From rolling hills and rugged terrain to legendary towns and lazy rivers, the famed Texas Hill Country is something that has to be experienced to be appreciated. As we plotted our winter adventure to Texas, the one thing we repeatedly heard and read is that a trip to Texas must include at least some time spent in the Hill Country. After exploring from Austin to Corpus Christi, we couldn’t agree more. We camped four days at Guadalupe River State Park in Spring Branch and packed our days full of lots of amazing Hill Country touring. Here’s a look at 10 can’t-miss stops in the beautiful Texas Hill Country:
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1. Enchanted Rock
For an exhilarating high and unique rock climbing experience, head to Enchanted Rock State Park just outside of Fredericksburg. The Summit Hike is not for the faint of heart and if you don’t like heights (like me) you might want to stick to the lower Loop Trail. At the top of this giant pink granite dome the kiddos were fascinated with the brine shrimp pools and Jarrett loved the sweeping views in every direction. Going up was not so bad … but coming back down it is quite steep!
During peak season, the park will at times close for a few hours until the parking lot empties out. If you are visiting during the summer months or on a weekend, consider going very early in the day. The park puts closure updates on its Twitter and Facebook page, and flashing signs on the approach roads will also alert you if the park is closed. The park also charges an entrance fee for anyone 13 years of age or older, but with the Texas State Parks pass you can get in free.
2. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Site
When we made plans to visit the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park in Johnson City, at first we were going to skip a stop at Johnson’s boyhood home. At the last minute we decided to take the (free) boyhood home tour, and it turned out to be a great decision. It set the stage for the rest of our visit to the Johnson Ranch by providing some great historical background. The two home sites are located about 15 miles apart, so you can easily visit both locations in one day.
After we left the boyhood home site, we headed to the LBJ State Park and Historic Site Visitor Center where you need to obtain a free driving permit in order to get onto the LBJ Ranch property. After the death of Lady Bird Johnson in 2007, the NPS began offering tours of the first floor of the Johnson Ranch, which was dubbed the Texas White House during Johnson’s presidential years. The tour tickets cost $3 per adult, and children 17 and under are free. Since Jarrett and I love touring historic homes, this was one of the highlights of the trip. The majority of the rooms on the tour were restored to how they would have looked during LBJ’s presidential term. The NPS ranger who gave the tour even kept the kiddos engaged by tasking them with finding the phone in EVERY room of the house (for a grand total of 15 on the first floor). And of course, this NPS site also offered a Junior Ranger program.
3. San Antonio
We spent a day in San Antonio visiting the Alamo, the San Antonio Missions NPS, and the River Walk. For our visit to the Alamo we found public parking in an open air lot about two blocks away (located behind the Alamo)–and since we arrived before 10 a.m. we secured the cheaper $5 parking. There’s a lot of hype surrounding the Alamo because of its rather epic history, so some people find their visit to be a bit of a letdown when they discover it is not very large. But the site is free to tour and it is THE Alamo after all! Would any visit to Texas be complete without at least a stop? 🙂 We probably only spent an hour and a half at the site, but we took time to watch the short film about the Alamo’s history, and this was helpful for explaining its significance to the kiddos.
From there we headed over to the National Park Service’s San Antonio Missions site. We did not know much about the history surrounding the four missions located along the San Antonio River, so it was fascinating to learn more about the role the sites played in early Texas history. (And of course the kids worked on another Junior Ranger Badge.) The architecture and layout of each mission site is very different, so if you have time to visit all four sites, it is well worth it.
Before we left San Antonio for the day, we made a quick stop to check out the River Walk–because if you are in San Antonio, it’s the thing to do! Jarrett and I have determined, though, that this is one of those stops we’d appreciate (and enjoy) more sans kiddos. The River Walk, with its various hotel and dining options, would be a fun place for a couple’s getaway weekend–but dragging a 9, 7, and 5-year-old through the winding and crowded streets was not our idea of a grand time. So we’ve added that to the “when we return as empty-nesters” list.
Nestled in the Texas countryside you will find this fun spot where you can put on your dancing shoes and catch a live country music show. The ambiance is quite quirky–and even if you’re only passing through, it’s fun to step inside and experience a bit of Texas legend.
Fredericksburg is a charming town where German heritage meets Texas hospitality. Take a leisurely walk along Main Street and pop into the various boutique shops or restaurants. Have a bit more time to spend? Then consider a visit to the National Museum of the Pacific War or the Pioneer Museum. And if your kiddos just need a place to burn off some steam, be sure to swing by the Marktplatz Playground. When we were passing through, the square was still decorated for Christmas and if we had had more time, the kids would have loved walking around all the displays.
6. River tubing
Nothing says relaxing like a lazy river tube ride through the Texas Hill Country. The Guadalupe River is a popular place for families to come cool off during the hot Texas summers and it’s a beautiful spot for tubing. We also learned that many people like to visit Garner State Park, which has easy access to the Frio River. For more ideas on where to tube in Texas, head over here.
7. Scenic drives
A visit to the Texas Hill Country wouldn’t be complete without a scenic drive. We consulted our favorite scenic drives guide for ideas on where to explore and from there we followed our fancy. We also read about the recommended Willow City Loop drive, which winds through Gillespie County. Someday down the road, Jarrett and I hope to visit the Texas Hill Country when the beloved bluebonnets are in bloom. Typically bluebonnet season begins in mid-March and continues into April. During the blooming season you can call the Texas Department of Transportation Wildflower Hotline (800-452-9292) for help finding the flowering fields. For Hill Country maps and drive ideas, start your visit at the Fredericksburg visitor’s center, where you can pick up a wealth of information.
The final few stops included below we ran out of time to do, but they are on our bucket list for our return trip to the Texas Hill Country.
8. Natural Bridge Caverns
At the Natural Bridge Caverns located between San Antonio and New Braunfels, visitors can take a guided tour of Texas’ largest underground attraction. The location also offers a number of other family-friendly activities including a ropes course, maze, and mining station.
9. Jacob’s Well
This 30-foot-deep artesian spring just north of Wimberley is considered one of the best places to swim in the Texas Hill Country. From May 1-Oct. 1 visitors can take a dip in the spring (reservation fee required), which is a constant 68 degrees. In the past this spot also attracted scuba divers, but diving is no longer permitted due to dangerous conditions that have lead to several casualties.
10. Gruene Hall
Gruene Hall, built in 1878, holds the title of the oldest, continually operating dance hall in Texas. It’s a place where wannabe stars and celebrity artists have crossed the threshold to perform classics or test out new material. Like Luckenbach, it’s another fun spot where you can put on your dancing shoes or just sit back and enjoy the music, Texas-style.
So that’s a quick round-up of 10 can’t-miss stops in the Texas Hill Country. Any places you would add?