The Texas Hill Country

by Bob Cozby

Texas Hill Country Topics:
Cities of the Texas Hill Country:

Nestled between the Coastal Plains of Texas, and the Edwards Plateau are the rolling hills, box canyons, and spring fed rivers of the Texas Hill Country. Carved by rivers, and creeks as they make their descent from the flat desert known as the Edwards Plateau, to the even flatter, Coastal Plains,    Central Texas - The HEART of Texas      The Coastal Plains     East Texas and the Piney Woods      Houston-Galveston Bay Area      The Texas Hill Country      The Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex      Northeast Texas      The Texas Panhandle      Llano Estacado - The Staked Plains      South Texas     The Trans-Pecos, West Texas   

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the Hill Country is is home to some of Texas' most beautiful landscapes. Artists and Photographers from all over Texas find themselves hiking up and down the trails and roadways in this part of Texas to capture one of thousands of photo and landscape oportunities. And what draws them to the Texas Hill Country. Well, that's simple. It's the bluebonnets in Spring, the Beautiful canyons and valley, the springs and pools along the rivers and creeks, the the rustle of leaves in the fall. It's the rafting or tubing in the Summer, and the music all year round. But more than anything, the Hill Country is a truly Spiritual experience. Stand along the ridge of a canyon, or beneath the waterfalls, and experience what has drawn people to this region for thousands of years. The settlers to this part of Texas, were so awestruck, they even named their town after it - "Utopia!".

Home to a hundred or so summer camps, retreats, dude ranches, state parks, spring fed ponds, swimming holes, craft fairs, and music festivals, the Texas Hill Country is the favorite getaway for tourists year round. Each town has a totally unique look and history. (The folks here are proud of their history.) Practically every corner of the Hill Country has a hundred year old bed and breakfast, an historic inn, restored houses, or "waterin' holes".

Getting to the Hill Country

From Austin

If you're in Austin, take US 290 through Oak Hill. There go North to Marble Falls, or West to Johnson City. Pedernales State Park is North of US 290 near Johnson City. From Johnson City, it's Left to Blanco, or West to Fredericksburg. Both, great desinations. Fredericksburg is a rich with history, and you'll want to spend a least a day there. One of the best times to see Fredericksburg is in the Spring, particularly at Easter. Wildflowers are thick (ask locally about the Willow City loop), and the Easter fires along the tops of the hills have guided pilgrims to sunrise services in Fredericksburg for more than a century.

A box canyon East of Leakey along FM 337

From I-35 get off at San Marcos, and follow FM 12 toward Wimberly. About 15 miles North of town, FM 12 cuts right to Wimberley. Go straight for a mile or so to Devil's Backbone. After standing over the Blanco Valley for a while you will want to drive down into it. Go back to FM 12, and turn North to Wimberley. Plan ahead and stay at an historic Bed and Breakfast there. Take a walking tour. Many have, and many never left. While in Wimberley, you can watch as relocated artisans from all over America create everything from stained glass windows, to wood jewelry. It is a wonderful place to find crafts, food, and relaxation.

South of San Marcos is another great turn off into the Hill Country. New Braunfels is known for it's Wurstfest, Landa Park and overall German look and feel. Tour the many antique shops downtown. From I-35, North of town, take FM 32 to Gruene, then along the river road to Canyon Lake. There, go West around the Lake. You can even park and walk across the dam. You won't regret it. South of New Braunfels off I-35, take TX 46 toward Boerne. Just north of the loop, follow FM 2722 to some great views of Canyon Lake. Follow FM 2722 to FM 3159 and back to TX 46. There go west Kendalia, and Boerne (off I-10).

From San Antonio and Southeast Texas

From San Antonio take Interstate 10 West right into the middle of the Hill Country. It is a breathtaking drive, with plenty of roadside parks, side roads and towns to keep you busy for a long three day weekend. The first Town you'll see is Boerne where shops line downtown. Boerne works hard at maintaining it's historic look flavor, once even taking on a church to prevent the new parish hall from spoiling this tradition. Cascade Caverns are located a short drive from town. There you can see a cave with an active waterfall inside.

