Outdoor Weekend in Granbury and Glen Rose

  • Distance from Dallas: 70 miles
  • Best time: March to May; September to November
  • Best for: FamilyOutdoorShopping

It's easy to shake off city life in these two picturesque towns, set near each other in the southwestern part of North Texas' Plains and Lakes region. Here, among a hilly landscape lush with juniper, pecan and sycamore trees, the outdoor possibilities include everything from hiking among dinosaurs footprints and kayaking along the Brazos River to a lazing on a lakeside beach and even overnighting at a wildlife refuge. Set about 76 miles from central Dallas, Glen Rose has been deemed the Dinosaur Capital of Texas, thanks to its wealth of well-preserved tracks and fossils (with the limestone-and-local-rock buildings in the town center adding to the "Flinstones" feel); it's also a hub for hiking, canoeing, and kayaking along the Brazos and Paluxy Rivers. Located about 69 miles from Dallas, charming Granbury is forever on "best small towns" lists and features a man-made lakeside beach and an idyllic town square, along with plenty of history and good eats. Together, these neighbors make for a nature-filled weekend that can be as active—or as contemplative—as you want. –by Sandra Ramani

Friday

1 Start the weekend in Glen Rose, founded as a mid-19th-century trading post between early Texas settlers and the local Native Americans. The area around town is rich in limestone, sandstone, and mudstone, which experts say were deposited some 113 million years ago along the shores of an ancient sea. Get a feel for the region's unique topography with a stop at Big Rocks Park (on Hwy 114, at 1014 SW Barnard St.) on your way into town. Located on Hwy.144 and SW Barnard Street, across from Oakdale Park, the small park (not far from the town square) is dotted with giant boulders and rock formations, many of which you can climb atop for a fun photo-op.

2 Stroll around the old town square to get a feel for the distinctive chunky-rock architecture, then head to Hollywood & Vine to officially kick-off the weekend with one of their famous scratch-made margaritas. The casual, Florida Keys-style restaurant is set in a converted turn-of-the-20th-century rooming house, and you can take a look at the collection of antique newspapers that were used as insulation in the original structure.

3 Enjoy a gourmet dinner with a view at Inn on the River, set in the historic old town center. In the early 1900s, the building now housing the 22-room inn was part of a complex called Dr. Snyder's Drugless Health Sanitarium—a type of health spa of the day—and as such, the structure has been designated a historic landmark. Today, guests enjoy three-course special menus instead of Dr. Snyder's "magnetic healing." Menus change often, but might include dishes like Cajun shrimp with grits or herb-crusted pork tenderloin; the inn is BYOB, so feel free to bring your own bottle. Non-inn guests are welcome for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays only, and reservations are a must.

Saturday

1 After loading up on breakfast at your hotel, take a scenic drive along US 67 out to Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, a 1,700-acre conservation site that's home to over 1,100 animals—most roaming freely in near-wild conditions. Education, research, and conservation—particularly of endangered species—are the goals here, so the animals are kept in as peaceful an environment as possible. Visitors can drive along a nine-mile loop over hills and through plains to spot residents like sable antelope, kudu, gazelle, bison, cheetah, rhino, zebra, and giraffe; pick up food pellets to feed the friendly ones along the way (the giraffe are the only ones who will eat out of your hand.) Guided tours are also available, and there's a Children's Animal Center on site.

2 Head back towards town to Dinosaur State Park for your next outdoor adventure. Over the eons, the Paluxy River wore paths through the layered rock formations of the region, ultimately revealing an impressive collection of dinosaur prints along the riverbeds, and some of the best preserved examples of these tracks can be found here. The first footprints were discovered in 1909, with later examples—including a double set of sauropod tracks—found in the 1930s. Today, along various trails in the park, you can spot prints from three types of the species, each print a different shape and depth. Note that most of the tracks can be found along the riverbeds, so check the water conditions before going to make sure they will be visible.

3 Head back towards town to Barnard's Mill & Art Museum, where you can learn a bit about the area's history—and its current art scene. Built in 1860 as a water-powered gristmill, Barnard's Mill churned out high-grade flour and cornmeal until it was turned into a cotton gin in 1895, then a hospital around World War II. Nowadays, the restored mill and adjacent buildings contain 12 rooms filled with over 200 original works of art, culled from the Fielder Foundation and private collections.

