Our new series on weekend road trips aims to inspire you for what's to come as we slowly return to travel.
Covid-19 Disclaimer: Make sure to check the status of the states, regions, and establishments in which you’re planning to visit prior to travel. Many regions continue to see high infection rates and deaths, while many states and counties remain under varying stay-at-home orders. Those traveling from areas with high rates of Covid-19 should consider avoiding travel for now in order to reduce spread.
Ah, the Texas Hill Country. With rolling hills, stunning sunsets, and small-town charm, it’s quintessentially Texas, with each small town maintaining a personality and spirit of its own. The Texas Hill Country area has always been popular, thanks to its natural escapes, but in the past 20 years, the growth of wineries and distilleries in the area have made it a destination for drinkers who value flavor and quality over quantity. Visiting the Central Texas Hill Country may include a lot of driving, but that’s really half the fun.
Take I-10 W to TX-71, plus a couple of country roads, and start your Hill Country weekend in Driftwood (this route includes toll roads). Just follow the smell of the Salt Lick BBQ in the air. The drive will take you a little less than three hours, but if you set out early enough, you can make a stop in Austin to stroll along South Congress Avenue and enjoy their various boutiques and vintage stores. Feel like a kid again by visiting Big Top Candy Shop for treats and Monkey See, Monkey Do to find toys for kids of all ages. This road trip is just begging for an extended Willie Nelson mix; from his “Luckenbach, Texas” to his “Hill Country Theme,” Willie embodies his area of residence in many ways.
From Houston, head toward Fredericksburg as your destination for your first day. After you’ve passed through Austin, into the Hill Country, stop for a unique experience at Desert Door Distillery in Driftwood. There, you’ll learn about and get to taste sotol (similar to tequila and mezcal), at the craft distillery’s cozy tasting room. From there, either double back a bit to eat lunch at the famed Salt Lick BBQ (just bring a shirt to change into if you don’t want to smell like brisket all day) or head toward Johnson City to grab lunch at Fat Boy Burgers, which has an incredibly affordable menu that has something for everyone. Afterward, spend some time at the Science Mill, which offers immensely fun, interactive exhibits that teaches STEM subjects to all ages. After the afternoon of fun at the mill, keep heading toward Fredericksburg, stopping in Hye along the way. There, you can try one or both of the area beverage makers’ wares. At Garrison Brothers Distillery, whiskey lovers can delight in a truly Texan whiskey, the first bourbon to be legally made in Texas, with a tour and tasting (and maybe even a hayride). Enjoy great legs and great views at Westcave Cellars’ new winery location near Hye; stop for a tasting and enjoy a glass with beautiful vineyard views.
From there, you may want to stop and check into your accommodations. This could be the tricky part if you’re staying somewhere a bit further away from this southern route, so you may need to cut an item or two from your list of fun. If you’re staying near Fredericksburg, however, just head that direction and check into your lodging. After you’ve freshened up, August E’s in Fredericksburg is your next destination. You’ll need to make it there before sunset because you do not want to miss the incredible views that come along with your dinner with dishes that range from fresh sashimi to quail legs. After dinner, if you have a little bit of energy left, boot scoot on over to the Luckenbach Dance Hall for some extra fun. They’re only open until 10 p.m., so you don’t have to make it a really late night.
There are two strong options for spending your only full day in the Hill Country: wine or walking (or, more accurately, hiking). Start off in Marble Falls at Tea Thyme Cafe for a hearty breakfast and energizing smoothie—you’ll need it. As you probably discovered on Day 1, the Hill Country has some of the most stunning landscapes in Texas, the crest of every hill revealing something new and extraordinary as you meander around the area. Today, enjoy those landscapes outside of the car by exploring some of the area’s outdoor spaces. Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in Marble Falls offers up 27,500 acres of protected space that allows you to get back to nature through hiking, wildlife photography, birding, and other activities. For a little more low-key time outside, Sweet Berry Farm is a lot of fun for kids and adults, especially during berry-picking season in the spring and harvest season in the fall.
After your hiking time, head into Marble Falls to grab lunch at Holy Smokes Bar-B-Que where there’s “no teeth required” or Bill’s Burgers for burgers, wings, and things (including spicy fried pickles). After lunch, head to one of the Hill Country’s best swimming holes at Krause Springs. This swimming area is tranquil and easy for everyone to enjoy; be sure to spend a little bit of time in the butterfly garden area to appreciate their gorgeous landscaping and lay back for a few in their mammoth-sized hammocks.
If your itinerary should focus on wine instead of the outdoors, you can choose your own adventure along the Texas Wine Trail. There’s no shortage of options in the Hill Country area, but if you want to mix in some of the other activities (swimming at Krause Springs, for instance), stay close to the Marble Falls wineries including Fiesta Winery, Flat Creek Estate Winery and Vineyard, and Round Mountain Vineyard.
From Krause, you’ll want to head to your last major destination for the day, spending the evening soaking up the devastatingly beautiful Texas sunsets atop Enchanted Rock. Your drive there must include the beloved Willow City Loop which offers incredible landscape views that show off some of Texas’ true beauty along 13 miles of two-lane country road. If it’s springtime, the bluebonnets, Indian paintbrushes, and Mexican poppies will help guide your way. After you’ve enjoyed the sunset and Hill Country views atop the pink granite dome, it’s time to head back to your accommodations. Keep your eye out for take-out food that you can pick up along the way; you’ll want a shower and rest after your busy day.
For your last day, use the morning to linger at your accommodations and take advantage of whatever natural vistas or visitor programs that they have to offer. If they offer food, enjoy an early breakfast before checking out. If not, try to remember to grab some pastries and fruit to enjoy before heading out— you won’t want a heavy meal this morning. After you’ve checked out, if your accommodations are in the more northern part of the Hill Country, stop for lunch at Apis Restaurant and Apiary. Here you’ll enjoy honey-touched drinks, dishes, and desserts at the restaurant that sits on six acres along the Pedernales River. If you’re further south, try lunch at the popular spot The Leaning Pear for hearty, creative sandwiches or wood-fired pizzas.
As you start to head back toward Houston, make your last stop one that is perfect to leave on—Blue Hole Regional Park in Wimberley is one of the most beautiful land and waterscapes in the state. The 126-acre park includes 4.5 miles of hiking trails, picnic tables, playscape, sand volleyball court, and more. The crown jewel, the Blue Hole Swimming Area, is open seasonally, from May through September. The swimming area requires a reservation to help limit traffic and preserve the area, so be sure to plan in advance, as this is a very popular spot.
WHERE TO STAY
There are plenty of options for lodging in the Texas Hill Country. You can go resort-style and stay at Horseshoe Bay, where you’ll never run out of things to do or eat. For more B&B-style accommodations, Full Moon Inn is an award-winning, charming option that straddles Fredericksburg and Luckenbach. For a really fun adventure, try Flite Acres Ranch where you can stay in their cabins or bunkhouse and take a welding class while you’re there. Get a little more outdoorsy, glamping style, at Collective Retreats or Getaway Hill Country in Wimberley, or Lucky Arrow Retreat in Dripping Springs (this is the most centrally located among the lodging options).
WHEN TO GO
A weekend in the Hill Country makes for a nice, relaxing break almost any time of the year, but if you have the option to go in the spring, that’s certainly ideal. Seeing the sides of the road painted from the palette of Texas wildflowers is a sight that you just can’t find a lot of places, at least not like this.