The View from the Top of Enchanted Rock

One of my goals with this blog is to give you the chance to see pretty outdoor places around our state even if you can’t leave your office cube. So today, a view from the top of Enchanted Rock! We went up there in the middle of January with some friends from Austin. It was risky as far as weather, but we threaded the needle between two freezes, and got a 70-degree day.

Enchanted Rock, for those of you who’ve never been, is nestled in the Texas Hill Country just north of Fredericksburg, two hours west of Austin. It’s in a region where pink granite juts out of the ground everywhere you look, with Enchanted Rock being the largest chunk–a huge beautiful dome surrounded by other smaller domes and rocks. Kind of like the monolith Uluru in Australia, but a big pink Texan version.

It was insanely windy up at the top–50 mph! We all felt like we might blow away.

When you’re up on the top of Enchanted Rock, you are literally up with the birds. You’ll see them right at your level about a hundred feet away, soaring over the valley floor. None of them would stay in one place long enough for my pictures, but you get the idea.

The climb to the top, for those of you who have never been, is about 20 minutes straight up once you reach the base of the rock.

 

Of course, you can stop and take breaks–no shame in that–but man, it is a killer bun and thigh work out. A good thing to do in January when you’re trying to get back on the wagon!

Love that pink Texas granite.

When you get up to the top, there are caves you can go explore, or you can just sit and enjoy the view and give your legs a rest.

On a less windy day, I like to bring a pair of binocs up there and scan the countryside, but we felt like we would blow off the cliff at any moment so sought the wind-break of some nearby rocks.

Enchanted Rock now has a food truck at the base of the mountain, so when you come back down you can get ice cream. It’s glorious! Much needed! Delicious!

Enchanted Rock is one of my top 5 favorite state parks, and you’ll hear me talk a lot about it on this blog. So if you haven’t ever been, put it on your list.

More posts about Enchanted Rock

My Favorite Parks in the Texas Hill Country

I’m a little partial to the Texas Hill Country, I must admit. So I realize I may be a biased when I say all the best state parks are in this part of the state!! The only other landscape that rivals it in terms of drama would be West Texas, but nothing spells natural perfection to me like limestone cliffs, cactus, and spring-fed creeks and rivers. My Austin peeps all know the glory of a swimming hole in July!

This list includes state parks, county parks, and a National Wildlife Refuge. There are so many great places that didn’t make the cut (feel free to remind me of them all in the comments) but these, in my opinion, are the best. Most dramatic and unique landscapes, prettiest water features, and most breathtaking scenic vistas.


6. Colorado Bend State Park

This park is probably the most “remote” feeling of all the parks on this list. It is surrounded primarily by ranches and the nearest town is a solid 35 minutes away, so the hills are pristine and the view is stunning. With civilization so far away, the stars are INCREDIBLE! And Gorman Falls, a highlight of the park, is like something out of a storybook. So why is this place last on my list? Well, the bathroom situation. It’s all compost toilets. Granted, the bathrooms themselves are pretty nice (they have a nice sink, mirror, and tile floor) but the fact remains that it is still a compost toilet.

5. Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

This place gets major brownie points on my list because it’s so close to Austin, has great trails, and after your work out on the trails you can go to nearby Bluebonnet Cafe in Marble Falls and eat a delicious lunch and pie! And who doesn’t love that?

Other perks: If you’re wanting to train for an actual climb in the mountains out west (like Colorado) then this is a place you can go for some challenging terrain. A few of the trails go straight uphill!  But, there are PLENTY of flat trails with good views that a kiddo can do too.

Bring a swimsuit if you want to take a dip in the crystal clear creek that flows through it. The wildflowers in this area are pretty spectacular! Only negative: no pets. BOO.

4. Pedernales Falls State Park

This park is great because of the privacy of the campsites, cleanliness of the bathrooms, and drama of the landscape. Probably the easiest camping trip you can do in the Hill Country–all the sites are drive up and spacious, the bathrooms are nearby, and the most scenic part (the falls) are only a short walk.

3. Inks Lake State Park

The reason this park makes my list is the unique pink granite you’ll find everywhere, and the great views on so many of the trails. I don’t like slogging through a forest with no reward at the end, and at Inks Lake you don’t have to worry about that! Especially not when the bluebonnets are out, omg–it is simply beautiful to see bluebonnets against the pink granite. The trails wind around the lake’s edge and up over hills and around boulders, so you never get bored looking at the same scenery along the trail. While the campsites don’t offer much privacy, they are shaded by big oaks and located beside the lake.

2. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

Ok, so this may be one of Texas’ most popular parks BUT it is for such good reason! I love it. Here’s why. A) the view from the top is amazing, B) the workout climbing to the top is exhilarating (short, but great), C) the campsites are private and secluded from the main road, (with the exception of a few), D) the trails all have interesting scenery (even the ones other than Summit trail) and finally E) (yes there is an E) there is so much to do in the surrounding area and nearby B&B’s if camping isn’t your thing! (Think shopping in Fredericksburg, visiting LBJ State Park, checking out charming Johnson City, etc etc.)

1. Lost Maples State Natural Area

Finally, the very tippy top on my list, Lost Maples State Natural Area. I have a soft spot for this place. It is exquisite, a real reason to have pride in our state, and if you ever get to go you will see why. The views are the most dramatic, its trails the most entertaining, and of course, its fall colors the BEST in Texas. The surrounding countryside, which you should take a drive one afternoon to see, is awesome. Warning: you must reserve your campsite early.

