Pack your swimsuit and cowboy boots when you head to Hunt –– you’ll need them for the river and the rodeo when you visit this idyllic slice of Texas Hill Country west of Kerrville.
I made the 115-mile trip from Austin to the area, where two forks of the Guadalupe River meet in a mashup of towering cypress trees and cool, blue-green water. A dozen or so summer camps have operated along the banks of the river for generations, and visitors still come to dangle their toes in the water, stay in cozy cottages, and go to ￼Crider’s Rodeo and Dancehall.
Where to stay in Hunt
I booked a room at the River Inn Resort and Conference Center, which is perched on a hill above a dammed-up stretch of the South Fork of the Guadalupe River.
Don’t expect anything fancy. The lodge began as housing for employees at HemisFair, the World’s Fair held in San Antonio in 1968. After the fair ended, crews relocated the buildings here and eventually added a second story. Rooms are equipped with kitchenettes, and most folks bring groceries and cook their own meals. The outdoor grills got a workout during our stay.
I bumped into a group of about 60 relatives who have been gathering here for a long weekend for 37 consecutive years.
“It’s a little gem on the Guadalupe that a lot of people don’t know about,” Lynda Boatright told me.
I also bumped into a family from my neighborhood in Austin, who’d come to use it as a home base for exploring the surrounding area.
Guests can use the lodge’s kayaks and canoes to paddle upstream, or they can ride a cement flume that hugs the side of a dam that dates to the 1940s. The old-school water slide spits out swimmers into a waist-high, emerald-colored stretch of river.
We spent some time scrambling onto an inflatable unicorn the size of a dump truck that was tethered to shore. Afterward we swam out to a swim platform bobbing in deeper water.
In a word, bliss.
Off to the rodeo
If it’s Saturday night in Hunt, you better tug on your boots and hat. It’s time for the weekly summer rodeo at Crider’s Rodeo and Dancehall.
The event got its start in 1925, when the first rodeo was staged as a fund-raiser for the PTA at the Hunt School. People like it so much they turned it into a summertime tradition.
Once you’ve passed under the wooden “It’s Rodeo Time” sign and found your seat in the stands, you can focus on the action, which begins promptly at 8 p.m. The two-hour show starts when a cowboy bearing an American flag circles the arena at a gallop. I could barely watch the bull-riding, for fear someone might get stomped. But I marveled at the skill of the cowboys and cowgirls who lassoed calves from atop their horses at full tilt boogie pace. Other highlights? Watching pint-sized athletes cling to stampeding sheep during the mutton wrestling and rooting for cowgirls racing the clock in barrel racing.
When the dust settles in the arena, everyone packs up and walks across the gravel parking lot to the adjoining outdoor dance hall. I caught a show by Billie Jo Jones, an up-and-coming country artist who had the crowd spinning and twirling under the starlight.
A visit to the Hunt Store
Plan a stop at the Hunt Store, which is more of a community meeting point than just a place to buy a few grocery staples.
Locals gather for coffee and to shoot the bull each morning. Teen–agers staying at nearby summer camps also make forays to the creaky wooden building to stock up on candy.
My husband and I ordered cheeseburgers at the Hunt Rock Café in the back and settled onto a table made of a huge slab of cypress. The restaurant is open for lunch Monday through Saturday, and dinner on Wednesday (pizza night), Friday and Saturday. (Call first to make sure they’re open.)
The store sells beer, soda, wine, t-shirts, ice, fishing gear, and food basics. And don’t forget to say hi to Bucky the Beaver, a taxidermied critter with a sunflower tucked behind its ear.
Before you leave town, detour over to nearby Ingram. There you can romp through the slightly-smaller-than-the-original version of Stonehenge on the grounds of the Hill Country Arts Foundation.
Al Shepperd and his neighbor Doug Hill built the ring of rocks in nine months in 1990. It stands 90 percent as tall and 60 percent as wide as the original prehistoric monument which rises from the blustery plains of the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England.
Shepperd also built two giant heads that resemble the carvings on Easter Island.
All of it was moved to the site in 2010. Today visitors can roam the grounds for free. Tap those Cadillac-sized slabs of rock or do like I did and weave your way among them, ala Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music.” Either way, you’ll want to snap a photo, if only to confuse your friends on social media.
The Arts Foundations also hosts summer theater productions. This year’s lineup includes “The Last Round Up of the Guacamole Queens” July 14-29 , and “The 39 Steps” Aug. 18-Sept. 3. Tickets are $14 for ages 12 and under and $25 for adults. Purchase them here.
One more place to stop
One more bit of advice: If you find yourself in Ingram on the way out of town, beeline it to the Hunter House for home-style food. We dropped by for lunch and ordered the daily lunch special – mixed fajitas. Our server let us know portions are huge, and one platter fed both me and my husband.
If You Go
It takes about two hours and 15 minutes to drive from Austin to Hunt, Texas.
Stay at the River Inn Resort and Conference Center, located on a dammed stretch of the Guadalupe River.
Don’t miss Boot Fence, where dozens of cowboy boots are stuck upside down on fence posts on both sides of Highway 39 a few miles west of Hunt.