About Mount Bonnell
Mount Bonnell is a great landmark and one of the most visited sites in Austin. The limestone height stands at 775 ft above sea level and is considered to be the highest point within Austin City Limits. It has been a popular sightseeing destination since the mid-19th century and continues to attract tourists, locals and hikers of varying ability.
Once you’ve climbed the 100 steps (give or take) of the historic, limestone staircase there are truly spectacular views from the top. Mount Bonnell rises on the eastern bank of Lake Austin and provides one of the best vantage points to see the entire city. From the iconic Pennybacker Bridge, to the Hill Country in the west and Austin’s ever-changing skyline to the south east, this hotspot is the ideal place for panoramic views of the city.
SO DON’T FORGET YOUR CAMERA!
History of Mount Bonnell
Covert Park is the official name of Mount Bonnell (after the land was donated by Frank Covert in 1939), though you’ll rarely hear it called that by the locals. The park is now a 5.1 acre historic linear park, with a history dating back to the 1830’s.
The name Mount Bonnell is believed to have come from George W. Bonnell, a soldier who fought for Texas independence and became the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Republic of Texas. He visited the site in 1838 and wrote about it in his journal. Bonnell went on to become the publisher of The Texas Sentinel newspaper and was prominent in the early affairs Texas and Austin (then Travis County).
You may also hear Mount Bonnell referred to as Antoinette’s leap. Legend says that a young woman leapt from the peak of Mount Bonnell in order to avoid being captured by Native Americans who had killed her fiancé.
The leap of Antoinette is not the only story of Mount. Bonnell. Frontiersman W.A.A “Bigfoot” Wallace was crossing a narrow ledge 50 feet above the river when he came face to face with a Native American. After killing the Native American, Wallace hid in one of the caves of Mount. Bonnell to recover from ‘flux’. It is believed he hid for so long that his sweetheart thought he was dead and so she eloped with someone else. Wallace described Mount Bonnell as a great hunting ground, being one of the best places to hunt bear in the country. But don’t expect to find any bears are your walk up there today as no carnivores now live in the area.
Several years on from George W. Bonnell’s journal, the author and historian Julia Lee Sinks wrote: “Our home was on the beaten track of the Indians into town from the pass of Mount Bonnell. The knolls beyond the quarry branch were interspersed with timber, and sometimes though not often, we would see galloping past the open spaces beyond the blanketed Indian. The path along the quarry branch, secluded as it was, became their main inlet to the town. It was a sheltered road, never traveled at night by whites, so the Indians claimed right of way, and all full moons brought moccasin tracks in abundance”. During the Republic years, Sinks lived on West Pecan (present day 6th Street).
The peak has been visited by several historical figures including: General Sam Houston (first president of the Republic of Texas) as well as General George Armstrong Custer and his wife. In 1969 Mount Bonnell was designated a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark and was then listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.
Mount Bonnell is a prominent point along the Lake Austin portion of the Colorado River in Austin, Texas.
At 775 feet above sea level, many consider Mount Bonnell to be the highest point in Austin, but this maybe due where the city limits lie. There is a summit to the north, Mount Barker, which is approximately 840 feet above sea level but it rests outside Austin City Limits. There are also various other points that are higher than Mount Bonnell but they aren’t as accessible and don’t have the superb panoramic view of the city.
Mount Bonnell is a great spot to visit and it attracts everyone from hikers to families and the romantics among us.
Well as previously said there are around 100 or so steps to climb to get to the peak (the step count ranges from 99-106, see how many you can count!). The steps are irregular and uneven so, unfortunately, they aren’t stroller-friendly, but there is a rail along the middle of the stairway to help keep your footing.
In terms of length, it’s pretty short at just 0.3 miles, but be warned it’s a pretty steep climb, it may not just be the view that takes your breath away. For the trail runners among us, it’s can offer a quick and effective workout, for those of us who are less athletic, take a leisurely walk with regular stops, and don’t forget your water bottle. Most people will reach the top in around twenty minutes and the average visitor explores the summit for thirty minutes. The view platform does have some shaded areas but be prepared to be in direct sunlight. There are also only a few places to sit and it can get crowded. That being said, it’s a free tourist spot with no imposed limits, so take all the time you need.
Four legged friends are welcome, but dogs should be kept on a leash and bear in mind the limestone can be tough on their paws and they need to get plenty of water as well.
Nature on Mount Bonnell
The views from Mount Bonnell are stunning but so is the hillside itself. Mountain laurel is one of the many species that grow on the hillside and has blue flowers in the springtime (that spell like grape Kool-aid). The hillside is also home to sprawling oak, Ash Juniper trees and persimmon, not to mention bracted twistflower. The twistflower is also blue and may soon become an endangered species; it is for this reason that exploring beyond the designated trails is strongly discouraged. If you are looking out for wildlife, keep your eyes peeled for spiny lizards and the occasional armadillo.
Of course sunset is a particular popular time on top of the hill and it can get crowded. Sunrise is (for some reason!) much quieter but just as beautiful. Many visitors also head up the hill after dark to stargaze from the summit but it’s important to note that the park officially closes at 10pm.
Events on Mount Bonnell
With such a spectacular vantage point it should come as no surprise that the summit of Mount Bonnell is a great spot to view July 4th fireworks. There are some great displays in and around Austin but be prepared for it to get crowded and for the parking to fill up fast. Many major events in the city feature firework displays which could be an opportunity for a quieter experience.
Another good site from the summit is the ABC Kite Fest, held in March every year. The event is in Zilker Park but you can see thousands of flying kites from the viewing platform of Mount Bonnell. With so many creative kites (dragons have been known to soar) it’s an experience not to be missed.
The stairway is also used for workouts in the cooler months, so keep an eye out for fitness groups on your way up.