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Top Ten Hill Country Adventures
by Carla Land
The Texas Hill Country is a perfect getaway destination for active travelers looking for a little outdoor fun. With nearly 20 state parks and natural areas in the region, and with abundant natural beauty, RV parks, campgrounds, adventure opportunities and attractions, the hardest part will be deciding how to spend your time.
A few of the largest and perhaps most popular destinations of the Hill Country are Fredericksburg, Kerrville, Leakey, Marble Falls and New Braunfels. While there are many smaller towns and burgs to explore, these are good communities from which to base for a weekend adventure into the surrounding region.
Fredericksburg, in the heart of the Hill Country, was founded around 1846 by German land grant settlers. It's Old World charm and heritage endures to this day. German is still widely spoken among the locals.
The city's Main Street is a designated National Register Historic District. Fredericksburg is also known for it's great accommodations and is home to some of Texas' best bed and breakfast inns and guest houses (gasthaus). The beautiful rolling countryside lends itself to outdoor adventures.
By car, Fredericksburg is a ninety minute drive from Austin and an hour from San Antonio. Many major airlines fly into these cities where you can easily rent a car.
Fredericksburg is filled with hundreds of unique Bed and Breakfast Inns. Most are themed around the traditional Sunday House of German design and tradition. One fine example is the Keidel Inn & Gasthaus located on Main Street. Here you can rest from your active excursions in beautiful and historical splendor. Directly across the street is the Admiral Nimitz Museum and the National Museum of The Pacific War. Also, Fredericksburg's famous unique shops are just a few doors down, and you can get your pastry fix at several German bakeries less than a block away.
Recommended Adventure #1: Bouldering Enchanted Rock
Enchanted Rock is a national natural landmark. The rock is a huge, pink granite exfoliation dome, that rises 425 feet above the surrounding rugged Hill Country, 1,825 feet above sea level, covering 640 acres. It is one of the largest batholiths (underground rock formations uncovered by erosion) in the United States. The park is open to the public and located 18 miles north of Fredericksburg. There is plenty of hiking, technical rock climbs, and great campgrounds. But arrive early as the park often closes because it can reach it's capacity by late morning.
Recommended Adventure #2:
Biking Willow City Loop
Located a few miles north of Fredericksburg, take Ranch Road 965 until you reach Texas highway 16, then take a left and look for the Willow City Loop sign. This 14-plus mile bike ride has some of the most breathtaking winding roads in the Hill Country, particularly in the spring season when the bluebonnets and other wildflowers are at their best. The canyons are filled with wildflowers and pecan trees, oaks and abundant white-tailed deer. Don't forget to take your camera!
Schnitzel...Bratwurst...Beer...it's a German community so, you must dine at Friedhelms Bavarian Inn for authentic German cuisine. The service is excellent, the atmosphere superb and their Sauerbraten and Prime Rib are particularly excellent. A great way to end a day of biking and bouldering!
For more information on visiting this charming German community, visit Fredericksburg-Texas.com, the official Chamber of Commerce Web site.
Kerrville is a Texas Hill Country paradise with a more rustic "Texas" ranch ambiance. The accommodations are first-rate, the scenery is majestic and the people are friendly. Located in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, where sparkling spring fed creeks meander through the rugged terrain and rolling hills of the Guadalupe River Valley, the community is rich in history and heritage.
Kerrville is 104 miles west of Austin and 65 miles northwest of San Antonio, just 306 miles from Dallas, and 248 miles from Houston. It is 20 miles from Fredericksburg and makes a great next stop on your adventure around the Texas Hill Country.
Ranch style accommodations are more prevalent in this community and nothing says that better than the Y.O. Ranch. This unique Texas ranch is credited with saving the famous Texas Longhorn from extinction, and is host to over 60 species of exotic game. For over 120 years the ranch was a working cattle operation but has since grown into a tourist attraction offering an authentic "Texas Ranch" experience.
Recommended Adventure #3:
Photo Safari "Africa in Texas"
So you don't have the time or the money for an African safari, now you can just go to Texas! You can photograph over 60 species of exotic wildlife from Africa, Southeast Asia, India and Europe and all at the Y.O. Ranch
in Kerrville, Texas.
Recommended Adventure #4:
Biking Kerrville to Bandera
If you truly want to see the heart of the Hill Country, this is the only way to do it. The highways are excellent and Kerrville has a reliable bike shop to stock up on last minute supplies for the trek. Setting out from Kerrville, going South on Texas Highway 16, get ready to test your climbing legs. While the road meanders closely to the Medina River, that last hill is a whopper! This section of the trip is approximately 40 miles in length. When you arrive in Bandera you will be spending the night in the "Cowboy Capitol of Texas." The area is well known for it's many guest ranches.
