Texas Hill Country
By Melissa Gaskill
Visitors flock to San Antonio and Austin for lots of reasons--the Alamo, Mexican food, live music…But there’s a whole other dimension to this region. As a long-time resident of Austin, I’ve thoroughly explored the surrounding Hill Country and head out there whenever I have a couple of free days. I usually make the town of Fredericksburg my home base for these trips which involve great hiking, biking, vineyard touring and dining. Here are some of the places I revisit every time I go.
Hill Country Icon: Enchanted Rock
About an hour and a half from either San Antonio or Austin is Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, which is tops on most people's list, for exploring. I’ve climbed its namesake 540-acre granite dome dozens of times, once even carrying a toddler, to soak up a 360-degree panorama of the rugged countryside and wide open sky.
From there, I take Echo Canyon trail, which squeezes through a boulder-strewn canyon between Enchanted Rock and neighboring Little Rock. Past the canyon lies Moss Lake, a scenic spot to picnic in the shade. The trail then connects to a 4.5 mile trail that loops around the Rock. All told, it makes a great day hike.
Bikes and Bats
I usually spend another day biking. There are miles of single track for mountain bikes and a network of winding country roads through juniper-covered hills for road bikes. Both types can be rented from Fredericksburg's Hill Country Bicycle Works, which even delivers bikes, along with maps, for rides (which range from a few miles to 80).
During the warmer weather months, I always make my way to Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area at dusk. Watching the bats here is unusual enough to qualify as an adventure in itself. Millions of them stream like smoke from an abandoned railroad tunnel, through a gap in the trees and out into the sunset – a truly unforgettable sight.
Wine and Dine
I always reward myself for all the physical activity with a visit to one of the many area wineries. Tops on my list is savoring a full-bodied red under an enormous oak tree at Grape Creek Vineyards (pictured here) or relaxing on the deck at Pedernales Cellars, which overlooks sunny fields of grazing cows. Becker Vineyards produces a couple of my favorite wines, and staying in its original homestead log cabin guesthouse is on my bucket list. I have stayed at Messina Hof Hill Country, where a sweet cottage tucked into the oaks behind the tasting facility came with a bottle of champagne and orange juice for morning mimosas.
Fredericksburg doesn’t disappoint on the dining front, either. I once splurged on a five-course meal paired with Texas wines at the Tara-esque Rose Hill Manor. But most of the time, I chow down on a wild game dinner at Cotton Gin Restaurant, an old-fashioned diner breakfast at the Hanger Hotel Diner, and a thick burger and cold beer at Hondo’s on Main.
Along the Way
On my way back to Austin, I often stop at Pedernales Falls State Park to hike the 7.4 mile Wolf Mountain Trail, which features rugged countryside, views worth pondering, and a natural spring.
If I’m headed to San Antonio, I hit the trails at Guadalupe River State Park; my favorite hike here combines Loop 2 and Loop 3 into a 5 mile route with views of the namesake river below limestone cliffs.
My advice to those of you coming this way to see the Alamo, hear great music, and take in all of the other charms of Austin and San Antonio? Just be sure to set aside a few days for a Hill Country adventure.
Photos: Top photo of hikers at Enchanted Rock by Melissa Gaskill; photo above courtesy of Grape Creek Vineyards.