West of Boerne is Comfort, the only town in Texas with a statue to the Union Army. A walk through downtown takes you back 150 years when buildings had wooden sidewalks, pourches and hitchin' posts. Ask locally to see the "bat tower" a century old method of controlling the local insect population. From Comfort, it is a short drive to Val Verde, and nearby Camp Val Verde. During the last half of the 19th century, the Army experimented with using Camels to transverse the deserts west of the Hill Country. When the experiement failed, the camels were freed. Stories abounded for years about Camel Sitings. Bring a few dollars for Souveneirs.

The Guadalupe River, West of Kerrville

West of Comfort along I-10 is Kerrville, the largest city within the Hill Country. Stop and enjoy a relaxing dinner at any of dozens of excellent restaurants, or stay at one of the many Texas style Resort Inns. From downtown Kerrville, go West up the Guadalupe river. Morning is best. And bring your Camera (left). South from Kerrville about 30 miles is Bandera, a town that boasts being the "Cowboy Capital of the World". And why not? There are over 20 Dude and Resort Ranches within 30 miles of Bandera. Walk the wooden sidewalks of Bandera, but bring your Stetson, or you'll look out of place. The Fall is a great time to see the Cypress trees along the Medina River.

North of Kerrville it is a half hour drive to Fredericksburg. Travel back 150 years and walk the streets full of crafts stores and museums. Drive a few miles North to take a hike to the top of the second largest single rock in America, Enchanted Rock, where Native Americans went to become one with the heavens. For a different kind of spiritual experience, travel Southeast to the Russian Orthodox monastary just outside of Blanco. Witness the image of Mary weep actual tears. (Skirts or dresses are required for the ladies).

From Junction and West Texas

Another "entrance" to the Hill Country from Interstate 10 from the West is at Junction. You'll have some great photo opportunities as you ascend from the Llano River Valley just east of town. Ask locally for the old highway. There is a great roadside part with a view of Junction and the river. South of Junction off US 377 is Rocksprings and Devil's Sinkhole. Also South from Junction along US 83 is Leakey. As you travel from Junction to Leakey, (particularly in the morning) stop at the roadside park overlooking the East Frio River. North of Junction, travel along US 377 to Mason. Blue Topaz is found along the creeks in and around Mason. Best to just fork out a few dollars and buy a souveneir topaz. There are several stores in town which sell it. Also north of Junction (are you beginning to understand why it is called "Junction"?), along US 83 is Menard. The San Saba River travel from Menard though Mason. West of Menard along the San Saba river are many side roads which cross the river. Once such low water crossing is a favorite among locals. A horseshoe shaped waterfall forms a natural hot tub. Air mattresses are popular too. Ask locally for directions.

Sonora is the next big town West of Junction on I-10. It is actually the only town in the Sutton County. This quiet community offers a wonderful town square lined with beautiful oak trees. The Caverns of Sonora are about 15 miles West of town. If you're in Sonora, you must see these beautiful Caverns.

Finally, the last stop along I-10 before leaving the Hill Country is Ozona. Not actually a city because it is not incorporated, it claims to be the biggest little town in Texas. Ozona offers many restaurants and motels for the weary traveler. One of my favorites places in Texas is an overlook west of Ozona about 20 miles. If you ever must go farther West from Ozona, take the old US 290 which parallels I-10 to the South. Just before you begin your descent into the Pecos valley, there is a roadside park on the left. Stop there. Stay there for an hour or so. There are so few cars travel this stretch of highway, you have the whole valley to yourself. Eagles, winds, and total quiet make the long drive to this special point worth the side trip.