The hilltop trails hug the edge of a cliff so you are treated to this panorama nearly the entire time:

And there are charming smaller, easier trails on the “ground floor” for little ones:

The drive there is spectacular:

Random rock formations shaped like a monkey:

And of course, fall leaves:

Honorable Mention

Pace Bend Park, a Travis County Park on the banks of Lake Travis, gets honorable mention. I like their camping area for its spaciousness and last minute availability, love its proximity to Austin, and enjoyed the trails which hug the edge of the lake.

So like I said–you can’t go wrong with a park in the Texas Hill Country, it is one of the most beautiful parts of our state and we are so lucky to have these green spaces! Pack up the family–even if just for a day trip–and go check them out.

God bless Texas!

How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Enchanted Rock

This is part of my Girl’s Guide to Enchanted Rock series! Be sure to check out the other posts in this category before planning your trip.

Ladies, Enchanted Rock is a place you will love. I bet many of y’all have been there already and can surely attest to what I’m saying! You may think you have seen the best of Texas — but until you are standing on top of this rock, soaking in the 360-degree panorama of the Hill Country and enjoying a cool morning breeze, you don’t know how magnificent our state can be.

This park is truly a gem.

Here are some pointers for making the most of your visit!

Best Time of Year to Go

WILFLOWER SEASON! Late February through mid April – the last weekend in March was peak wildflower season this year and the weather was perfect.

NOTE: This is also Spring Break so it is insanely busy…just be sure you are there early in the AM for a day hike or have a camp site reservation.

Best Trails to Hike

When to Book a Campsite

  • For March: book by April of the previous year
  • For other times of the year: 10 months in advance

How to Book a Campsite

What Camp Sites Are Like

  • Walk in campsites recommended (break down of available sites here)
  • Each walk-in campsite has a shelter, picnic table, post for hanging your trash/food/lantern, a fire ring, and a charcoal grill
  • FYI not all the campsites are right next to the cars – you have to walk a little ways (about a quarter of a mile) to them
  • The campsites are VERY secluded which is nice!

  • They are not large, and can only fit 2 6-person tents so if you plan on going with a group or family, reserve 2 campsites and arrive early enough to get them together
  • You will be assigned campsites upon arrival so if you want pick of the litter, get there early.
  • Campsite 22 is awesome!!
  • 30 is impossible to find
  • 29 – 32 are really close together and not as scenic, I do not recommend. However if you have a large group these are great because they are very close together!

 

Suggested Itinerary

Friday

  • 2pm park arrival and check in
  • Afternoon – campsite set up, short hike before sunset on the loop trail to the frontside trail (described in this post)
  • Evening – Build a fire, cook dinner, hang out around the camp fire and ROAST S’MORES!!!
  • Late night stargazing before bed!

Saturday

  • Sunrise hike to the top via Summit Trail
  • Explore Loop Trail on the way back to the camp site
  • Big brunch
  • Post-breakfast s’mores because, why not?
  • Relax around camp
  • Late afternoon hike or fishing in Moss Lake
  • Cook dinner on the Dutch oven
  • Campfire stories

Sunday

  • Another sunrise hike or fishing excursion (or sleep in!)Pack up the campsite and headed home

Alternative 1-night Itinerary

Saturday

  • Noon picnic in Fredericksburg (at Marketplatz in center of town)
  • 2pm check in and campsite set up
  • Afternoon – short hike
  • Evening – relax around campsite, cook dinner and make s’mores!

Sunday

  • Sunrise hike to top
  • Take Echo Canyon and Loop trail on route back to camp site
  • Lunch
  • Pack up camp site and head home

Alternative Non-Camping Itinerary

Spend the weekend in a Bed & Breakfast in the Fredericksburg area and do an early morning day hike Saturday or Sunday at Enchanted Rock! Spend the rest of your time shopping in Fredericksburg’s charming shops, eating good food, and driving around to see the wildflowers.

Official Park Webpage

Getting There

Here’s the Google Map to it: https://goo.gl/maps/mre61PrqB4Q2

  • From Austin: 1.5 hours — I recommend taking 290 on the way there and 71 on the way back, for a nice change of scenery
  • From San Antonio: 1.5 hours via I-10 to Hwy 87
  • From Dallas: 4 hours via Hwy 281
  • From Houston: 4 hours via I-10 to 290

Other things to do in the area

Other Notes and Tips

  • You can buy firewood there for $6 a bundle
  • No dogs on summit trail (Boo! No fun! So lame!) — dogs are allowed on other trails, however.
  • Arrival time: 2pm is check in but it is good to be there early for prime pick of campsites

Hope you enjoy your visit and have a fabulous time! If you have tips you want to share, leave them in the comments. We are fortunate to have such a stunning place in Texas, and it is definitely worth the drive.


Other posts in A Girl’s Guide to Enchanted Rock series:

The 3 Best Hiking Trails of Enchanted Rock

Hello y’all! As you may have read yesterday, I just returned from a fun weekend of camping at Enchanted Rock and wanted to share with you the trails we hiked and loved. I hope you try them too.

If you have not been to Enchanted Rock, or if the last time you went was gradeschool (ahem), you need to get out there. It is such a beautiful place and I don’t think I appreciated it as much as it deserved when I was little. We are so fortunate to have this natural feature right here in Texas.

Read about my ladies camping trip at Enchanted Rock here.

Note: all of these trails are better seen in spring time when the wildflowers are blooming!

Summit Trail

Obviously, the first and most important trail to mention is the Summit Trail, which takes you to the top of the dome!

