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Highland Lakes Ranch Retreat

Our first morning in Marble Falls, we woke up to a thunderstorm raging outside the guest house we’d rented on AirBnb. With a 9-month-old baby in tow, camping wasn’t an option, but we’d been aching for a weekend in the wide-open spaces of Central Texas. The tiny home, set on a 100-acre ranch, fit the bill perfectly.

Lightning flickered in the room, and the baby slept peacefully between us as we watched and listened. By sunrise, the rain had moved on, leaving a beautiful day and the smell of fresh, wet earth. We explored the ranch, introducing our son to his first horses, and then shooed away the chickens so we could drive out for our first day of adventures.

Although the town is small, it’s much more than a stop along the road. The Colorado River runs through it, with a dam widening it into Lake Marble Falls, the smallest of the seven Highland Lakes of the Hill Country. Surrounding hills make for prime spots to view the town, with its bustling Main Street, park and lakeside restaurants.

We started off by fueling up at Numinous Coffee Roasters, and judging by the clientele, it was the ideal coffee shop for young, hip families, offering strong cold brew, Topo Chico and egg sandwiches for the adults, and an entire space in the backroom for the kids with plenty of toys.

We then headed out on 288 up to Longhorn Cavern, less than half an hour away, in Burnet. The naturally formed caverns were excavated by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s as part of FDR’s New Deal, but for years before that, the miles-long underground cavern hosted Comanches, Confederate soldiers, and outlaws. It even served as a Prohibition-era speakeasy complete with high-end dining and live bands.

Tours are the only way to see the cavern, and they’re worth it. We learned that Longhorn once played host to Mexican free-tailed bats that have long since deserted their dens, replaced by teeny-tiny female Eastern Pipistrelle bats the tour guide charmingly referred to as “our little girls.” Our kiddo did surprisingly well on the hour-and-a-half tour, taking in the sights mostly from his carrier—no fits! We took turns carrying him, which did leave us with some sore arms.

For lunch, we tried the famous Blue Bonnet Cafe, where there was a line out the door. The couple in front of us had come in from Georgetown to try the legendary meringue and cream pies, while the one behind us told us they’d seen George W. Bush there “multiple times.” The place didn’t disappoint—home-style chicken-fried steak and pot roast were just what we needed post-spelunking.

After an afternoon rinse in our little home’s outdoor shower followed by a snooze, we caught the sunset over dinner and a bottle of wine on the patio at River City Grille. Back at the ranch, our kid stared at the twinkling lights in the trees while we planned the rest of our adventure. 

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Longhorn Cavern

Traveler's Tips

Stay the night

Highland Lakes Ranch Retreat on AirBnb is perfectly located and provides a real Hill Country experience plus all the cozy comforts. $175 per night.

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Other area destinations (but leave baby at home)

Gorgeous Inks Lake State Park offers campsites along the shores of its 830-acre lake, along with a number of great hikes, but the main attraction is the Devil’s Waterhole, where you can jump off pink granite cliffs into the clear green waters.

Stay in one of the four treehouses at the Tree House Resort Hotel in Spicewood, run by Cypress Valley Canopy Tours, and take a zipline tour over the majestic cypress trees.

Some of the best camping and mountain biking in the state can be found at Colorado Bend State Park in Bend, which offers 35 miles of trails. If you’re on foot, try hiking Gorman Falls, a steep climb to a beautiful, 70-foot waterfall. There’s more caves to explore, too.

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