Austin’s a mecca for mountain biking, but sometimes I feel like I spend more time getting off my bike to avoid the gnarly stuff than I do actually riding.
My favorite place to ride when I want some moderate terrain that’ll challenge my intermediate skills without leaving me in a sling? The Slaughter Creek Preserve in South Austin, where a 5-mile single-track loop serves up stair-steppy drops, rock gardens and flowy, rolling inclines.
The trail doesn’t require the technical skill that you need to navigate the bumps and grinds of parts of the Barton Creek Greenbelt or Emma Long Metropolitan Park (City Park), and it doesn’t attract the big crowds of Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park.
I made two loops of the circuit this morning, and it felt great to get my cycling legs back under me. I swim almost every day, but now and then it’s good to mix up the routine.
The multi-use trail cuts through a 100-acre swath of land owned by the city of Austin and set aside to protect water quality. (Cyclists ride clockwise; hikers and equestrians head counter-clockwise. Cyclists should dismount and pull off to avoid startling horses.)
Confession: About five years ago, I busted my ass on a rocky incline near the start of the trail. (Limestone is sharp, people!) I wound up at the minor emergency center, but it didn’t keep me from coming back. And the good news is the trail’s been reworked in that section, so you can avoid the hazards that took me out.
I especially like this trail in the spring, when wildflowers are blooming. I’ve spooked up deer on occasion, too.
The trail is doable for beginner and intermediate-level cyclists. I’ve made it through every obstacle on the loop, but I’ve never made an entire loop without dabbing a foot down at least once. You’ll find about seven or eight nice ledgy drops and climbs.
Not up for the entire loop? You can take a cutoff trial that trims about 2 miles off the circuit and still includes the highlights.
The trail is open from dawn to dusk daily, but closes after rain to prevent erosion.(Check here for closure information.) You have to drive through an automatic gate to get to the parking lot and trailhead, which is next to the old Trautwein homestead at 9901 Farm-to-Market 1826.