This is the most stunning part of your park experience — the pièce de résistance. Being up there is a wonderful feeling I think all Texans should experience.

Best time to go: Sunrise, when there are fewer people and the breeze is cool. This requires camping overnight in the park, which I highly recommend. Alternatively you could go about an hour before sunset and watch the sun sink below the horizon!

(Is this why they call our state “God’s Country”?!)

Difficulty: moderate. The trail is steep, however it is only 20 minutes long.

Distance: 20 minutes, 1 mile to summit

Bring some binocs and plan to sit up there for a spell and enjoy the view. There’s no place like it in Texas!

FYI: No dogs allowed (“Lame,” says Trooper.)

Echo Canyon Trail

This juts off from Summit Trail and is a fun addition to the summit trail as you are coming back down. Hang a right on your way down at the Echo Trail sign, and the trail will lead you down a valley, beside boulders, and to Moss Lake. From the far side of the lake, you can get beautiful pictures of Enchanted Rock!

Be Aware: Echo Canyon is for sure-footed folks, as it requires balance and stability as you make your way down through the small canyon. It doesn’t require any rock climbing — just a helping hand from a hiking buddy every now and then!

Best time to go: on your way down from Enchanted Rock

Difficulty: moderate

Distance: 0.67 mi

Loop Trail

I LOVED Loop Trail!! Personally this was my favorite, 2nd only to the Summit Trail. This was nice, wide, flat, and downhill. (Downhill?! Yes please.) It also affords you dozens of panoramic hill country views, pink granite boulders, wildflowers (in Spring), and a scenic overlook to stop at. I definitely recommend this one!

Best time to go: Any time is good, but I recommend making a loop with Echo Trail and Summit Trail.

Difficulty: easy

Distance: it depends — the entire loop is 4.25 miles but the section we did, from Moss Lake to the trailhead on the southern end of the park is only about 1.8 miles.

Connecting Trail to Frog Pond

This is shorter and still very scenic – we spent about 45 minutes exploring this area but could have spent longer. Tall oak trees, gorgeous wildflowers, rolling hills, and creeks all grace the area and it makes for a very lovely jaunt!

Loop trail intersects here – not to be confused!

Oh, Texas, just STOP! You so pretty!!!

Gorgeous.

Difficulty: easy

Distance: 0.57 miles; 1.12 if you take the Frontside trail back to the trail head

Enchanted Rock is one of my favorite hiking experiences in Texas – the trails are just the right length, the scenery is jaw-dropping, and when everything is covered in spring green and wildflowers it’s simply divine.

GO!!! Do it! Please, for me. Make a reservation. You will not regret it!

A Girl’s Getaway to Enchanted Rock

This is the story from our camping trip — tips for visiting the park to come next, stay tuned.

This past weekend I took a group of girls on a camping trip at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area and we had so much fun!! If you have never been to this park before, you should stop what you’re doing and make a reservation.

Enchanted Rock is like a mini-Yosemite National Park – a smaller, pinker, Texas version of one of our greatest national park.  Yosemite is known for its rolling rocky slopes and waterfalls; Enchanted Rock has its own rolling hills of pink granite.

The landscape is varied – canyons one minute, summit views the next, and lakeside paths the next.

Except we have bluebonnets! Take that Yosemite…

En route to the park, we stopped in Fredericksburg for a picnic of caprese sandwiches and Thai chicken salad were on the menu! Only the best for these girls.

My goal is to show ladies that the outdoors can be fun, and inspire their appreciation for conserving nature here in Texas and around the world. So to me, every detail that makes our time outdoors better is important, down to the fresh mozzarella!

(Texas was REALLY helping me out by putting on a show of native wildflowers – WOW.)

One of the girls had never been camping before, so I was crossing my fingers she had fun. She is the last person you would think of as an outdoorsy person, but I’ve been working on her over the last few years!! Mwahaha.

The camp sites at Enchanted Rock are very secluded — so secluded in fact, that they can be hard to find, and finding ours was kind of an ordeal!

But that was a good thing. It was nice to feel like we were out in the middle of nowhere: just us, nature, and as many comforts of home as we could fit in our vehicles.

(Including this awesome folding hammock!)

The campsite may not have had running water or electricity but it did come with our own private pink granite hill and wildflowers pouring out of nooks and crannies.

Thanks to the seclusion, our neighbors were spared them from hearing our renditions of “Get low”, the “Star spangled banner”, “Texas Our Texas”, and many stories which will not be repeated on this blog.

What happens at Enchanted stays at Enchanted…

I did a little bit of Dutch oven cooking for dinner – Southwest cornbread and apple cobbler. It hit the spot!

Despite a middle of the night adventure that involved wild animals (story coming soon) we enjoyed an incredible starry sky and a good night’s sleep. We woke up early the following morning to take on the main point of our whole trip: hiking to the top of Enchanted Rock!

We headed out around 7:30, coffee in hand, just as the sun was rising, to be some of the first people on the top.

The temperature was still in the low 60’s and the morning sun was causing the granite to come alive in hues of pink, orange, and red. There was hardly a cloud in the sky so it glowed electric blue.

With the sun peeking through the bluebonnets and the pink granite as a backdrop, I felt like I was living in a travel magazine – or Heaven itself. I took photos but there is nothing like the experience of seeing it for yourself.

The hike to the top was pretty much straight up, and we felt the burn in our legs. But fortunately we didn’t suffer long – only about 20 minutes to the top!

