Hill Country lies in the heart of Texas, both geographically and emotionally. It begins just west of Austin and San Antonio and continues across the Edwards Plateau to the plains of West Texas. In some ways though, Hill Country is an idea as much as it is a place, and everyone seems to define its boundaries a little differently. What is certain is that it is an area that is at once beautiful and rugged, with rocky hills, green valleys, historic villages, and fields of flowers.
By Texas standards, this is a small part of the state. However, Hill Country has a lot to offer visitors.
Austin isn’t actually in Hill Country, but you can see it from there! It’s a perfect gateway for a Hill Country tour. However, it’s also a fun place to spend some time. Noted for its music and food, the city also has some pleasant historic areas, the Texas State Capitol complex, the LBJ Library and Museum, a couple of art museums, the recreational area around Barton Springs, a famous bat colony, and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. There weren’t very many bats when we visited some years ago, but the Capitol was absolutely fabulous and I’m eager to return. It’s worth spending a couple days in Austin on the way to or from Hill Country.
San Antonio sits at the southeast corner of Hill Country, just a short hop from Gruene and New Braunfels. However, like Austin, there are a lot of reasons to spend a few days exploring the city itself. Most famous as the home of the Alamo (which I have somehow never actually visited) and the downtown Riverwalk, San Antonio also offers visitors plenty of live music, a botanical garden, art museums, and historic missions. It’ been a long time since I’ve explored San Antonio, but with friends living there again and the Hotel Havana still awaiting me (I had lunch there with a friend and we promised we’d return to stay for a few night), I know I’ll be back.
Historic Hill Country cities and towns
Now pretty much engulfed by New Braunfels, the historic town of Gruene is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a charming place to spend the afternoon pursuing the shops and restaurants that now fill historic buildings dating back to the late 1800s. Gruene Hall is the oldest continually operating dance hall in Texas; go inside to feel the history or time your visit to take in a show.
Located just outside Fredericksburg, Luckenbach might be a ghost town today were it not for a famous country song written by someone who had never been to the remains of this small settlement. Today this almost-a ghost town is famous for its concerts and hosts live music most days of the week.
Wildflower tours and scenic drives
For an area so famous for its wildflowers, Hill Country has very few areas set aside for visitors to get out and enjoy the flowers. A few wineries are starting to develop gardens, but – unless you are friends with a local rancher – the following are some of the best places to get out and wander amid fields of flowers.
Wildseed Farms (near Fredericksburg) is a working wildflower seed farm and nursery. Visitors have access to flower fields, test gardens, ornamental gardens, a nursery, and a (large) gift shop and cafe.
- Along the garden paths at Wildseed Farms
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (at the southern edge of Austin) is a research center and public garden with acres of wildflowers as well as demonstration gardens, a visitor’s center, classes, and more. The center was founded by the former First Lady and is operated by the University of Texas.
We didn’t get to the Riverside Nature Center (near Kerrville), but this wildflower and native plant sanctuary along the Guadalupe River sounds fabulous. It’s located along a spectacular route, so would make a wonderful road trip.
We didn’t get to the San Antonio Botanical Garden on this trip, but I have vague memories of its beauty from a past visit. This is a relatively new garden, developed in the 1970s in what was once a quarry, and it definitely warrants a return visit next time I am in town.
State Parks and Natural Areas