From Uvalde and Northern Mexico

On the Southern edge of the Hill Country is another spactacular "entrance". It is North on FM 55 from Uvalde to Camp Wood. Along this highway, the hills are very tall, very steep, and as you approach them you get swallowed up by them. Camp Wood has camps and picnic areas where the Nueces River form a lake just west of the highway. North of Camp Woodis Rocksprings and Junction. But leaving Camp Wood to the East along FM 337 to Medina is one of the prettiest drives in Texas. The first stop along FM 377 is Leakey Garner State Park is South of town about 10 miles, and is one of the most pleasant spots in Texas. East from Leakey on FM 337, the next town (actually just a store) is Vanderpool. At Vanderpool, stop and get your feet wet in the Sabinal River. North of Vanderpool is Lost Maples State Park and beyond that the cut off to the Guadalupe river and Kerrville. South from Vanderpool is the Sabinal River and the little town of Utopia.

The Medina Valley on FM 337

East from Vanderpool on FM 337 about 10 miles, is another beautiful vista (above). This is the Medina Valley. Ten miles down this valley is Medina, "Apple Capital of Texas". There are many routes to and from the Hill Country, but my favorite is from U.S. 90 West of San Antonio to Sabinal, then North along FM 187, for about 10 miles to the crest of hill. And there it is --- "Utopia!".

Getting Around in the Hill Country

Hiking and Bicycling the Hills

Bicycle excursions into this unique portion of Texas are common. They even have bicycle tours here and there. You can travel by bicycle, car, or just hike. Enchanted Rock rises above the hills between Fredericksburg and Llano Every state park has numerous hiking trails that take you deep into what made this place so special. Some unique hiking spots you must see for yourself are Lost Maples, Pedernales Falls, Garner State Park, Enchanted Rock (left), and Hamilton Pool (below).The Grotto at Hamilton Pool is worth the long hike in, but the reward include a swim in the cold and "bottomless" The Grotto at Hamilton Pool is extremely popular among Teens and young adults. Hamilton pool, complete with waterfall, sand, and bolders to change behind. It's a long hike to Garner State Park, but the water is so clear, you can see your toes wiggling in waste deep water. Go on Friday's if you like to watch some good squaredancing.

Hill Country Caves

Caves are another great place to go Hiking in the Hillcountry. Longhorn cavern near Kingsland doubled as a subterranian dance hall during the depression. Beautiful crystal like formation adorn the walls and floors of the Caverns of Sonora at the Western edge of the Hill Country. Other great guided tours include Inner Space Caverns in Georgetown, and Cascade Caverns near Boerne (pronounced "Bernie"). And there is always that lost cave where William Travis hid a king's ransom in Gold 175 years ago (They're still looking for that one). The most unusual place in Texas for Cave explorers is located just a few miles from the Hill Country at Rocksprings. Devils' sink hole is so deep, it is downright spooky. Over 200 feet deep, the hole has inspired travelers for countless centuries to toss stones down it dark interior. Now, it is difficult to find as much as a pebble anywhere near the mouth. Devil's Sinkhole is open only to experienced spelunkers. Tours are not available.

Traveling by Inner Tube

Another favorite means of travel in the Hill Country is by inner tube. The Comal, Guadalupe, Frio, Nueces, and Blanco rivers all are favorites for tubers and rafters. One of America's best waterparks is Schlitterbahn waterpark in New Braunfels. Under the near constant shade of Cypress and Oak Trees, the numous water slides and attractions get all their water from underground springs, and feeds the water directly into the 3 mile long Comal River. But the most popular spot in Texas to put in your tube, raft or canoe is the Guadalupe river, just below Canyon Dam. Take some friends and an extra tube for your ice chest, and have a friend or local drop your group upriver just far enough to make it back by lunch. And lunch always includes Barbeque from the numerous stops along the rivers and roads.

The Highland Lakes Region

If you like to experience your water sports from the helm of a boat, great lakes are scattered all up and down the Colorado River. A series of seven lakes form the Highland Lakes of Texas along the Eastern edge of the Hill Country.