We were rewarded with an endless panorama of the Texas Hill Country. We could see birds soaring over the surrounding hills at the same elevation as us, so it was truly like having a bird’s eye view of Texas.

I think we all enjoyed the tranquility of the moment and having the place to ourselves.

On the way home we took the Echo Canyon and Loop Trails, which were incredible and led us through a canyon and beside a lake, past hundreds of bluebonnets, buttercups, Indian paintbrush, and other wildflowers and more panoramic hill country views.

I would totally recommend these trails on your next visit!

I am proud to report my friend Katherine, the one who had never camped, not only survived her first weekend of camping but had fun! Or maybe she’s just telling me that…either way, I appreciate the grace.

The cap on our fabulous weekend was breakfast sandwiches on Texas toast and s’mores! The girls went to town with s’more combinations and ended up coming up with a new one: Croissant strawberry Nutella s’mores, which they report are amazing.

Perfect weekend in the books.

Thanks to all the ladies who came and made this camp out so fun, thanks to our park system for this amazing park, thanks to God for wildflowers, and thanks readers for coming back to the blog! Hope everyone has a nice week and I can’t wait to tell you more about this park in upcoming posts!

Stay tuned for:

  • The Best Trails of Enchanted Rock
  • Tips for Planning Your Visit and Suggested Itinerary
  • A Camping Menu for Enchanted Rock

XOXO

Ps. Affiliate links used.

Falling for Fall at Lost Maples State Natural Area

Brandon and I finally got to experience Fall and all its orange and red glory on a camping trip to Lost Maples State Natural Area a few weeks ago!

Given that we don’t get much of a Fall here in Texas, and given that my Fall clothes are still packed away in boxes, it was a huge treat to get a small taste of the season.

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Lost Maples is located in Southwest Texas, in the direction of Garner State Park, Leakey, and Medina. It is THE place to see the leaves change in Texas and you should not miss seeing it at least once in your life!

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We made the reservations over ten months ago (you have to reserve very early for this time of year as it is extremely popular!) and got up early on Saturday morning to head down there. Thanks to a tip from a friend, we knew to stop at the Love Creek Orchards Apple Store in Medina on the way.

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They sell cute gifts and every form of apple you can imagine, so it turned out to be a delicious stop. They have a patio and restaurant where you can order breakfast and lunch. We got two apple turnovers filled with fresh Medina apples and we were pretty much in breakfast heaven.

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So delicious.

The drive from Austin was beautiful but the stretch between Medina and the park was truly the most stunning part.

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I took so many pictures and videos outside the car window!

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When we arrived we set about putting up the tent.

This is where Brandon takes charge. I follow orders and take pictures. I’ve learned this is my better role when it comes to building or arranging things, whether it’s the tent or the dishwasher. His mind is like one gigantic Tetris game and this is where he shines.

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Five seconds later…

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Ta da! Campsite done.

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With all of that set up, we headed out on the Maple Trail, which was very cute and had some of the best colors of the park.

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It was charming and perfect for kids, and reminded me of something out of a children’s book.

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Trooper loved it!

From there we continued on East Trail, which is 4.6 miles and leads up to the top of a ridge. East Trail is THE trail you come to the park to see, and do not miss it!

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This path starts out innocently enough, with wide and flat walkways…

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Passes Monkey Rock, which is shaped like a monkey…

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passes by a beautiful cave and creekbed…

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Through lots of fall leaves…

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and deposits you here:

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The infamous stairs.

For 1.5 miles, the trail is pretty steep as you reach the top of the hill. No mercy and no rest for the wicked.

By the end of it, I was carrying Trooper and was hoping someone would carry me. Brandon and I were asking each other “How did we ever make it hiking in the Sierra?”

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It was so worth it though, because the views were absolutely breathtaking.

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I couldn’t get over how pretty it was. The trees down in the valley were starting to turn orange, and the Sabinal river which cuts through the park was forming a pool beside some campsites.

We rested our weary bones (and our weary dog) up here and had a picnic…something I would definitely recommend doing. Every Texan needs to have a picnic up on this hill!

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Lots of folks were up here just enjoying the view and there were clearings all along the ridge, so you could commandeer one and sit for a while.

This was a high point in our trip.

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Get it, high point?

🙂

On the way back, we had to stop and observe a water feature of some sort my husband found, because he’s an engineer and that’s the kind of thing that really rings his bell.

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“Take my picture,” he said.

There?” I asked, thinking he would certainly want a better backdrop.

“Yeah I want the bridge in it,” he said.

I should have known.

I suppose I shouldn’t have teased him too much because I did ask him to take this picture, after all:

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and he didn’t ask a single question.

(We former ballerinas have our quirks too.)

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Later that afternoon we came back and made s’mores, cooked chicken on the dutch oven, and hung out and read. We were exhausted! Climbing up that hill did us in.

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The next morning, Brandon got out his fishing gear and we all went down to one of the ponds along the East Trail to see if he could catch something.

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Sadly nothing was biting but it was a very tranquil start to the morning!

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We packed up shop and headed back towards Austin, with one minor detour to see this overlook…

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Oh Texas, you so pretty!

We had such a fun-filled, FALL-filled weekend at Lost Maples and will be coming back again. I could see us making this an annual thing! The campsites were spacious, the restrooms tidy, and there were plenty of hiking trails and fishing holes. This has the most varied landscapes of any of the state parks I’ve visited thus far and is one of my favorite state parks. Plus, it makes my autumn loving heart so happy.

Y’all should check it out.

