“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
1. MARBLE FALLS
This town may not be at the top of your travel list now, but spend a weekend in this outdoor-lovers mecca and you won’t make that mistake again.
Start your trip to Marble Falls (population 6,128) off with an adrenaline rush at Hidden Falls Adventure Park.
An afternoon group Jeep off-roading tour led by Trail Park Director, Bryan Reiswig, had a recent excursion of AFM staffers holding on (to each other) for dear life.
“You better like the people you’re out here with,” Reiswig said as he shifted the Jeep into low gear, slowly inching our staff up the side of a steep and sketchy rock face.
We all agreed: It felt like an adult-version of a roller coaster ride. “I’ve never had a ride where I was like, ‘Man, that was boring. That wasn’t challenging,’” Reiswig said.
More than 200 acres of trails traverse the 3,000-acre park; making it the perfect place to rent a couple of ATV’s and head out for a day of exploration—crossing over Turkey Creek and easing your way down into Carnage Canyon. On a clear afternoon, spot the Loop 360 towers from the top of the property’s highest plateau—Wildcat Mountain.
Keep an eye out for gray and red foxes, wild turkeys, and the sound of the endangered black-capped vireo and golden-cheeked warbler who call the adjacent Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge home.
The park could easily appeal to the mudding, mountain biking, and Spartan racing crowds. Instead, Reiswig said, Hidden Falls aims to keep its eye on attracting families; offering fun, outdoor activities that morph into memorable experiences. (hiddenfallsadventurepark.com)
After you’ve seen your life flash before your eyes a few times, head into town for dinner at the iconic Blue Bonnet Café. Known for their homemade, “mile-high” meringue pies, we won’t judge if you eat your dessert first. Our pick: It’s a tossup between the chocolate and coconut cream. (bluebonnetcafe.net)
Rest your head for the night at Bella Vista Bed and Breakfast. A short drive from the town center, this riverfront property is situated on 35 fairytale-like acres of farmland. Choose your pick from one of three private rooms or book the two-bedroom Cowboy Cottage. Wake up in the morning to a hearty, home-cooked breakfast and return in the evening to home-baked cookies and pastries. (bellavistabedandbreakfast.com)
Spend the morning hours exploring the inlets of Lake Marble Falls via the best water transportation method known to modern-day man—stand up paddleboards. Let the staff at Go Paddle Down set you up with a SUP and you’ll soon be on your way. Just remember: the worst thing that can happen is you fall in. Which, come summertime in Central Texas, is the least of your worries. (gopaddledown.com)
Fuel up for your next outing with an order of chorizo, potato, egg, and cheese breakfast tacos from Super Taco. (Located at 2200 US-281.)
After lunch, head over to Fly Texas for a hang gliding flight over Lake LBJ—aka, Lake Marble Fall’s sibling. Watch the water slip out from under you as you and your tandem-flying instructor are pulled up into the sky behind a boat. At 2,000 feet, you and the boat cut ties—a thrilling split second in time where you start letting gravity and wind thermal direction do all the speed work. Your landing pad: an easy glide back down to the water. (fly-tx.com/paramotoradventures)
Reward yourself for surviving your death-defying feats with dinner at River City Grille. Take a seat on the second story wooden deck overlooking Lake Marble Falls and allow the weekend’s adventures to catch up to you. Watch in reflective awe as the coral-hued sun sinks beneath the shimmering blue horizon. (rivercitygrilletx.com)
It’s hard not to feel stumped as to why you hadn’t made it out here earlier. Now, you tell yourself, you know better.
Located in the heart of the Lost Pines region of Central Texas, and only a 30-minute drive east of Austin, lies the historical town of Bastrop.
Nestled on the banks of the Colorado River, the town’s rich history dates back to the 1800s when it was first established as the principal settlement in Stephen F. Austin’s “Little Colony.”
Whether you’re looking to satisfy your sweet tooth with some chocolate covered strawberries at The Sugar Shack (sugarshackbastrop.com) or are wanting to elevate your western wear attire at The Rhinestone Cowgirl, this town has a niche shopping scene for whoever joins you on your daytrip excursion.
The local country cooking at Maxine’s on Main is sure to make you feel right at home in this quirky yet charming town. Our pick: Order a fried green tomato BLT with a side of griddlecakes or a plate of chicken fried chicken and mac and cheese. (maxinescafe.com)
When you’re ready to explore the more natural side of town, let the friendly folks at Rising Phoenix Adventures or the Bastrop River Company equip you with your floatation device of choice—from inner tubes and canoes to stand-up paddleboards and kayaks. Whether you opt to spend an hour or a day on the river, an endless stretch of sun- and water-soaked exploration awaits. (risingphoenixadventures.com; bastropriverco.com)
The Lost Pines region is significant to Texas because it represents the westernmost stand of loblolly pine trees in the U.S. This rebellious, skyward-reaching stand is separated from the East Texas Pineywoods region by almost 100 miles. While wildfires that spread through the area in 2011 affected 96 percent of Bastrop State Park, the popular pine tree paradise is still open to the public.
