The Texas Hill Country tends to show off in the spring. This time of year, the Hill Country is canvased with colorful wildflowers, budding trees perfume near-constant breezes, and the sunny but not-yet-sweltering weather beckons you to linger a little longer outdoors. Spring is my favorite season to take a day trip to explore some of the Hill Country gems just outside of the city. Below are six Hill Country hot spots we’ve explored in recent weeks –– and they’re all within and an hour and a half from Austin, making it doable to stop and play in more than one destination in a day.
If you haven’t set foot in Fredericksburg –– or it’s been a while –– it’s time to swirl and sip a few tastings in this heavenly slice of Hill Country where tidy rows of grapevine meet fields cloaked in a rainbow of wildflowers this time of year. Wine production in this German town dates back to the original settlers, who used the native mustang grape to produce wine, but it goes without saying that a lot has changed since then and there are plenty of wineries and vineyards worth raising a glass to these days. A few of our favorites include Augusta Vin and Kalasi Cellars, and if we’re in the mood for bubbly, Heath Sparkling Wines.
We prefer to visit Fredericksburg midweek when the crowds are sparse, you don’t always need restaurant or tasting reservations in advance, and you can easily turn your day trip into an overnight stay because many lodging options allow one-night reservations rather than the two-night minimum often required on weekends. Fredericksburg brims with countless places to stay, but we keep returning to The Trueheart Hotel, which sits just one block from Main Street in the heart of downtown. The charming boutique hotel boasts suites and cottages every bit as unique as their names (Meadowlark, Cactus Wren, and Rose Finch, to name a few) so you never feel like you’re staying in the same place, but you always get to sleep in a swoon-worthy space outfitted with bright Texas-inspired interiors, the most comfortable beds and dreamy bathrooms (think claw foot tubs and outdoor showers). Plus, you’re just steps away from all of the surrounding shops and restaurants fringing Main Street. On our whirlwind trip in early April, we brunched at Woerner Warehouse & Café housed in the iconic Woerner Feed Store, enjoyed a fabulous lunch at Vaudeville (get the power bowl, trust me) and shopped at fun boutiques like BuddyLove Fredericksburg and Native. We were blown away by an amazing dinner at Sage Restaurant and Lounge just around the corner where highlights included the seared scallops and Scottish salmon atop creamed corn, Spanish chorizo and broccolini, and a Uvalde-raised tenderloin with black truffle fries and Turtle Creek mushrooms. On the way home, stop to smell the wildflowers at Wildseed Farms –– it’s the nation’s largest working wildflower farm and spring is the most showstopping time of year to soak in colorful sights of bluebonnets, poppies and more.
It’s worth saying hi to Hye, an unincorporated community in Blanco County with a population of around 150. The pint-sized Hill Country haven is steeped in history and serves as home to a handful of impressive wineries and distilleries, making it deserving of a day trip in itself, but we took a quick detour here on our way to Fredericksburg. If you’re a bourbon fan, make a beeline to Garrison Brothers Distillery, the first bourbon distillery outside of Kentucky. Hye is also home to one of my favorite vineyards in the Hill Country –– William Chris Vineyards, which was founded by winemakers William “Bill” Blackmon and Chris Brundrett in 2008 and makes wine using only Texas-grown grapes from farms located in Texas’ American Viticultural Areas. We took a seat inside the warm timber, lofty, light-filled contemporary space where tasting room ambassador Lisa Flick shared her knowledge behind the incredible wines she poured, from a light yet surprisingly smoky Mourvèdre to a unique blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec called Enchanté which we loved so much that we purchased a few bottles to take back home.
Spend a sunny spring day surrounded by the crystal-clear, jade-tinged water that cascades over and pools around creamy layers of ancient limestone at Pedernales Falls State Park, and you’ll return happier and calmer than you left. It’s a fact I’ve personally proven on numerous occasions, including our most recent trip just a few weeks ago when I piled my family and dog into a giant, powerful new Hummer EV I was given the opportunity to test drive for a week and headed out to this tranquil 5,200-plus acre state park. Just 30 miles west of Austin, Pedernales Falls seemed ideal for a day trip –– close enough not to worry about charging the Hummer EV’s batteries and peaceful enough to recharge all of ours.