Plan Your Visit

Recommended itinerary

Friday

  • 3pm leave Austin
  • 6pm Stop in Medina, Texas at Love Creek Orchards for dinner, and pick up apple turnovers for the following morning’s breakfast
  • 7pm Arrive at Lost Maples (30 min from Love Creek Orchards)
  • Set up tent, stargaze

Saturday

  • Morning: hike Maple Trail and East Trail
  • Picnic Lunch at top of hill on East Trail
  • Afternoon: games and nap at the camp site
  • Saturday evening: campfire, Dutch oven cooking maybe?, s’mores!

Sunday

  • Adventurous option: hike up West Trail (this one is strenuous!)
  • Laid back option: take a scenic drive west on HWY 337 (see map) and look for scenic view
  • Stop by Love Creek and pick up your very own Lost Maple seedling to take home!

Alternatively, leave early Saturday morning like we did and stop at the apple orchard for breakfast. 

Things to Know

  • Nearest General Store: There is a handy general store at the corner of Hwy 187 and 337. Details click here
  • Lost Maples State Natural Area Website: click here
  • Reserve 10+ months in advance!
  • No hand towels in the restroom

Map to the Overlook

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Head west on 337 and you will see it on the south side of the road. (There are lots of good overlooks around here!)

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Glamp Your Heart Out at this Texas Tipi Retreat

When Reservation on the Guadalupe asked me to come stay at their glamping retreat and do a review, I was more than happy to oblige. Me? Glamp? Why if I must!

This cute tipi-style resort was already on my list of places to visit. With pristine hill country surroundings to bask in, hammocks to swing in, the Guadalupe river to dip in, and one of my favorite Texas hikes nearby, this place has the basics of what my heart desires–and it is all within an hour from my front door in Austin.

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I grabbed my friend Cassandra, a jewelry designer and fellow Austinite, and we headed down there last week. I’m in love with this place and think you will be too!

First things first, on the way there we stopped in Gruene for a bite to eat.

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Gruene is a historic town, with a dancehall, water tower, and a general store. If you’re coming from Austin, Dallas, or Houston, you will pass by Gruene and it would be a shame to not see this quintessential Texas town.

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What to See In Gruene

We had a big plate of onion rings at the Gristmill and my day was made before I even arrived at the tipis.

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Mmm. Follow me on Instagram for stories from my travels.

After dinner, the entire drive from Gruene to the tipis was full of sunset views.

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(We may be a bit biased, but we think sunsets are better in Texas.)

Though we arrived at the tipis just after dark, I could tell this place was already right up my alley. There are eight individual tipis around a central area, each one complete with its own kitchenette, memory foam beds (hello), air conditioning, wifi, television, dvd player, and coffee maker.

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We had tipi #2, called Deer Run.

Cassie and I both love Europe and so we spent the remainder of our night watching A Good Year, which is set on a vineyard in France. Sigh.

Both Cassie and I run our own businesses–hers a jewelry company and mine this blog–and our noses are always to the grindstone, so we felt so spoiled getting to sit and watch a movie on a midweek vacation. It was a total break from adulting we needed.

See Cassie’s jewery line here: CassandraCollections

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The next morning we woke up and ventured down to the riverfront.

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This spot was just MADE for sipping coffee.

If you go, I recommend taking a good book and a cup of joe, and enjoying the peace and quiet of this serene spot before the day gets crazy. It will start your day off right.

That done, we finally got our much needed hammock time.

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Not bad for a Wednesday, eh?

On our way back home to Austin, we took the scenic route on River Road, which follows the Guadalupe River all the way back to Gruene.

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This trip was just the getaway we girls needed. I can’t wait to come back, and bring people! I see a Whit’s Wilderness reader glamp out in my future…

What We Loved

  • SUPER UNIQUE – Only a couple of places like this exist in Texas and so it’s truly something special
  • GREAT FOR GROUPS – With a big central open area and plenty of fire pits, picnic tables, and grills, this place just screams group getaway.
  • SUPER CONVENIENT — located between Austin and San Antonio just 30 min. off I-35
  • AFFORDABLE – $129/night on average, and each tipi can accommodate six guests
  • LAID BACK AND CASUAL – glamping hair don’t care
  • SEAMLESS AND STRESS FREE – There were no hills to climb, no people to impress, and no crazy hidden fees.
  • LOTS TO DO – See suggestions below
  • GOOD SLEEP – Memory foam mattresses make this easy!
  • STOCKED KITCHEN – Kitchenettes are well equipped with a mini fridge, utensils, kitchen tools, dish soap, etc.
  • TREEHOUSE community room – so cute, with sofas, chairs, and poker table (pics at end of post)

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Who Would Love this Trip

  • GIRLFRIENDS looking for a fun and affordable getaway (that’s extremely Instagram friendly)
  • COED FRIEND GROUPS who want to tube and hang out somewhere casual and affordable
  • MOMS looking for a quiet spot to sleep, read, and enjoy the peace and quiet
  • FAMILIES BIG AND SMALL looking for a place that is accessible by all ages with a great feeling of community.
  • KIDDOS WITH AN IMAGINATION – Your kid will feel like he/she’s staying in a fort or pretending to be Pocahontas for the weekend. Plus, there’s a tree house!
  • GIRL SCOUT TROOPS – all of the tipis are within eyeshot of each other and there are plenty of lessons in nature to be had, from building a fire to swimming to arts and crafts.