With its endless lush greenery, the 6,600-acre park offers visitors the opportunity to partake in a multitude of activities—from hiking and camping to fishing and canoeing on the banks of the park’s lake. Pedal away any lingering city stress with a 12-mile sunset bike ride to nearby Buescher State Park.
Pitch a tent and fall asleep to the harmonious chirping of the crickets and cicadas. Or, if you feel like treating yourself, hit the hay at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa—where you can enjoy a guided horseback ride through the piney-woods or unwind with a float around the lazy river pool. (lostpines.hyatt.com)
In the morning, grab yourself a quick, caffeine pick-me-up at Coffee Dog, a local coffee shop that roasts and brews their bean selections in-house. Our pick: Order an iced “Dog Bite”—coffee with a double shot of espresso—and pair it with a “Mad Dog” Cinnamon roll. (coffeedoginc.com)
On your way out of town, be sure to stop at the Old Iron Bridge and cast your spit into the river. “Spitting off the bridge” has become somewhat of an unwritten town tradition in recent years. The idea originated from one resident’s recollection of an old episode of The Andy Griffith Show in which Opie is assigned the task of entertaining his female cousin. At a loss for what they should do, Opie suggests to her, “Wanna go spit off the bridge?”
Forget about oil for a second. This historic boomtown resting on the outskirts of civilization in the North Texas Hill Country has another goldmine on its hands.
Located less than a four-hour drive north of Austin lies The Wildcatter Ranch, a 1,500-acre cattle ranch, resort, and spa.
A mile-long, crushed limestone driveway is the welcome mat to your weekend (or week) of repose. Winding its way past the property’s treasured herd of Longhorns, the path builds anticipation as it scales up a bluff to reach the “Resort Ranch on the Texas Range.”
If the natural beauty unfolding from the view at the top doesn’t take your breath away, the wind gusts sweeping across the wide-open plains just might.
Pick up your room key and make yourself comfortable in one of the resort’s charming hotel rooms or upscale, western-themed cabins. Our pick: The Buffalo cabin. With its soaring, wood-beamed ceilings and stained concrete floors—not to mention the imploring buffalo head hanging above the focal point fireplace—it’s hard not to become a homebody.
Once you’ve managed to pull yourself away from the plush, leather-pillow laden bed, put on your best pair of cowboy boots. You don’t want to miss a meal at the Dinner Bell—the Wildcatter’s on-site steakhouse that serves the best Chicken Fried Steak west of the Mississippi. (Okay, that claim may not be true. But it’s for sure the best Chicken Fried Steak you’ll find in town.)
A short soak in the hot tub (or swim in the infinity-edge pool) will have you seeing stars—literally; look up and get lost in the night sky.
In the morning, recline in a rocking chair on your personal patio. Pour a cup of coffee and admire how the sun casts its light over the countryside; slowly awakening the land acre by acre from its dark slumber.
Like any ranch, activities start early here at Wildcatter. Join the property’s outgoing cowboys on a morning Longhorn cattle feeding or saddle up on horseback, navigating portions of the property’s 25-mile trail system as you and your trusty steed play peek-a-boo with the winding Brazos River below.
Set aside the afternoon for a guided Jeep tour of the more rough and rocky portions of the ranch before heading back to the barn to work on your sport clay shooting skills or refine your archery aim.
Wind down the afternoon with a canoe ride on Conner Creek or book yourself and your significant other a therapeutic couple’s massage.
Time has a way of slowing down out here—helping even the most harried of humans hit the pause button. In fact, the drive from Austin goes by surprisingly fast.
The wide open, two-lane roads that weave in—and quickly out—of tiny, odd-named towns have their own ways of entrancing you; giving your mind room to roam; allowing you to let go and leave the city behind. (wildcatterranch.com)
Discover a diamond in the rough just an hour and a half drive west of Austin. The town of Fredericksburg, founded in 1846, has many reasons for its timeless popularity.
Chock full of German culture, history, and food, Fredericksburg tantalizes the modern-day explorer with its wide range of year-round activities—from historic sites and museums to downtown shops and art galleries, to outdoor beer gardens for those simply looking to relax and while the day away.
