Outdoor Activities to Put on Your 2021 Texas Hill Country Itinerary

Social distancing is easy – and fun – in the Texas Hill Country. The region’s scenic vistas combine rustic charm with sophisticated appeal, making it unique in our vast state.

Since we are avoiding indoor events due to the ongoing pandemic, outdoor activities are more important than ever. Fortunately, the scenic landscapes of the Texas Hill Country are full of places to explore. And there is no better time than now, as the end of our oppressive summer days is in sight and we are starting to relax into cooler fall temperatures. On the list of outdoor things to do is visiting historic sites, marveling at natural wonders, and snorkeling in cool springs.

Sip Texas-made wine alongside vines at a Hill Country vineyard.

Photos courtesy of Messina Hof

Taste a flight of made-in-Texas wine at a Hill Country vineyard

Bluebonnets aren’t the only natural beauties that brighten up the Texas fields. Vines cover an area of ​​central Texas, generating enough Texas-made wine to supply more than 50 separate wineries across the Hill Country. One of the largest is the famous Messina Hof vineyard, which now has four sites. Fans of Texan terroir have the choice between cellars: rustic barns, mills, Mediterranean-style villa and even an art gallery tasting room. Most of these cellars have outdoor lounges for sipping in the fresh air, among the grape fields. During typical seasons, the region also hosts wine-focused events and food festivals. Some accommodations offer packages that include wine tours and tasting information.

Tubing is a summer staple in the Texas Hill Country.

Tubing is a summer staple in the Texas Hill Country.

Photo: Tube House

Guadalupe River Tube Descent

There is perhaps no better way to savor the hot Texas summer months than to float leisurely on a cool river. Tube season draws summer tourists to New Braunfels, home to the historic Gruene Hall, where the Comal and Guadalupe rivers welcome thousands of swimmers each summer. Before you take a trip to central Texas, you’ll want to prepare and plan for your long, sunny day. A few tips: Stay hydrated by putting water in your floating cooler (beer doesn’t count); do not take glass containers or polystyrene coolers; wrap rubber bands to keep your friends’ tubes and belongings together.

A fine and tasty view of The Salt Lick's iconic pit.

A fine and tasty view of The Salt Lick’s iconic pit.

Photo: Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Devour a nationally renowned outdoor barbecue


Dining out takes on a whole new meaning when you’re enveloped in the smoke that cooked the ribs on your plate. Grab a picnic table and try the famous Franklin’s Barbecue in Austin and Salt to lick in Driftwood, Texas (and another in Round Rock). Embark on a barbecue tour that includes legends of central Texas: Kreuz market, Black’s Barbecue and Smitty Market to Lockhart; Opie’s barbecue in Spicewood, Texas; and Payne’s Bar-BQ Shak in Burnet, Texas; Alice’s restaurant To Distillation of Treated Oak in Dripping Springs, Texas. For a top-notch Instagram photoshoot, you’ll want to visit the aforementioned Salt Lick’s iconic barbecue pit, known for its large display of smoked meats. Plan to fill your barbecue bucket list on multiple trips, as each one is chock-full of artery-clogging delicacies.

Get in touch with your inner cowboy.

Get in touch with your inner cowboy.

Photo: Dixie Dude Ranch

Learn how to be a cowboy on a ranch in bandera, texas

Indulge in Texan culture in the state’s “Cowboy Capital of the World”. Bandera draws people in with its rugged terrain, cool swimming spots, and ranches. The best known is Dixie Dude Ranch, where your days begin with breakfasts by the campfire and end with stargazing on the beach. Families can take horseback riding lessons, enjoy hay rides, and even hunt for fossilized arrowheads. Or consult the Maya dude ranch, where weekday activities include festive hoeing sessions, barbecues, and story time, where you’ll hear about legendary cowgirls, buried gold, and other Texan folklore. Jump in the saddle at Twin Elm Guest Ranch, where you can cool off with a tubing on the Medina River. Sadly, the once popular Silver Spur Ranch has closed for good due to the pandemic.

Explore the history of Texas on foot.

Explore the history of Texas on foot.