Town Lake

Town Lake runs past Downtown Austin, and is home for team rowing, paddle boats and canoes. At sunset, experience the world famous "flight of the bats" from the Congress Avenue Bridge. Millions of insect eating bats cloud the evening sky as they make their nightly journey from the bridge. Just up the Colorado River from downtown Austin is the 1000 foot long Barton Springs Pool. Barton Springs are world famous and has for centuries been a favorite spot for people to relax, refresh, and regenerate. Like many of the springs in the Hill Country, Barton Springs gets it water from the Edwards Aquifer, a large system of underground streams stretching from San Antonio to Austin. Jogging and bicycling along Town Lake is a daily ritual for many Austinites. The sounds of the crushed granite beneath your jogging shoes and the constant greetings by other joggers helps you forget about the office, the kids, and the pressures of college.

Lake Austin

The next lake up the Colorado River from Austin is Lake Austin, with it's many private marinas, expensive homes, and tall cliffs. Take a riverboat dinner cruise up Lake Austin, or drive to the top of Mount Bonnell where visitors can get a sweeping vista of Lake Austin, the Hill Country, and the Austin Skyline. Sunset is the best time to visit Mount Bonnell. Bring your sweetheart and a blanket to set out on the rocks. The Fourth of July is a great time.

Lake Travis

Above Lake Austin is Lake Travis, a Mecca of Hill Country life. Yachting, Waterskiing, Wind Surfing, and Swimming draw thousands of visitors here every weekend from April to October. Lake Travis is a favorite vacation spot and second home for the rich and famous, from professional athletes, to movie actors and actresses. The best place to see Lake Travis is from a table at the Oasis Restaurant high atop the cliffs of Lake Travis. Go just before sunset for an truly unforgettable experience, promise.

Lake Marble Falls

Forty or so miles upriver from Lake Travis is Lake Marble Falls. This lake is home to great Hill Country living. Each year at Christmas, the people of Marble Falls put on one of the best walk through display of lights in Texas. While in Marble Falls, stop at the Bluebonnet cafe, a Texas tradition. The Chicken Fried Steak and Coconut Pie are are worth the long wait in line. Locals find Wertz Dam a few miles West of Town the best place to get wet. The water is cool, and the granite rocks are great for hiking.

Lake LBJ

Up from Lake Marble Falls is Lake Lyndon B. Johnson (Lake LBJ). It is a constant level lake, which allows homes and resorts to be built right up the the water. Communities line lake LBJ, the largest being Kingsland. The Llano River (below) feeds into the Colorado River at Kingsland. A roadside park along FM 1431 east of town is the best place to view Lake LBJ, Kinglsand, and Packsaddle mountain, named for it's shape. Visit the Wildflower festival in April, and don't forget your camera. Fog blankets the moon along the Llano river near Kingsland. Just up the Llano River a couple of miles from Kingsland, is one of the best kept secrets of the Hill Country. A long low-water crossing at the Llano River is the favorite swimming hole for local residents. At this point the Llano River divides into dozens of little granite lined streams. Many are a perfect size for laying back and letting the water slide you down the polished rocks to the sandy breaks below. Bring plenty of suntan oil, and sandles. The rocks and sand do get hot.

Inks Lake

Inks Lake just above Lake LBJ is a small lake nestled among the granite outcrops. Inks Lake State Park is probably the best State Park in Texas for families and friends. Rent a canoe or hike up to Devil's Falls, and enjoy an afternoon playing in the sun and water. The best place to see Inks Lake by car is an overlook across the lake from the State Park. Can't miss it. The only road around the lake goes right past it. For a great family outing, Inks Lake is the spot. bring bicycles and your hiking boots. There are lots of great hikes, but the granite is tough of sneakers.

Lake Buchanan

Finally, Lake Buchanan, one of the best fishing lakes in Texas, tops the seven Highland Lakes. Walk along the dam a see the schools of fish, each as long as your arm. Lake Buchanan is one of the largest lakes in Texas, and because it is so far from any metropolitan areas, it is still unspoiled. Along the Eastern edge of the lake is the winter home of dozens of Bald Eagles. Take a cruise with Vanishing Texas River Cruises to see their nesting areas. You'll want to bring a coat and your camera. The Springtime puts out a tremendous display of wildflowers. Granite is everywhere on the eastern side of the Lake, and when you mix landscape with wildflowers, you can't loose. West of the lake is flatter, with large fields of wildflowers. Take the drive to Llano and bring your camera and an appetite. Some of the best Barbeque in Texas awaits you in Llano.

