It’s easier to ride a horse than it is to walk a pony. These words of wisdom came from my newly-turned 7-year-old daughter after spending a recent weekend at Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa –– a luxury wilderness retreat sitting on more than 400 tranquil acres fringing the banks of the Lower Colorado just 30 minutes from where we hang our hats in bustling Austin.
Ever since our kids were little, we’ve thought of this resort as a fun and convenient summer staycation, with its winding Crooked River Waterpark featuring a 1,000-foot lazy river, a two-story water slide, shallow pools and splash pads and refreshing poolside cocktails. But just last month, my family returned for the first time in a few years and got to experience a quieter, more peaceful side of the resort, which just completed an extensive multimillion-dollar transformation of its guestrooms and suites.
Spoiler alert: While folks often flock here for summertime fun, the cooler fall and winter months might just be one of the resort’s best-kept secrets.
One of the highlights of our stay was our first-ever family horseback trail ride (our daughter just made the minimum age requirement) at the resort’s on-site Renegade Trailhead, an old-fashioned outpost that offers leisurely guided trail rides through McKinney Roughs Nature Park for riders of all levels ages 6 and older. Saddled up on a beautiful chocolate-colored quarter horse named Kruger, I filed in line in front of my husband and our two boys and behind my daughter, who was riding a gentle horse named Skip. I watched her and Skip’s matching blonde ponytails bounce up and down as we clip-clopped through 3 miles of cool, shady loblolly pine forest trails.
Our boys have been on a couple of trail rides over the years, but just before the ride, I grew nervous about how our daughter would handle the experience. Thankfully, we soon found out that there’s no need for nerves at Renegade Trailhead, which is operated by Dusty and Natalie Wells of T&D Adventure Parks. Before the ride, our kids were fitted into cowboy hat safety helmets as we signed waivers, and once we rode out of the stable area, our 7-year-old’s horse was tied up to an experienced trail guide who patiently gave my daughter tips throughout the ride, reminding her to hold Skip’s reigns, lean back when he marched down a hill and lean forward when he trotted up one.
“We get a lot of people who haven’t ridden a horse before,” says Natalie Wells, who began the business with her husband in 2015 and has been offering trail rides to guests of Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort since 2019. “What we do with our 6- and 7-year-old guests –– and even some adults who are a bit timid to ride a horse –– is to put a lead line on their horse that’s attached to a guide. Lead lines are a lot like training wheels for a horse. By the end of the ride, guests aren’t scared of the big animals anymore. They aren’t pros yet, of course, but now they know what to do when they get on a horse.”
Following our horseback ride at Renegade Trailhead, which also offers pony rides for little ones, expert-led trapshooting classes, and tomahawk and archery adventures, we headed back to meet the resort’s friendly animal mascots. We arranged a private mascot meet-up that began in the resort’s corral, and our kids got some one-on-one time with adorable animals like the Kunekune pigs Maple and Honey, an alpaca duo called Yogi and BooBoo, and the aptly named band of goats: Johnny, Willie, Hank and Waylon.
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A mascot handler let each of our kids lead an animal out of the corral and walk it around the resort’s grounds. Our boys each led an alpaca while our daughter learned that ponies tend to be more interested in snacking on grass than getting their daily steps in. Taking a leashed pony for a leisurely stroll is a much more challenging task than horseback riding, she determined.
Animal experiences ranging from meet and greets with the ponies to goat socials and cowboy and cowgirl photo ops with the resort’s Texas longhorn steers are just some of the daily activities on offer during the winter months. There’s also a slew of other free, family-friendly experiences to choose from, spanning arts and crafts, lawn games, bicycles, tennis courts, fishing at the on-site pond stocked with bass, carp and catfish, nightly s’more’s roasts and family movies on the lawn.
Families can also book more thrilling experiences during their stay, like professionally guided zip line tours that allow you to zoom up to 1,315 feet above the landscape at Zip Lost Pines, or UTV excursion tours winding through McKinney Roughs. The resort is also home to the championship 18-hole Wolfdancer Golf Club and Spa Django, boasting 17 treatment rooms offering everything from massages and body treatments to facials and nail services.
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While my husband and kids headed to the Crooked River Waterpark (the main pool is heated year-round), I checked myself into the spa for my first facial since the pandemic –– a HydroPeptide rejuvenating treatment that left my skin feeling fresh and hydrated for days. Pro-tip: linger at the spa before or after your treatment –– there are relaxation rooms, saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs and an outdoor heated pool reserved exclusively for spa guests.
On our last morning before heading back home, we took a long, meandering 5-mile hike through the adjacent McKinney Roughs Nature Park, trekking along the pine-shaded, sun-dappled trails skirting the river. We listened to chirping birds, spotted black cows taking a morning dip in the green river, and climbed up to a tranquil overlook called Meditation Point. Perched high on the overlook, we relished the brisk morning breezes and bird’s eye view of the beautiful Colorado River, and I couldn’t help but be grateful for the quiet beauty that unfolds less than a half-hour from home and spots like this made for soaking it all in.
If You Go
Hyatt Regency Lost Pines is about 30 minutes east of Austin.
Rest your head in one of the hotel’s recently renovated 434 guestrooms or 56 suites, which are ideal for families with multiple kids. Outfitted with new furniture, art and décor, the revamped guestrooms and suites embody an upscale ranch-style feel with a more modern aesthetic.
Book a horseback ride at the resort’s on-site Renegade Trailhead, an old-fashioned outpost where guests can take horseback rides, learn archery and take expert-led trapshooting classes. Go hiking at the adjacent McKinney Roughs Nature Park, fish at the resort’s on-site pond, get pampered at the luxurious Spa Django, swing your clubs at the world-class Wolfdancer Golf Club, take a dip in the heated pool, meet the friendly animal mascots, and end the day with nightly s’mores and a movie on the lawn.
Eat and Drink:
Shellers Barrelhouse is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, serving casual fare like salads, burgers and tacos. Firewheel Café Restaurant boasts a bountiful breakfast buffet as well as a la carte brunch items like huevos rancheros and eggs Benedict and Southern-inspired dinners. Sip a hand-crafted cocktail at Scribes Club, the resort’s 21-and-up library-style lounge. The resort’s fine dining restaurant, Stories, remains closed, so if you’re craving variety during your stay, you’ll need to venture out to nearby Bastrop, which is home to a handful of noteworthy restaurants.