52 Road Trips

Get Your Nature On! 5 Outdoor Road Trips

Get ready to get sweaty.

Photography by Peter Holley April 30, 2014 Published in the May 2014 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Enchanted Rock State Park

A climb up Enchanted Rock doesn’t actually begin at the base of the awe-inspiring granite batholith. It starts about 20 miles away, at the Old German Bakery & Restaurant in downtown Fredericksburg, where you are advised to load up on a German-style breakfast of pancakes and eggs (carbs and protein, people) before setting off on a trek into a remote corner of the Hill County notoriously devoid of perishables and gas. 

Humans are said to have visited the rock for at least the past 11,000 years. Over the last 500, not surprisingly, Enchanted Rock has racked up a fair number of mystical tales involving everything from Native American spirits to human sacrifices, to Spanish gold and beyond. A close friend from Austin with deep hippie roots claims that after being lost on the rock as a child he was led to safety by two boys in indigenous clothing he now swears were “Comanche spirit guides.”

Part of the site’s attraction, especially for families with young kids, is its accessibility. Thanks to good trails, plenty of traction, and an incline that averages about 30 degrees, even an inexperienced hiker can summit the southern face in under an hour, exploring its fissures and fractures, hidden caves and compartments, and confounding mysteries. 

Those looking for a more demanding challenge are welcome to take an alternate route—there are plenty that provide muscle-crushing, full-body workouts. Enchanted Rock is one of Texas’s premier rock-climbing destinations, in fact, with dozens of routes that range from beginner to death-defying. Most are located on the northwest section of the rock, though a few of the more challenging ones (with intimidating names like Fear of Flying and False Determination) can be found in the surrounding formations. If you’re so inclined, there are also opportunities for spelunking and bouldering. 

However you get to the top, after a day of scaling enchantment, you’ll want to take a load off. For upscale options, head back to Fredericksburg (see the Girl’s Weekend guide), but for continued rusticity, your best bet is the primitive backpack campsites located at nearby Moss Lake and Walnut Springs. The sites are aptly named, offering little more than a clearing in the brush for tents and sleeping bags, and no food or running water, so bring your own (and pack a picnic lunch before heading to Enchanted Rock). Getting to either requires a one- to three-mile hike and the restrictions are many—ash-producing fires are prohibited—but an evening under the Hill Country stars is more than worth it.

Also Consider

The Big Thicket National Preserve is a state treasure. Dating back to the last Ice Age, this 83,000-acre swath of East Texas is one of the most bio-diverse areas in the world. (Home to no fewer than 10 ecosystems, it’s been called “America’s Ark” for its vast array of plants and critters.) Located only 100 miles northeast of Houston, the Big Thicket also offers 40 miles of hiking trails, primitive camping, bird-watching, and boat tours deep into the swampy maze.… Sonora in Southwest Texas is home to the Caverns of Sonora, one of the world’s most beautiful caves. Tours descend 14 winding stories into the earth, where you’ll find a stunning collection of calcite formations, including helictites, those curving formations whose delicate twists and turns seem to defy gravity. (Your best bet for lodging is the Mesa Cabins in nearby Roosevelt.) … Perhaps because it’s only 27 years old, Colorado Bend State Park is often overlooked by road-tripping Texans, yet this 5,300-acre chunk of rugged Hill Country is home to around 150 wild caves, some of them still unexplored. Caving requires a guide and is not for the claustrophobic or risk-averse: expect to crawl, slide, and climb through small spaces, getting wet and dirty along the way.… In addition to being one of the best locations for bird watching in Texas, San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge in Brazoria, just south of Freeport, is a vision of unspoiled Texas, barely changed since Cabeza de Vaca’s ship ran aground on this same stretch of coast in 1528. There’s a curious variety of landscapes crammed into the refuge’s 45,000 acres, including bottomland forest, salt marshes, and freshwater lakes. Car tours, hiking tours, and boating are all popular activities.

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