4 Before leaving Glen Rose, pop into Pie Peddlers to pick-up one of their famous baked goodies—voted among the best in Texas. Owned by two former teachers, the cozy cafe is the go-to spot in town for holiday pies, but also draws crowds all year with signature flavors like Every Berry, Coconut Caramel, Strawberry-Rhubarb and Buttermilk—most are available whole or by the slice.

5 Hit the road towards Granbury. On your way there, stop for lunch at Hammond's BBQ, located on US 67 just outside of downtown. Decorated with a wall of colorful license plates and Texas-themed knick-knacks, the barnlike space is beloved for its classic plates of (your choice) sliced or chopped brisket, turkey, pork ribs, or sausage, plus savory sides and—of course—iced tea.

6 Once in Granbury, park around the historic town square to get a feel for what's often called one of the Best Small Towns in America, and what has served as a model for National Trust town preservation programs in Texas. The seat of Hood County, Granbury started out as a collection of log cabins around a square, but soon grew into a prosperous Western town full of shops, saloons, and even an Opera House built in 1886. The famous Victorian-era Courthouse was the first to be added in its entirely to the state's National Register of Historic Places. While walking around the square today, you'll spy these monuments, along with plenty of places for modern-day retail therapy.

7 After a day on the go, enjoy a leisurely dinner at Eighteen Ninety Grille & Lounge. A relative newcomer to the town square (it opened in 2012), the bi-level restaurant serves quality meats like certified Angus beef, French-cut pork chops, and a 32-ounce porterhouse for two, along with seasonal sides, salads made with produce from local farmers, homemade banana pudding, and Bloody Marys featuring a mix of hand-roasted peppers and tomatoes. The places hosts live music (usually jazz) on Saturday nights.

Sunday

1 Spend the morning soaking up the Texas sun at Lake Granbury and City Beach Park. Numerous parks and recreation areas ring the lake, most offering access for swimming and water sports, but if your time is limited, we recommend heading right for this beach, created in 2008 with sand imported from South Padre Island. The sandy strip is just a one-minute drive from the town center, and features a boardwalk, kids' water area, concessions stands and—in high season—a Tiki Hut.

2 Make like a local and stop in to Nutshell Eatery & Bakery (137 E. Pearl St.) for a lunch of chicken-fried steak, sandwiches served on homemade bread, or one of the signature burgers (the John Wilkes Booth—named for the notorious assassin who is said to have hidden-out in Granbury—is topped with cheddar and chopped bacon.) Don't miss a slice of buttermilk pie, made from a 30-year-old recipe.

3 Before heading home, stop in to the Hood County Jail and Museum (208 N. Crockett St.), located one block from the square (note that it's only open from 1 pm to 4 pm on the weekends). The stone jail was built in 1885, and still includes the original cell block and (some say haunted) hanging tower; the adjacent museum features Granbury and Hood County artifacts and memorabilia.

Where to Stay

Set in a historic building near the Glen Rose town square, Inn on the River (rates starting at $139) has 22 rooms outfitted with feather beds and garden views.

The Fossil Rim Wildlife Center outside of Glen Rose offers two overnight options: a main rustic lodge with six simply-furnished rooms (rates start at $100), and a Foothills Safari Camp, with several tents (each with twin beds, private bath, and central heat and air) set in an enclosed area near one of the park's animal watering holes (rates starting at $125.)

A short walk from the Granbury town square, Inn on Lake Granbury (rates starting at $195) feels a world away, thanks to its manicured gardens, swimming pool, and lake views. Some of the plush, well-appointed rooms boast balconies, porches or fireplaces; all include breakfast and afternoon drinks and snacks.

When to Go

To best enjoy the area's outdoor attractions, visit during the fall or spring months, when the North Texas weather is a little more consistent. Hotel rates are often less during the winter and summer months (except around holiday weekends), but note that many of the smaller stores have shortened hours during the winter off-season, as do the state park and Fossil Rim Wildlife Center.

Popular Granbury festivals include General Granbury's Birthday Party, celebrated in March with live music around the square, cook-offs, and shopping deals; and the Harvest Moon Festival in October, with hot dog and pie eating contests, antique tractor shows, and arts and crafts from over 100 vendors.

How to Get There

By car (from Dallas): Glen Rose is 76 miles, or about 90 minute, from central Dallas. Take I-35E south towards Waco, merging into I-35E/US 77 South. Take the US 67 South exit (423A) toward Cleburne; US 67 will lead into town, and you can take a left at Barnard Street to reach the historic center. From Glen Rose, TX 144 will take you straight into Granbury. To return to Dallas from Granbury, take TX 144 south to US 67 east, then I-35E north.

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