greenbelt (south Austin)

You will find Onion Creek Greenbelt just north of Onion Creek Metro Park.  The off-leash trail is on the north side of the creek, which can be crossed on foot, if you don’t mind getting your paws wet.  You can also park and access the trail from the neighborhoods.  Hike with your dog off-leash for more than one mile in this well-shaded area.  Trails near Onion Creek do get muddy and narrow in certain areas.  There are no restrooms, but there is drinking water at Onion Creek Metro Park.  

Address:  7002 Onion Creek Dr, Austin, TX 78744

Hours of operation:  open 24 hours

Important aspects:  Onion Creek crossings

Emma Long Metropolitan Park (far northwest side) 

This is a very popular park on the far west side of Austin, along the Colorado River.  Emma Long Metro Park charges fees for camping and swimming, but you can hike the Turkey Creek Trail with your dogs for free.  Some people complain about the amount of off-leash dogs on this trail because they do not realize it’s an off-leash hiking trail.  Turkey Creek Trail runs through the woods for nearly three miles.  It’s an out-and-back trail with a loop at its tail end.  Enjoy some off-leash time hiking this well-shaded trail which has some decent changes in elevation.  

Address:  1401-1711 City Park Rd, Austin, TX 78730

Hours of operation:  7am – 10pm

Important aspects:  longest off-leash hiking trail in Austin

Most trails in Austin are not off-leash and have designated signage

Does Austin Have a Leash Law?

Yes, like most major cities, there is a leash law in Austin, Texas.  The ordinance states: dog owners shall keep their dogs under restraint in public, except where restraint is not required.  Additionally, a person may not restrain a dog unless holding the means of restraint.  To put it simply, your dog must be tethered to you properly in public areas which are not designated for off-leash play.  

Many people seem to believe leash laws do not apply to them.  Whether or not your dog is well-behaved and obeys every command does not affect the ordinance.  Leash laws apply to everyone just like traffic laws.  Speeding is illegal no matter who does it, not just reckless drivers.  You may or may not agree, but that doesn’t change the law, and it’s not up for debate in this article.  

View from Pennybacker Bridge Overlook facing downtown Austin

Which Park is Your Favorite in Austin?

These are just a few off-leash places in Austin, but most of the others are dog parks.  The parks on this list will keep your pups paws moving for at least one mile restriction free.  It’s nice to get some time together out on the trails without that pesky leash.  Where do you like to go hiking with dogs in Austin?  Have a good trail which is not on our list?  Share it with us in the comments below and happy tails on those trails!   

I’m a certified personal trainer in San Antonio. After adopting Abbey, I created Places for Pups to help you get outside, exercise with your dog and have fun doing it. We have mastered hiking in Texas Hill Country. Though we emerge from the woods unharmed, we are not responsible for you or your pets. You are solely responsible for trying exercises, or places discussed on this site. Grab the best hiking gear and go dog friendly.  I wish you good fortune on the trails to come.

David Earley


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