What's a trip to Texas without eating tex-mex food, so get your fix at Mamacita's Restaurant and Cantina, 215 Junction Hwy.in Kerrville.
The margaritas are a great way to wind down after a long bike ride!
Kerrville is home to many great annual events like the Texas State Arts & Crafts Fair and the Kerrville Folk Festival. Be sure to check out the calendar of events and more visitor information at the Kerrville Convention & Visitors Bureau official Web site.
Leakey, Texas Guide
If you're looking for true small town Texas ambiance, this is the burg - a charming community filled with old limestone buildings where you can still get a real, old fashioned soda at a genuine soda fountain. Leakey has often been referred to as the "Swiss Alps of Texas". The community is conveniently located by Lost Maples State Natural Area.
By car, you'll be traveling about 50 miles southwest of Kerrville. Take Highway 27 to the community of Ingram. Take Highway 39 West ( the Y to the left). This scenic drive which parallels the pristine Guadalupe River, is a drive not to be missed. Take a left onto RR187 and you'll see signs directing you to the state park.
Needless to say, camping is the thing to do in this neck of the woods. The park has over 8 different campgrounds and there are several rental cabins and even an RV park. However, if you need a roof over your head, check out Fox Fire Cabins in nearby Vanderpool. For more information on local lodging options and general informtion about the area check with the Leakey-Texas Visitors Page.
Recommended Adventure #5:
Hiking Mystic Canyon
Lost Maple State Natural Area has over 10 miles of varied terrain with hiking trails for novices and experienced backpackers. Mystic Canyon is just one of the main hikes within the park where you can appreciate the dense groves of bigtooth maple trees,the parks primary claim to fame. Yes, Texas has a colorful fall season and starting in October the park is flooded with visitors to view the spectacular foliage. However the park is breathtaking in the spring and summer as well, and you are more likely to have the park to yourself during this time. Check the park visitors center for trail conditions and foilage reports.
Recommended Adventure# 6:
Tubing the Frio River
Okay, it's not exactly whitewater rafting, but it is a Texas tradition, and it's alot of fun on a hot Texas day. Frio, in Spanish, means cold, and it truly is frio! The river is fed by some 1,100 underground artesian springs, and is one of the most pristine rivers in the state. Josh's Frio River Outfitters can provide you with all your river adventure supplies and information.
If you want a break from your campfire cooking, be sure to check out The Smokehouse. They have a Turkey sandwich you'll never forget! And, of course, you'll want to stop by the local pharmacy, Leakey Drug, for that authentic soda.
Marble Falls Guide
Welcome to the Highland Lakes of Texas! This series of man-made lakes and dams harness the power of the Colorado River. What makes the lakes so pristine is the huge, natural pink granite, uplifts that surround them. It seems to make the lakes sparkle in the sunlight. Marble Falls is one of the larger and older communities on the Highland Lakes and is a great base for adventuring into the surrounding countryside.
The Highland Lakes and Marble Falls are just a short hour drive northwest of Austin and an hour-and-a-half north of San Antonio. If travelling from Fredericksburg to Marble Falls on Highway 290E, be sure to stop in the community of Stonewall home to the sweetest peaches in the nation. The area is known for it's many peach orchards, and there is a grand peach festival every year in July.
Just a short jaunt off the highway, you can visit the infamous Lukenbach,Texas made famous by country crooner Willie Nelson. Continuing down 290 E you will come to Johnson City, childhood home of the 36th president, where you can tour the Lyndon Baines Johnson National Historical Park. At Johnson City you will turn North onto Highway 281 to Marble Falls and the great Highland Lakes.
Lake-style living best describes the accommodations in this region. There are many lake side cabins, campgrounds, rv parks and quaint hotels surrounding the Lakes. For a resort-type atmosphere, try the unique Tropical Hideaway, a lakeside resort with the feel and decor of a beach paradise.
Recommended Adventure #7:
Hiking Inks Lake State Park
Inks Lake State Park is 20 miles northwest of Marble Falls. The park's main trail is unique in that it winds through beautiful pink granite hills filled with wildflowers and small creeks and beautiful vistas of the Lake. Though it is a short five mile hike, it is a trail that is rarely used, and on week days you may find yourself alone on the trail. Be sure to look carefully for wooden markers and rock cairns to mark the trail along the granite crossings.