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Our Tips for The Best Vacation

  • Go in colder weather. Flannels, moccasins, blankets, and fire pits are the little joys of glamping and best experienced in cooler temps.
  • Get up before the day starts and enjoy the peace and quiet of the riverfront
  • Arrive before dark, the entrance can be hard to spot from the road at night
  • Bring your own towels
  • Bring slip on shoes to run to the bathroom
  • Don’t forget a flashlight!

What to Do in the Area

  • TUBE THE GUADALUPE – Rent tubes at the intersection of Hwy 306 and FM 2673 (5 min drive)
  • FLY FISH – Contact Gruene Outfitters for a list of guides
  • VISIT GRUENE – Shop, eat, stroll, dance, repeat (20 min drive)
  • HIKE CANYON LAKE GORGE – one of my favorite hikes in the Hill Country, you can see pictures here (5 min drive)
  • BOAT at nearby Canyon Lake (5 min drive)
  • SWIM / dip a toe in the water on the property – the paved landing by the water is perfect for little kids

To Reserve

  • Visit Reservation on the Guadalupe

When to Go

  • I recommend winter time. It can get a little hot and muggy in the summer.

A Word About Checking In

Before your arrival, Best Texas Travel sends you a link to an app which you will need for check in. At first I was annoyed about having to download another app (inevitably this means deleting something from my phone), but it ended up being one of the nicest parts of the experience. When I was packing, it told me exactly what to bring. On our way to the property, it gave us directions. And when we got there, it had our entry code to our tipi. Seriously made our trip so stress-free.

Room for Improvement

My complaints are fairly minor, I was definitely impressed overall.

  • The bedspreads were not as clean as they could have been. I’m a clean freak and so just pulled them back.
  • The towels weren’t either…eek! Bring your own.
  • No full length mirror
  • No water bottles – there’s a faucet and plenty of room for your own coolers instead

Everything else was tidy and wonderful, and I’m not just saying that because they comped my stay.

Remember this is still camping

Glamorous is a relative term. It is not glamorous compared to the Ritz, it’s glamorous compared to camping. As long as you go in with the same expectations you would have for camping, you will be beyond pleasantly surprised.

A Few Final Snaps Before I Go…

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The perfect set up in my book

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Path Down to the River

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Treehouse Community Room – with a poker table, sofas and chairs, a grill, and plenty of outdoor seating

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River views

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Our Bathroom

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Bathroom building

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ping pong table

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Views from River Rd.

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Gorgeous Photos of Enchanted Rock at Sunrise

Enchanted Rock is arguably one of the most unique places to visit in Texas. A large monolithic slab of pink granite, it rises high above the surrounding hill country and affords its hikers incredible views. If you are a Texan, and haven’t been, you need to make a pilgrimage.

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Just to tempt you, today I’m interviewing my friend Joy and sharing her pictures from her recent trip. Joy gets a gold star, because she woke up at the crack of dawn to hike to the top and watch the sun rise. On a Saturday. Her pictures are gorgeous.

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Joy and I have been friends since high school, our paths crossing frequently as ballerinas and junior Women’s Club members, and…drumroll please….Fiesta Teen Queens. Y’all are in the presence of royalty here!

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If anyone wants to learn a full court bow, just ask us.

Joy, thanks for granting Whit’s Wilderness this interview!

Let’s start with your itinerary. Please tell us about it.

  • Friday – left after work, set up camp, ate s’mores
  • Saturday – mid-morning summit hike, caves, other trails, lunch, naps, sat in “river”, cooked, ate s’mores
  • Sunday – sunrise hike, breakfast, “lake” hike, tore down camp, headed home

I didn’t come with a specific itinerary; I was mostly interested in spending time with my friends and enjoying the outdoors. Enchanted Rock is so small that it doesn’t require planning ahead like a bigger national park would.

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I like that you made s’more eating happen more than once. Priorities.

Who did you go with?

A friend of mine from graduate school invited me along with some of his work colleagues. I didn’t know half the group beforehand, and I enjoyed making new friends of friends! Plus, people who are go-with-the-flow enough for hiking and camping are probably going to be chill people I can get along with.

 

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Amen to that!

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Was it worth getting up at the crack of dawn to watch the sunrise from the top?

Definitely. One friend hiked to the top coffee mug in hand! It felt satisfying to start the day with the sun and be able to come back to the campsite, eat a proper breakfast, and relax for a bit before setting out on a longer trail.

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Wow, gorrrgeous!

Was the hike difficult?

The Summit Trail is steep near the top without much variation in terrain, so if you’re racing up for the sunrise like we were, it can feel challenging. However, at a normal pace, it’s not a difficult hike.

The most difficult thing about hiking that weekend was just the heat. Most areas are exposed to direct sunlight, so we took advantage of tree cover to rest whenever it was available.

Noted: go during cooler weather or prepare yourself for heat.

How long did it take you to reach the summit?

We made it to the summit in about 20 minutes clipping along at a fast pace. The day before, we took our time and reached in about 40-45.

Wow, summiting twice in one weekend! Go girl.

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How was the view from the top?

The view from the top is lovely looking out on all sides at the Texas Hill Country. My favorite part of the experience was the breeze followed by the tiny ecosystems that manage to flourish in crevices of the rock. I took a few pictures of different moss, fern, and flower clusters in depressions in the rock with the sunrise in the background.

 

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What did you wear? Did you like what you brought or wish you had brought something better?

I was grateful for shoes with traction though, as it had just been rainy. Mobility is important to me, so I wore athletic clothing I also wear to the yoga and barre class (also because I already own it.) I was glad I wore pants to protect my legs from the long grass and long sleeves to protect my arms from sunburn.