Like most places in the Hill Country, Pedernales Falls State Park is a stunner in the springtime and the perfect place to spend a day picnicking, hiking, and splashing in nature. After our riverside picnic, we explored a few of the offshoot trails weaving around the dramatic rock scenery of Pedernales Falls before soaking in one of the most spectacular views in the Hill Country along the short but rugged Twin Falls Trail. If you’re up for a longer hike and don’t mind getting your feet wet, trek the 5.5-mile scenic loop or Wolf Mountain Loop for gorgeous vistas and cool springs and creeks. Don’t forget to reserve a day pass before you go and pack your camera to capture wildflowers in all of their springtime glory.
Dripping Springs, conveniently located halfway between Austin and Pedernales Falls State Park, brims with foodie-worthy restaurants, craft breweries and distilleries, and a plethora of natural wonders that combine for a dreamy day trip. The quaint, 5,500-population has always provided a relaxing escape from the city –– and in more recent years, has become a playground “dripping” with fun for everyone whether they come for the scenic views or to sip craft brews. We cruised past the Subway’s and Chick-Fil-A’s on our way out to Pedernales Falls State Park and instead stopped for fuel at Rolling In Thyme and Dough’s sister drive-through location to pick up delicious, freshly baked sandwiches. We ended our day in Dripping Springs, too, playing mini golf at Dreamland and sipping craft cocktails while eating barbecue beneath the shade of the 150 year old live oaks at Treaty Oak Distilling.
In my opinion, the best way to start a spring day in the Hill Country is at Enchanted Rock, the second-largest granite batholith in the nation. Reaching the summit of this ancient pink dome requires a steep 425-foot hike — an effort often compared to climbing the stairs of a 40-story building — but the rugged beauty and breathtaking views that await are worth every step it takes to get there. An almost mystical feeling overwhelms you when gazing out the endless Hill Country landscape from the top of Enchanted Rock, accessed via the steep one-way Summit Trail. But if you want to veer away from the crowds and take paths less traveled, venture off to explore the 4.6-mile Loop Trail around the perimeter of the park and Echo Canyon Trail, where you can rest in the shade of gigantic boulders. Make sure to reserve a day pass before you go.
Find me a better place in the entire Lone Star State to experience true Hill Country heaven than laid-back Luckenbach, and I’ll meet you there and buy you a beer. Sitting beneath the shade of the majestic 500-year-old oak trees rising from this tiny Hill Country hamlet on an easy, breezy spring afternoon and listening to the soothing sounds of guitars while sipping something cold, you can’t help but channel that carefree vibe immortalized in the world-famous tune Luckenbach Texas (Back to the Basics of Love) released by Waylon Jennings in 1977. Those iconic lyrics –– “Out in Luckenbach, Texas ain’t nobody feelin’ no pain” –– might have put little Luckenbach on the big world map years ago, but Luckenbach has managed to hold tight to its timeless, middle-of-nowhere charm. Whether you’re a biker or a city slicker, a parent or a kid, a tourist or a local, everybody is somebody out here looking to unwind far away from the city lights and the rest of the world’s stresses.
We landed in Luckenbach before heading back to Austin one evening earlier this month and I couldn’t have dreamed up a better finale to our day in the Hill Country than by two-stepping to live country music, feeling the spring breezes blowing through the old wooden dance hall, and watching chickens peck the ground as the sun went down.
If You Go
All six destinations are between 30 minutes and 1.5 hours from Austin. Refuel in Dripping Springs after a day of hiking at Pedernales Falls State Park. Visit Hye on the way into Fredericksburg and stop at Luckenbach on the way back home. Get the most scenic workout in the Hill Country by hiking the dome at Enchanted Rock, just 20 minutes from Fredericksburg.
Eat & Drink:
In Fredericksburg, brunch at Hill and Vine or Woerner Warehouse & Café, lunch at Vaudeville, enjoy pre-dinner drinks at Perspective Cellars before dining at Sage Restaurant and Lounge. Sip wine at must-visit vineyards including William Chris Vineyards in Hye and Augusta Vin and Kalasi Cellars in Fredericksburg.
Head to Luckenbach for the 2nd Annual Luckenbach Bluegrass Festival on April 22, or drive out to Dripping Springs for the town’s annual Founder’s Day Festival April 28-30.