A city that has a "bicycle coordinator" on its payroll must take biking seriously. Austin publishes a map of city bike routes for the benefit of local bike commuters and those visitors who want to pedal around town. You can download a PDF version of the map or order a hard copy by going to this website: www.ci.austin.tx.us/bicycle/bikemap.htm.
If you want to ride on trails, you have your choice of the mellow hike-and-bike trail around Lady Bird Lake (10 miles), or the more challenging Barton Creek Greenbelt (7.8 miles). Contact Austin Parks and Recreation, 200 S. Lamar Blvd. (tel. 512/974-6700; www.ci.austin.tx.us/parks), for more information on these and other bike trails. There is also a paved Veloway, a 3.1-mile paved loop in Slaughter Creek Metropolitan Park in far South Austin. It is devoted exclusively to bicyclists and in-line skaters.
You can rent bikes and get maps and other information from University Cyclery, 2901 N. Lamar Blvd. (tel. 512/474-6696; www.universitycyclery.com). A number of downtown hotels rent or provide free bicycles to their guests. For information on weekly road rides, contact the Austin Cycling Association, P.O. Box 5993, Austin, TX 78763 (tel. 512/282-7413; www.austincycling.org), which also publishes a monthly newsletter, Southwest Cycling News, though only local calls or e-mails are returned. For rougher mountain-bike routes, try the Austin Ridge Riders. Their website, www.austinridgeriders.com, has the latest contact information.
Endangered golden-cheeked warblers and black-capped vireos are among the many species you might spot around Austin. The Travis Audubon Society (tel. 512/926-8751; www.travisaudubon.org) organizes regular birding trips and even has a rare-bird hot line.
Texas Parks and Wildlife publishes The Guide to Austin-Area Birding Sites, which points you to the best urban perches. You should be able to pick up a copy at the Austin Visitor Center or at the offices of any of Austin's parks and preserves. Avid birders should also enjoy Adventures with a Texas Naturalist, by Roy Bedichek. The author is one of the three friends depicted on the Philosophers' Rock.
You can rent canoes at Zilker Park, 2000 Barton Springs Rd. (tel. 512/478-3852; www.fastair.com/zilker), for $10 an hour or $40 all day (daily from Apr-Sept; only weekends, holidays, weather permitting, from Oct-Mar). Capital Cruises, Hyatt Regency boat dock (tel. 512/480-9264; www.capitalcruises.com), also offers hourly rentals on Lady Bird Lake. If your paddling skills are a bit rusty, check out the instructional courses of UT's Recreational Sports Outdoor Program (tel. 512/471-3116).
Git Bit (tel. 512/773-7401; www.gitbitfishing.com) provides guide service for half- or full-day bass-fishing trips on Lake Travis.
For information about Austin's five municipal golf courses and to set up tee times, log on to www.ci.austin.tx.us/parks/golf.htm. All but the 9-hole Hancock course offer pro shops and equipment rental, and their greens fees are reasonable. The Hancock course was built in 1899 and is the oldest course in Texas. The Lions course is where Tom Kite and Ben Crenshaw played college golf for the University of Texas.
Austin's parks and preserves abound in nature trails. Contact the Sierra Club (tel. 512/472-1767; www.texas.sierraclub.org/austin) if you're interested in organized hikes. Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve is another source for guided treks, offering periodic "Haunted Trails" tours along with its more typical hikes.
Those with the urge to hang out on cliffs can call Mountain Madness (tel. 512/329-0309; www.mtmadness.com), which holds weekend rock-climbing courses at Enchanted Rock, a stunning granite outcropping in the Hill Country. Austin Rock Gym (tel. 512/416-9299; www.austinrockgym.com) offers two family-friendly indoor climbing facilities, as well as a variety of classes and guided outdoor trips.
Lake Travis is the perfect place to let the wind drive your sails; among the operators offering sailboat rentals in the Austin area are Commander's Point Yacht Basin (tel. 512/266-2333) and Texas Sailing Academy (tel. 512/261-6193; www.texassailing.com). Both offer instruction.
The clarity of the water in Lake Travis varies a good bit. On days when the lake is full and the wind is mild, it's quite good for diving. You can spot boat wrecks and metal sculptures that have been planted on the lake bottom of the private (paying) portion of Windy Point Park (tel. 512/266-3337; www.windypointpark.com); and Mother Nature has provided the park's advanced divers with an unusual underwater grove of pecan trees. Equipment rentals and lessons are available nearby from Dive World (tel. 512/219-1220; www.diveworldaustin.com), located at 12129 R.R. 620, #440.
The limestone country in the Austin area is rife with dark places in which to poke around. In the city, two wild caves you can crawl into with the proper training are Airman's Cave, on the Barton Creek Greenbelt, and Goat Cave Preserve, in southwest Austin. Check the website of the Texas Speleological Association, www.cavetexas.org, and that of the University Speleological Society, www.utgrotto.org (you don't have to be a student to join), for links to statewide underground attractions.
The best known of Austin's natural swimming holes is Barton Springs Pool, but it's by no means the only one. Other scenic outdoor spots to take the plunge include Deep Eddy Pool, 401 Deep Eddy Ave., at Lake Austin Boulevard (tel. 512/472-8546), and Hamilton Pool Preserve, 27 miles west of Austin, off Tex. 71, on FM 3238 (tel. 512/264-2740).
For lakeshore swimming, consider Hippie Hollow (www.co.travis.tx.us/tnr/parks/hippie_hollow.asp) on Lake Travis, 2 1/2 miles off FM 620, where you can let it all hang out in a series of clothing-optional coves, or Emma Long Metropolitan Park on Lake Austin.
You can also swim at a number of free neighborhood pools; contact the City Aquatics Department (tel. 512/476-4521; www.ci.austin.tx.us/parks/aquatics.htm) for more information.
The very reasonably priced Austin High School Tennis Center, 2001 W. Cesar Chavez St. (tel. 512/477-7802); Caswell Tennis Center, 2312 Shoal Creek Blvd. (tel. 512/478-6268); and Pharr Tennis Center, 4201 Brookview Dr. (tel. 512/477-7773), all have enough courts to give you a good shot at getting one to play on. To find out about additional public courts, contact the Tennis Administration office (tel. 512/480-3020; www.ci.austin.tx.us/parks/tennis.htm).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.