Recommended Adventure #9:
Counting Eagles, An Eco-adventure
The Highland Lakes are a migratory stop for hundreds of species of birds on their annual jaunt north and south. It is not unusual to see white pelicans, osprey, egrets, terns, and herons in this pristine lake setting. It is also nesting grounds for our national symbol, the American bald eagle, with some 25 mature eagles returning each year for the winter. Texas Vanishing River Cruise specializes in tours viewing the migratory birds and holds an annual eagle count each year. They also have spring wildflower tours, vineyard tours and a trip to see the beautiful Fall Creek Falls year round.
Missing Mom's cooking? Well nothing could come closer than the Bluebonnet Cafe known far and wide to many Texans as having some of the best homecooking in the state, voted in the top 10 of all restaurants in Texas, and #1 for a Texas-style breakfast. In a state this large and obsessed with good food, that's saying alot. For over 72 years the Bluebonnet Cafe has been pleasing generations. Whatever else you try, you must have a piece of homemade pie. The coconut pie is to die for.
The Highland Lakes has much to offer in the way of adventure outings. Be sure to attend the annual Lakefest Boat Drag races in late summer and check out the official Highland Lakes Visitors Guide for more visitor information.
New Braunfels Guide
In 1845, Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, established a German colony on the Comal River and named it New Braunfels after Braunfels, Germany, site of his castle on the Lahn river. In New Braunfels you can watch beer and sausage being made, participate in native German dances, and always find a good German polka streaming through the air on a warm summer night. The Comal river is as central to the character and charm of this community as the German ancestry, and it's where you will find great water adventures.
From Austin, go north on I-35 towards San Antonio. New Braunfels is just a short 40 mile drive and is located almost exactly mid-point between these two major cities.
New Braunfels offers a unique combination of Texana style accommodations as well as Victorian and German inspired lodges.
From bed & breakfast inns to riverside cabins to castles in the countryside, you are bound to find the perfect fit stay. It is rare in the U.S. to be able to stay in a castle, so why not give yourself the royal treatment. Castle Avalon sits on some of the most beautiful land around New Braunfels, and even has it's own enchanted forest! It also is home to one of the finer restaurants in the city, if you're up for continental cuisine.
Recommended Adventure #9:
Tubing/Snorkeling the Comal River
The Comal River that flows through New Braunfels is fed from the largest spring in Texas, and happens to be some of the clearest water for an inland river in the state. It's also a hot spot for scuba diving. Access to the river is easy and inexpensive as the city has built their park system around the river. Go to Landa Park and begin your river adventure, or if you are into theme parks, don't miss out on Schlitterbahn WaterPark, the largest water park in the nation.
Recommended Adventure #10:
Bike the New Braunfels Loop
This 66 mile ride may seem ambitious, but the vistas and hilly climbs are well worth it. There are many wonderful stops along the way. Starting in New Braunfels, you'll take a series of farm-market roads that will take you past such great landmarks as Natural Bridge Caverns and Gruene, Texas, home to the oldest music hall in Texas. Start your trip on FM482, turn north onto FM2252, which turns into FM3009. After you reach Natural Bridge Caverns, take FM1863, to Upper Smithson Valley Road, which becomes FM 3159, then take FM2673 to Satler and River Road, which will take you back into New Braunfels. I recommend Cycling Texas, published by Taylor Publishing for detailed itineraries of many great cycling adventures across the state.
There's an old German saying, "There is no beer in heaven", thus the reason to drink it all while you're here. New Braunfels is home to one of the largest Oktober(German for October) Fest celebrations in the nation. So most of the town is known for it's fine home-brewed beers and German sausages.The New Braunfels Smokehouse has some of the best meats in town and even has a very successful national mail order business. It's always best to go where the locals go, and Krause's Cafe fits the bill with German food as well as homestyle favorites like chicken and dumplings.
Whether you are using New Braunfels as a starting or ending point to your Texas Hill Country Adventure, you'll want to make plans to spend some quality time in this lovely city by the river. The Greater Chamber of Commerce of New Braunfels has an excellent Web site with a wealth of links for lodging, attractions and annual events.
Coming full Circle
From the autumn colors of the maple leaf to its picturesque bubbling rivers that wind gently through hills and canyons of splendid beauty, the famed Texas Hill Country offers more color and natural wonder than most places in the United States. With state parks, natural areas, wildlife retreats and abundant lakes and rivers scattered throughout the region, you could travel to this part of the state time after time and always discover a new adventure. Kerrville, probably has the best slogan of all, "Come and lose your heart to the hills." Trust me, you will.