Up the Colorado from Lake Buchanan is Gorman Falls, one of the most beautiful and unspoiled spots in Texas. Accessable from a backroad Southeast of San Saba, this State Park brings visitors back to the very essence of what makes the Hill Country heaven for most folks who visit. Lush furns and flowing falls make this spot a "must see" for those who are willing to make the long drive (and hike) to this corner of the Hill Country. There's lots of hiking. Packpack in and stay overnight. You'll never forget it.

The "Almost Four" Seasons in the Hill Country

Water seems to be one of the biggest attractions of the Hill Country. Tubing, boating, fishing, swimming, jumping or just hanging out. The Hill Country has it all. The Hill Country is one of the places in Texas where you can experience all four (or almost all four) seasons.

Spring in the Hills Spring brings the Bluebonnets, the State Flower of Texas.

Spring is spactaculor here. Along almost every highway and backroad are Bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, and a host of other wildflowers. Get a wildflower guide from any State Visitor bureau, or buy a more complete guide locally. After just a couple of Spring trips to the Hill Country, you'll have your own Secret Spots for taking pictures and capturing the landscapes. Some of the favorite places for tourists and local artists and photographers include the "Willow City Loop" Northeast of Fredericksburg, Hwy 1431 East of Marble Falls, Park Road 1 near Stonewall, the many backroads near Sisterdale and Wimberley, and just about anywhere else in the Eastern Hill Country.

Summer Fun in Texas

Summers in the Hill Country include festivals, tubing, and generally, just getting wet. It's the perfect time to hit the State Parks, and take a dip in the Cold spring fed pools. Barton Springs in Austin, the Guadalupe River near New Braunfels, and the Frio River near Leakey are great places to cool off for an afternoon. Who says Texas is Hot? You just have to know where the natives go to cool off. Take an afternoon drive to the Oasis restaurant at Lake Travis, or relax along the creek in Wimberley. Later, in the evenings, head to Austin for live music, dancing, comedy, and fun.

Autumn Color The floor of the woods at Lost Maples creates a carpet of color

Autumn in the Texas Hill Country is Lost Maples and towering Cypress trees along numerous rivers and creeks. Fall colors accent the Cypress Trees along the Medina River between Bandera and Medina Reservations for Autumn campsites at Lost Maples run a year in advance. Better to plan a day trip and stay in any of several Bed and Breakfasts along the Sabinal River and Utopia. Autumn along the Guadalupe River west of Kerrville is a spiritual experience. Stop your car and sit along the edge of a low water crossing, or get your feet wet hiking a few yards up the river. The winds of the river valley rustle the leaves and give the river a haunting but wonderful voice that you will long remember. South of Kerrville take a drive over the "mountains" to Medina then south along the Medina river to Bandera. The cypress trees along the river are on fire with auburn and rust colors, another "bring your camera" experience.

Winter, but not Every Year

If you're from Wisconsin, you may not think Texas even has Winter. But since most Texas never want to leave, they haven't experience many "blue Northers". Still, the winter in the Hill Country is a time to listen to the winds whistle down the canyons. The occassional ice or snow on the cactus and rocks makes for great photo opportunies. There are no snow plows. If you ever do get caught in the ice or snow, you may as well stay put. By that afternoon, it usually thaws. That's how we like our winters in Texas. When it snows, we close our banks and schools. Then we all go out to play in it. We make snow men and snow forts, have snowball fights, and we sled down hills on cardboard boxes. Then by the evening, everything gets back to normal. No true Texan would ever admit to owning a snow shovel.

Whatever your definition of adventure, you'll find what you're looking for in the Texas Hill Country. Plan stay a weekend or a week. Bring hiking shoes and spending money for tube rentals, and park fees. There is plenty of Barbeque and Chicken Fried Steak in every little town to keep your energy up. But the most important things to bring with you is your sense of adventure.

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