Start your trip to this idyllic getaway off on the right foot with a visit to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. The exposed granite dome was created over a billion years ago by a large uplift of magma.
Many myths and stories surround the monolith. Tonkawa Indians who once lived in the area claimed they heard ghosts having nightly campfires on top of the dome. (According to geologists, the crackling sounds they heard were likely those of the rock surface creaking as it constricted during the cool, evening hours.) Today, adults and kids alike compete to see who can scale the weathered formation the fastest.
After a full day of activity, pull out your sleeping bag and binoculars and fall asleep under the stars. Enchanted Rock is one of two parks in the state of Texas designated as an International Dark Sky Park. (tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/enchanted-rock)
Be sure to bring an empty suitcase with you. Shops have never been as enticing as the ones you’ll find lining the streets of downtown. Veteran visitors to Fredericksburg have their favorites, but we can’t pass up a stop at Earthbound Trading Company, Henfeathers, Dogologie, or Circle E Candles.
If all this sightseeing has you feeling hungry, you’re in the right place. Our pick: Reserve a table at the cozy Vaudeville Bistro. Spend the evening playfully pairing wine selections (sourced from area vineyards) with charcuterie as a live, acoustic guitarist strums away in a dimly lit corner. (vaudeville-living.com/gourmet/bistro)
Or, take a seat at the Ausländer Restaurant—Ausländer meaning outsider, foreigner, or tourist in German—if you’re craving more traditional, German fare. If you’re up for a short, scenic drive, head north on State Highway 16 until you see the sign for Cooper’s BBQ in Llano. Trust us, their smoked brisket and sweet tea are worth the side trip. (theauslander.com; coopersbbqllano.com)
Unwind from the day’s adventures at one of the Fredericksburg Herb Farm’s fourteen cottages; taking an evening stroll in the blossoming gardens before tucking yourself into bed. (fredericksburgherbfarm.com)
Grab your bike in the morning and head for the hills. Spend the morning pedaling the area’s famous Willow City Loop; 13 miles of wildflower blanketed fields and meandering creek crossings.
Cap off your stay in Fredericksburg with brunch at the Herb Farm’s farm-to-table restaurant. Our pick: The Honey Chicken and Waffles with a Prickly Pear mimosa.
Don’t leave town before stopping in next door at Urban Herbal. Family owned since 1984, this herb store beckons visitors inside with the smell of therapeutic lavender sachets, floral perfumes, and coffee body scrubs. (urbanherbal.com)
Extra pat on the back if you stop for a bag of peaches at a farm stand on the way home.
Cradled by the surrounding hunter green hillsides, Wimberley is more than just another town lying on the outskirts of Austin.
Start your weekend off right by taking in a movie under a blanket of stars at the walk-in Corral Theater. The small, outdoor venue allows visitors to enjoy first-run movies for an unbeatable $5 ticket price. Evening attendees are encouraged to bring their own chairs and blankets—as well as beer and wine—to kickback and enjoy a throwback to a simpler time. (corraltheater.com)
More of an adrenaline junkie? Book a tour through the treetops with Wimberley Zipline Adventures. The friendly staff takes thrill-seekers on a high-flying adventure over a course comprised of five long and five short lines. When given the go ahead, let go and soak in the majestic, 360-degree views as you soar over the surrounding countryside—mimicking the hawks drifting effortlessly on the wind thermals above. (wimberleyzipline.com)
After working up a sweat, cool off at the 30-foot deep Jacob’s Well. The natural, artesian spring and underwater cave doubles as a swimming hole come summer. The only disturbance you’ll encounter at this outdoor oasis is the sound of the occasional daredevil taking the plunge from a precariously balanced rock hovering high above the spring.
Refuel and reenergize from the day’s activity at Brewster’s Pizza. Patience is key at this locally owned and operated joint, but the homemade, hot and cheesy creations are worth the wait—especially when paired with an ice-cold beer. Our pick: The Carnivore. Topped with pepperoni, sausage, beef, Canadian bacon, and even more bacon, each bite tastes like a savory slice of heaven. (wimberleybrewingcompany.com)
Hide away for the night at the deceivingly rustic, canvas-canopied treehouse, Sinya on Lone Man Creek. Top-of-the-line amenities—from an outdoor fire pit (perfect for roasting S’mores) to the seductively curtained-off clawfoot tub—have earned this glamping getaway numerous awards throughout the years. (hillcountrysinya.com)
Looking for more of a family feel? Montesino Ranch offers activities from hiking and biking to fishing and swimming along the Blanco River. Lose yourself in the property’s actively bustling yet serene surroundings. (montesinoranch.com)