Mount Bonnell is one of Austin’s most popular local and tourist destinations. It provides great views of the Colorado River below, and there is even a spot that offers a commanding view of the Austin skyline. This prominent cliff alongside the water is often mentioned as Austin’s highest point at 780 feet, but that honor goes to the Jollyville Plateau at around 1,100 feet above sea level). Still, the views are nice and the sunsets can be spectacular. Tourists have been visiting this landmark since the 1850s, and in 2015 Mount Bonnell was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
As for photographing this area, Mount Bonnell offers only a few compositions. I prefer shooting in the evening at sunset. You can often have nice clouds as the sun sinks below the hills opposite the river. At sunrise, you’ll have the sun behind you and can use it to light up the trees across the river, but you’ll also run into harsher light and deep shadows. If you like creating panoramas, this is a nice place to show the length of the river, and the 360 Bridge can even be included in these shots, as its steel structure can be seen in the distance.
If you want to take a shot at the Austin skyline, walk south along the trail past the pavilion. If you keep going, you’ll find a stone picnic table. From this point, you can set up your tripod on top of the table to gain an unobstructed view of downtown. You’ll want to shoot with a telephoto lens – usually 150mm-200mm at least, and you’ll want it to be a crisp day for optimal clarity. I also like to take several images here to create a pano of the skyline. I’ve found that a little after sunset is best because you’ll have the city lights beginning to shine. On some nights, you’ll even find the UT Tower lit up after a Texas Longhorn victory.
Mount Bonnell is a fun place to visit, but can get quite crowded on weekends. Still, it is worth a trip every so often. Enjoy the view!
I was recently asked about some locations I most enjoy visiting in and around Austin. After mulling it over, one of my favorite places to shoot both in the morning and evening is the Pennybacker Bridge, known to the locals as the 360 Bridge. Opened to the public in 1982, the steel for the arched suspension bridge was forged in Japan, shipped to a port in Houston, then brought by truck to its final destination. The bridge is 1,150 feet long, and no portion of the structure touches the Colorado River that flows below.
Speaking from a photographer’s perspective, you can find unique perspectives from all four corners of the bridge. The most photographed angle comes from the cliff on the northeast side. This view looks directly at the bridge with the distant Austin, Texas, skyline on the horizon. I like sunrises from this location because you can often enjoy colorful skies, as well.
From the southeast corner, you have a view of the bridge and the Texas Hill Country that stretches upriver to the western ridge. Sunsets from this location can be stunning, and you’ll rarely see folks up on this side (which is a plus for me). From the northwest and southwest sides, you’ll find yourself below the bridge and down by the water. There is boat ramp in this location but if you are patient, you’ll have some still water. You can enjoy nice views looking up at the bridge and cliffs from this angle, and morning or evening clouds can be spectacular on any given evening. From the north west side, I like shooting back towards the bridge just after sunrise to include a starburst in the image.
Other nearby locations also provide more unique vantage points, but you’ll have to search a bit for those. The search is worth it, though, and I’ve found I never tire of visiting this location!