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It was also good to be covered when we were scrambling around in the caves and climbing up some of the areas set aside for bouldering. My hat and sunglasses were essential for me, too. Other’s in my group were happy in shorts and tank tops or hiking pants with zippered legs. 

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Any advice for first timers?

Enchanted Rock is a novice-friendly hiking spot with several options for types of hikes while still being quite small–everything is a day hike. The glampers could just run (or walk) around the flat trails and/or take their time ascending to the summit. We saw people climbing up with an infant in arms (not even in a sling) and folks of all ages. On the other hand, serious climbers can bring gear for top-roping or bouldering.

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How Would You Recommend Summiting?

I liked climbing the summit first thing in the morning so that we were sure not to miss it if the trails closed due to rain. Then there would be plenty of time for the smaller rock or for walking around the trails along the circumference.

We particularly enjoyed the trail past the “lake” (small tank) that offered a nice view of the summit.

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What would you have done differently next time?

I forgot to bring snacks the second day. Rookie mistake. By the time we returned to our campsite, we were all famished, and some of us (ahem, the boys) were a bit hangry.

Bring snacks is always a good piece of advice. You can’t enjoy the outdoors if you’re hangry!

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Looking great, Joy! Thanks for telling us about your trip. You are always going places!

Anytime, Whit!

Plan Your Visit

  • Enchanted Rock Website: click here
  • Location: 2.5 hrs NW of Austin, TX in the Hill Country
  • Reservations required for overnight camping
  • Nearby accommodations: Fredericksburg, Texas bed and breakfasts
  • Nearby attractions: Texas Wine Trail

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A Favorite Hill Country Hike: Canyon Lake Gorge

This is easily one of my favorite hikes in Texas. Not only is it beautiful, but its historically, hydrologically, geologically, and paleontologically significant. Not to spoil the surprise, but on this hike you will get to see dinosaur tracks, fossils, waterfalls, crystal blue pools of water, caves, and cliffs.

And, it’s all downhill. That alone makes it pretty wonderful, right?

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I ended up there several years ago, back in the beginning days of Brandon and my relationship. As my readers know, he is a water resources engineer, so I thought he would enjoy seeing it. My best friend Courtney wanted to meet him, and so this was our excuse for that to happen. Her husband is a hydraulic engineer so suffice it to say, this was their cup of tea.

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Awwww, look at young Brandon!

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Courtney dangles her husband precariously off the edge.

The most amazing part of the gorge tour experience is to stand at the bottom of the gorge and imagine the sheer force of water that carved it out in one single event–the flood of 2002.

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Before that time, the landscape was gently rolling hills, much like the landscape above the cliffs you see in this picture. There were no cliffs, no waterfalls, no gorge, and the dinosaur tracks were a good 25 feet underground.

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Then, in one week in the summer of 2002, the land upstream from the Guadalupe river received 34 inches of rainfall, nearly all of which flowed directly to Canyon Lake. The lake filled so quickly that it spilled over into the spillway, an area reserved for times of severe flooding.

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The spillway served as a kind of emergency outlet for the water, like a drain hole on the side of a sink. It had never been used before, so it was completely flat and forested.

Over 67,000 cubic feet per second gushed through, uprooting trees and shooting them 1.3 miles downstream towards the river. Once the trees were out of the way, the water started pummeling through the rock like a massive jackhammer.

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Boulders the size of cars were tossed up into the waves and bounced downstream like toys.

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For six weeks, the water dug through the limestone. In that time, over 1.5 times the entire amount of water in Canyon Lake flooded the spillway. Finally, the water retreated into the lake and left the gorgeous gorge in its wake.

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The devastation downstream, where the spillway met the Guadalupe, was extreme, but the silver lining in all of this is that now, the public is invited to see all of it!

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And it truly is remarkable.

As you walk down through the gorge, you pass through eras of history with every step. The water peeled back the rock layer by layer, creating a cross section of history.

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At one level, we saw fossilized waves from the time of the Permian Sea (when Texas was only a twinkle in God’s eye.)

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At another level, dinosaur tracks.

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At nearly every layer, we saw fossils.

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The place is a fossil lover’s paradise!

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One of my favorite aspects of the tour was that it is guided by an expert.

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By the time our hike was over, we felt we had certainly earned a lazy afternoon in the river.

The Canyon Lake gorge can be seen from South Access Rd. on the south side of Canyon Dam, but if you ever have time to pop in for a tour, I recommend it. You will not be disappointed!

Whitney and Brandon at the Gorge

Plan Your Visit

  • Location: Canyon Lake, Texas (1.5 hours from Austin and San Antonio)
  • Length: 3 hours
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Fee: $10 (some exceptions–university, scout, and high school groups admitted free)
  • Guided by an expert in the site’s features and history
  • Reservations not required but highly recommended!
  • Website: www.canyongorge.org/tour

 

 

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Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge…and Pie!

Monday of last week was a good day. I got to spend time with my nieces and sister in law at one of the 19 National Wildlife Refuges in Texas and then follow our hike with a big plate of breakfast food and a piece of pie at Blue Bonnet cafe in Marble Falls.

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The Balcones Canyonlands refuge is an enormous expanse of green rolling hills northwest of Austin, on the northern side of Lake Travis. Most people don’t even know it’s there. In my opinion, it is one of the most beautiful parks near Austin. There’s running water, wide open spaces, and incredible views…and in the Spring, miles of wildflowers.

