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How To Hike Mount Bonnell for the Best Austin Views

July 26, 2023
Mount Bonnell

In a city known for its love of the great outdoors, Mount Bonnell is a must-see hike for any Austin visitor. With sweeping views of Lake Austin and the sprawling Austin skyline, it’s a great place to enjoy a picnic, watch the sunset, or simply snap a few pics for your Instagram feed.

Here’s everything you need to know about planning your Mount Bonnell visit

What is Mount Bonnell?

Mount Bonnell

Clocking in at a less than impressive 775 feet, Mount Bonnell might not be considered much of a mountain in most places around the world, but in low-lying Austin, it more than qualifies.

Named after early Texas newspaper publisher George W. Bonnell, Mount Bonnell is often described as the tallest point within Austin’s original city limits, although it’s technically outclassed by nearby Mount Barker. 

However, it’s still one of the best places to go to get a bird’s eye view of the city. In fact, many locals say Mount Bonnell has the best views in town — and I’d have to agree!

Covert Park

If you’re interested in the history of Mount Bonnell, there are some plaques you’ll see on your hike to tell you more about it. One shares about the ownership history of the mountain and park. Another historical marker shares more about George Bonnell and about one W.A.A. “Bigfoot” Wallace, who hid in a Mount Bonnell cave while he recovered from dysentery and was gone so long his sweetheart eloped with someone else. You’ll also learn how Mormons built a mill at the foot of Mount Bonnell in the mid-1800s.

Why visit Mount Bonnell?

Mt Bonnell Rock
Credit: Aaron Jacobs / CC BY-SA 2.5

So why bother visiting this smallish mountain? Because it’s the best place to take in sweeping views of Austin! And the best part is that it’s one of the coolest free things to do in Austin.

I often recommend that first-time visitors check out Mount Bonnell as their first outdoor activity in the city since it’s a great place to take in the views and understand the layout of Austin’s downtown. 

Perched high above the valley, you can look down from Mount Bonnell and see Lake Austin, the iconic downtown Austin skyline, and some of the lush, green beauty of the hill country.

It’s a great easy outdoor activity for families with small children who will appreciate the adventure of the short walk up, and it can also make for a romantic date night.

Pack a picnic and sip sparkling cider as you watch the sunset over the lake in style, or go after dusk to see the town lit up at night.

How to hike Mount Bonnell

Mount Bonnell

Located in the northern part of the city inside Covert Park, Mount Bonnell is easy to reach using a variety of transportation methods. 

Locals in this car-loving metropolis typically drive or take an Uber to the mountain, but you can also take the bus if you don’t mind walking about half an hour to the base. The 335 and 30 bus lines will drop you off about a mile from the mountain.

Once you get there, the Mount Bonnell hike is easy. In fact, some people don’t even consider it a hike at all. It only takes about 5-10 minutes to complete the hike, which is easy enough for even the most inexperienced hiker. Small children should be able handle this slope with ease.

There’s a fully shaded easy staircase of around 100 steps that takes you right to the top of the mountain. From there, turn left to see the skyline, and right for the best views of Lake Austin and the 360 bridge.

The trail is even, wide, and flat once you reach the top, and both ends of the trail have large, generous viewing areas where you can sit down and enjoy the scenery.

What to do at Mount Bonnell

Aside from simply enjoying the views, one of the best things to do at Mount Bonnell is take photographs.

The mountain is a popular spot for Instagrammers to snap pics of themselves looking happy and outdoorsy at the top. Put on your best hiking gear and act like you climbed a real mountain — we won’t tell!

Here are some tips to take best photo at Mount Bonnell:

  • Go at sunset. Sunset is a prime time to catch the best pics of Mount Bonnell. Head to the right hand side of the path to catch the sun going down over Lake Austin.
  • Include the rugged rock in the foreground. Make sure you include a slab of local limestone in your shot! Mount Bonnell is a limestone mountain, and the craggy rock features prominently in most photographs.
  • Shoot high to avoid the fence. There’s a safety fence that lines the mountain and might look like it could block your shot, but simply angle your camera lens high and no one will be the wiser.

If you’re not much of a photographer, Mount Bonnell is also a great place to enjoy a picnic. There are several picnic tables at the park where you can lay out your spread.

Insider tips for visiting Mount Bonnell

Mount Bonnell
Credit: Spawnzilla / CC BY-SA 4.0

The best time of day to visit Mount Bonnell is sunrise or sunset. The golden light will make your pictures glow, and the city and Lake Austin look positively magical at this hour. Covert Park (pictured above) is open daily from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., so you can even go at a late hour and enjoy the glimmer of city lights.

Even though it’s a short and easy hike, I don’t recommend hiking Mount Bonnell in the middle of summer, when the extreme Texas heat makes it difficult to enjoy even the most low impact outdoor activities. Instead, visit in the spring, autumn, or winter when temperatures are reasonable, and the view is lush and green.

This easy hike is accessible for all ages. While it’s difficult to bring a stroller up the steps, there are definitely plenty of hikers who’ve carried an infant in arms up to the top.

However, it pays to come prepared! There are no restrooms, water fountains, or other facilities while hiking, so make sure you bring beverages with you.

What to do after your Mount Bonnell hike

Mount Bonnell

You’ve probably worked up an appetite during your hike, so now’s a great time to explore what Austin is known for — some seriously tasty restaurants!

For a typical Austinite bite near the base of Mount Bonnell, Fonda San Miguel can’t be beat. Perfect for families and big groups, this hacienda-style restaurant specializes in tasty, authentic Mexican food and delicious margaritas.

Local tip: If your hike was early to avoid the heat (good idea), then you’re ready for a hearty lunch. Visit East Austin for a flavorful food tour of some of the best restaurants in the city.

Enjoy the view!

I hope you found this guide helpful as you plan your Mount Bonnell excursion! While there are higher mountains and more challenging hikes out there, this gorgeous viewpoint is a classic, can’t-miss Austin experience.

Looking for more to do in Austin? We’d love to take you on a guided tour of the city.