Photo: Travis Witt, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Learn the history of Texas on a Spanish Missions tour

While the Alamo is San Antonio’s most famous historic site, the outskirts of the city are home to lesser-known Spanish colonial missions that date back to the mid-1700s. Mission San José is one of the most recognizable structures. It was restored in the 1930s and celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2020. Mission Espada and Mission Concepción were moved from east Texas to San Antonio in the 1700s and both served Coahuiltica groups, Native American populations . The missions are surrounded by wooded trails and streams, some of which still feature original irrigation systems that demonstrate the impressive engineering skills of the natives.

A majestic natural wonder.

A majestic natural wonder.

Photo: Texas Parks and Wildlife

Hike to the wonder of the pink stone, some say it has “magical properties”

Hiking the Hill Country is one of the best ways to appreciate the dynamic terrain of the area. One of the fascinating rural wonders to explore on foot is the 425-foot-high pink granite mound known as Enchanted Rock. Settled in its eponymous park, Native Americans and Spanish settlers attributed mystical properties to the natural dome. This is probably due to its curious hue and the crackling sounds it made when temperatures changed (causing the granite to contract). Once you’ve admired the unique rock formation, continue your exploration through 11 miles of hiking trails. Keep in mind that most trails close half an hour after sunset, with the exception of the Loop Trail. Charge your phone in advance so that you can use the Interactive trail map provided by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

The blue hats brighten up a spring road trip.

The blue hats brighten up a spring road trip.

Photo: Texas Parks and Wildlife

Sit among the bluebonnets of Texas Hill Country

Prepare to pose for selfies from March until the end of April, when the fields of central Texas transform into a vibrant expanse of bluebonnets. Since the 1930s, the Texas Highway Department has planted bluebonnet seeds along national highways. The tradition is generally associated with the first lady Claudia Johnson, better known as the “Lady Bird”. You can take a photo among the flowers at several parks in and around Austin. One hour from this town, Marble Falls embraces the floral theme by naming a restaurant after the flower and offering a blue beanie card which guides visitors to flowering hot spots.

Explore the deep water hole which contains underwater caves.

Explore the deep water hole which contains underwater caves.

Photo: Frank M./Yelp

Cool off at Jacob’s Well and Blue Hole Regional Park in Wimberley

Wimberley, in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, has two famous freshwater treasures that attract avid swimmers on hot summer days: Jacob’s Well and the Blue Hole. The first is a fresh natural spring fed by the Trinity Aquifer. It is known for its 140-foot depth and extensive network of underground caves. The latter is a swimming area shaded by a lush forest environment. In 2005, municipal authorities raised funds to save the natural site from residential developers. Thanks to these efforts, families can dive into the cool water of the park’s iconic rope swings. Please note: you will need to make a reservation to use both areas, so plan ahead.

The architecture tells the story of Fredericksburg.

The architecture tells the story of Fredericksburg.

Photo: Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Take a tour of Fredericksburg’s historic district

This beloved Texas Hill Country town, founded in 1846, is best known for its German heritage, picturesque vineyards and diverse architecture. Stop at Fredericksburg Tourist Information Center for a map that will guide you through the expanse of historic structures that include everything from log cabins to limestone cabins and fachwerk-style structures that commemorate its German roots. The original small houses – the Sunday Houses – were built by the first settlers who worked on their farms during the week, but traveled to town for Sunday church services and other weekend gatherings. In addition to its vibrant architecture, Fredericksburg also has excellent shopping, dining, and museums, including the popular National Pacific War Museum.

The chicest way to camp.

The chicest way to camp.

Photos courtesy of Collective Retreats

Enjoy the outdoors from a luxury glamping tent

Want to enjoy the best outdoor activities in Texas Hill Country but refuse to sacrifice air conditioning? Go for a weekend of glamping, where camping meets stylish tents, electricity, indoor plumbing and 1,500 thread count linens. Some companies, like Collective retreats, take the concept a step further by offering upscale accommodations – think chandeliers – that come with a multi-course farm-to-table meal. For glampers looking for a social setting, check out some of the state’s glamping resorts, where other travelers can have access to playgrounds, swimming pools, and even mini-golf.

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