Map

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I had heard of this park because, being the nerd that I am, I wrote my senior thesis paper in college about two little endangered birds that inhabit Central Texas and this refuge. They require the old ashe juniper and shin oak trees in Central Texas. (Many endangered species are Earth’s pickiest animals.) These two birds, the Black capped vireo and the Golden cheeked warbler, caused a stir because a large portion of their critical habitat happened, inconveniently, to be located on Fort Hood army base. Fort Hood was in high gear at the time testing artillery and preparing troops for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. Fortunately, a system was created where ranchers nearby protected the habitat on their land in exchange for Fort Hood continuing to operate, and the little birds are doing better today. ANYHOW, not to bore you with wildlife facts!

Golden-cheeked Warbler (Dendroica chrysoparia), Friedrich Wilderness State Park, San Antonio, Texas

Photo credit: Flickr Commons user Vince Smith

But that is why the refuge is here.

Unlike the south side of Lake Travis, which is booming, this side of the lake is peaceful, quiet, and as untouched as you can possibly find so close to Austin. (Probably because no one knows about it.) Green hills give way to more green hills, and a little two-laned paved road winds through the 25,000 acre refuge. For perspective, Zilker park is 350 acres, the Domain is 303 acres, and UT’s main campus is 431, so 25,000 is quite a lot!

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(PS. The green space on the left side of that bend in the lake is Pace Bend park. Kind of cool to see where we had just camped from this vantage point!)

First, we popped in at the Visitor Center for some maps and a restroom break. Good news: this refuge has very clean restrooms. You never know what you’ll get at a park’s restroom, so I was pleased to walk in and smell a combination of bleach and lemon fragrance, which just screams Clean! to me, and see that everything was spotless. (Maybe I am as picky as the warbler about where I put my golden cheeks.)

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Hehe.

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At the Visitor Center, you can see a Golden cheeked warbler and Black capped vireo up close, along with other taxidermied animals. Some were a little creepy, like a possum hanging upside-down from a branch by his tail, but some were beautiful and a good representation of what was on the refuge.

There’s also a game, which appealed to my niece and talked about bird life.

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PS. My niece got glasses recently and I can’t get over how cute they are on her. Kids in glasses, how cute are they? Cute cute cute. Cute.

There are two hiking areas of the refuge: Warbler Vista and Doeskin Ranch. Warbler Vista has three trails and an awesome lookout, where you can see for miles. That’s Lake Travis in the distance.

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On the map, this lookout is called “Sunset Deck.”

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You can hike or drive. If driving, follow the road past the restrooms and after about a half mile, there will be a parking area on the left.

On the other end of the refuge is Doeskin Ranch. It had a good selection of trails–some went straight up the side of hills, while others stayed on flat ground and followed the creek through the valley.  We chose the Pond & Prairie and Creek Trails, which ended up being about two miles.

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doeskin ranch trials

We found a good wading spot in the creek and rested our weary bones. The sun had come out to remind us we were still in Texas, and as sweat slid down our backs, it was nice to put our feet in the cold water.

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Grace had told Stephanie that morning, “I want to wear this dress because Whitney loves animal print!”

That girl may only be four years old, but she is observant and knows the way to my heart–through leopard! 🙂

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I loved these views!

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Pond & Prairie and Creek Trail were easy, flat, or mostly flat, for the entire way. Although I do want to come back and hike some of the more challenging hillside trails in this area.

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We didn’t have any luck finding a warbler, having likely scared them off with our camp songs and chatter.

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This waterfall and the pool were awesome finds towards the end of our hike on Pond & Prairie, and I was wishing for a swimsuit. There weren’t other people for miles, so perfect conditions for wearing a swimsuit! Ha.

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The water seemed to be 3-4 feet deep here and would have been perfect for a post-hike dip.

But we couldn’t waste time, we had business to attend to at Blue Bonnet cafe.

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Stephanie and I ordered big plates of eggs and bacon and biscuits, Ann ordered a BLT, and we all ordered pie.

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My choice was banana cream.

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It was delicious, and along with the big glass of iced tea, totally hit the spot after a hot day of hiking.

A funny thing did happen at the cafe. I ordered Brandon a chocolate cream pie slice to go, and when the waitress came by I emphasized it was “for my husband.” However, when she brought the to-go box of pie to me, it had a fork sticking out of it. As if the waitress was saying, Sure, you say this is “for your husband,” but just in case you can’t wait until you get home to eat it, here’s a fork.

Pig.

I didn’t know whether to be offended or grateful! The truth I had to acknowledge was, that woman knew me and my tendencies whether I liked it or not!

By the grace of God, the pie made it home, to Brandon, without a bite missing.

Small miracle.

They say kids don’t remember their favorite day of television, and while that may only partially be true for Grace who quasi-enjoyed hiking in the heat, I think she enjoyed our day together. I had fun and loved Balcones. I will definitely come back with Brandon. Texas doesn’t have very many national refuges compared to other states, and it’s neat to have one in Austin’s backdoor. But unfortunately they don’t allow dogs, so Trooper will have to stay home, on his throne, barking at squirrels.

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Not bad for a Monday!

Plan Your Visit:

  • Blue Bonnet Cafe website: here
  • Note: Blue Bonnet Cafe only accepts cash or check
  • Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge Site: here
  • Warbler Vista Map
  • Doeskin Ranch Map
  • Pro tip: Use the restroom at the visitor center because the other ones aren’t as nice.
  • Side note: You can hunt on the refuge during hunting season. Click here for more information.

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