My favorite outdoors-y spots in the Hill Country, just in time for summer.
The family and I love being outside, whether it be fishing at the river, sitting by the fire in our backyard, or hiking in New Mexico.
Since I go to school in Austin, I take advantage of the nearby Hill Country to go hiking and sightseeing at the numerous state parks and natural areas. I never get bored looking at the limestone, little critters running around, and clear waters. I think Texas is beautiful, and I’m glad we have so many preserved natural areas.
I like to think I’ve been to enough parks now that I am somewhat credible when it comes to recommendations, so just in time for summer, I made a short list of my favorite places. I ranked them based on how unique their attractions are, the abundance of activities in the park, and things to do outside the park in surrounding cities.
5. Jacob’s Well
Fees: free to look, $9 to swim
Jacob’s Well is a fully submerged cave in Cypress Creek, which flows through the quaint town of Wimberly, just west of San Marcos, and feeds into the Blanco River. It serves as a spring, pumping out thousands of gallons of water every day at 68 degrees. As far as we’re concerned, it serves as a swimming hole!
It’s a truly fascinating place. It’s crazy to imagine that this pit (an over 1,000 foot cavern!) just formed naturally and so beautifully.
Besides swimming and sunbathing, there isn’t anything else to do at Jacob’s Well, which is why I put it at number five, but as I said, it is in Wimberly. In the little town is the cutest, most bustling town square with shops, restaurants, activities, and not far from downtown, a replica pioneer town. If Wimberly ins’t your thing, not far is San Marcos, with the San Marcos River, a huge outlet mall, and more. Up the interstate from San Marcos is Austin, which is a world of fun in its own right.
Also not far from Jacob’s Well is Hamilton Pool. It’s also another natural swimming hole- quite breathtaking. I kept it off the list for a couple reasons. One, it’s almost twice as much per person than Jacob’s Well. It’s also farther away from towns; Bee Cave (a town incorporated as a part of way, way west Austin) is about twenty minutes, Austin itself is another twenty or thirty, Dripping Springs is twenty or thirty, and the next closest town is probably Johnson City, unless you want to count Round Mountain, which is more of a community than a city. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to Hamilton Pool though!!!
4. Hill Country State Natural Area
Fees: $6/person, children 12 and under- free
This is my favorite, despite it being at number four. It’s my favorite because it’s so big, so free and rugged, and is in Bandera, which is one of my favorite towns in the world. It has forty miles of trails for hiking, biking, and even equestrian use. The trails are of various difficulties, from easy walks to challenging climbs. Camping is also available.
These are the pretty much the only activities, but for me, that’s enough. Forty miles of hiking and sightseeing. That’s enough to make me happy. Throw in how open it is and how relatively few people (in my experience) are there, it’s the perfect getaway.
As mentioned, it’s located near Bandera. Bandera is a very western town, embracing the cowboy culture. I love it. There are so many shops, events, and restaurants (my favorite is O.S.T.) to keep you busy. Also not far (okay, it’s a little bit of a drive but not really) is the Frio River. It is a Texas favorite. I go float it every year!
3. Enchanted Rock
Fees: $7/person, children 12 and under- free
My pictures don’t do it justice. Enchanted Rock is a massive limestone rock north of Fredericksburg and south of Llano. It’s a truly majestic sight. Majestic. Seeing such a huge, natural structure is astounding and even humbling.
Warning- it’s a climb. I’m pretty in shape and workout frequently, and I even had to take a second to catch my breath. Once you get to the top though, it makes it all worth it. Seeing Texas unfold before you for miles and miles is awe-inspiring.
Nearby is Fredericksburg with its unlimited entertainment and experiences. The shops downtown offer a wide variety of goods, from jellies to clothes to quilts to jewelry to bath bombs to books. There’s of course the prominent German culture there, so you have your choice of German cuisine. If you’re there at the right time, you could head out on 290 to the Market Days- three days of antiquing, junking, and shopping. Even if there is no market, head out on 290 anyway and hang a right to spend time in Luckenbach. No matter which direction you head in, you’ll for sure stumble across a winery.
If you go the other way towards Llano, you’ll be pleased. The drive is lovely and Llano has something to offer as well. They have a cute downtown, with a multitude of shops, and it is home to one of my favorite restaurants- Cooper’s Barbecue.
2. Colorado Bend State Park
Fees: $5/person, children 12 and under- free
Colorado Bend State Park is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Located south of Lampasas and San Saba, west of Cherokee, and north of Llano, this over-5,000 acre park is home to Gorman Falls. It’s a sixty-foot, natural, “living” waterfall. It took centuries to form. The groundwater underground is dissolving the limestone. The dissolved limestone comes up to the surface where the calcite gets deposited. This is called Travertine. Because it’s so rich in nutrients and good stuff, that green cascading vegetation is able to grow.
Gorman Falls transported me to a fairy land. It’s gorgeous! It’s so hard to believe such a thing is even real. It’s pretty treacherous to get to, too.
You’ve got to scale down these rocks to get to the falls. It’s worth it, but also quite intimidating!
Besides Gorman Falls, Colorado Bend State Park has plenty to do, including camping, fishing, paddling, cave exploration, swimming, biking, and hiking. The park has 35 miles of hike and bike trails. I only managed to hike 6 when I was there.
In terms of things to do beyond the park, there isn’t a great deal. At least nothing in close proximity. Llano is nearby. Cherokee is a small community close by as well, with a tempting barbecue joint in a barn. You could also drive up to Lampasas or San Saba, both twenty-thirty miles from Bend. If you’re feeling adventurous, Austin is about two hours. In my opinion, however, I think the park offers plenty to do that you could spend at least a weekend seeing new things and doing numerous activities.
- Pedernales Falls State Park
Johnson City, Texas
Fees: $6/person, children 12 and under- free
I love this park so much. It was one of the first parks I visited up here. It’s only about 30 miles west of Austin, and a hop, skip, and a jump from Dripping Springs and Johnson City.
The park is centered around the Pedernales River and displays the breath-taking Pedernales Falls. No, it’s not a sixty-foot waterfall, but it’s a vast landscape of limestone pits and crevices, where the cold clear water rushes, flows, and makes its way downstream. It’s one of the most unique things I’ve ever seen, natural or otherwise. I’ve been to Europe, so that’s saying something.
The park has so much to do. They have around 20 miles of hike, bike, and equestrian trails. There’s even a trail where you have to cross the river, without a bridge. You’ve actually got to take off your shoes (or not, I guess) and wade across. It was fun! They also have places for swimming, paddling, and camping.
Get out there! Happy hiking, biking, riding, swimming, kayaking, or camping. May you revel in the beauty of the Texas Hill Country!
Be safe and have a great summer!
All photos in this post are mine. If used, I and/or this site must be given credit.