Those of us who call Austin, Texas home are incredibly fortunate to have both a world-class urban environment as well as the outdoors including the Hill Country just to the West of us.
As we head into the final days of summer and into the fall, I found three awesome destinations in the Texas Hill Country that are each less than an hour and a half away from Austin, Texas.
Pedernales Falls State Park
Earlier this year, a friend and I visited Pedernales Falls State Park in Johnson City, Texas.
He was driving from San Antonio, and I was driving from Austin, and it took each of us about an hour to get to the park entrance.
There was not a long line of cars to get into the park at 10am (admission is $5); however, by the time we left at noon there was a line of at least 20 cars waiting to get in. Once we paid, we received a trail map and decided to drive to the end of the park to see Pedernales Falls.
After about a quarter mile downhill walk down the trail, you come to a beautiful view of the Falls.
Many visitors are out walking around on the rocks or hanging out on the beach-type area next to the Falls.
We spent about two hours walking around and taking tons of pictures. There are restrooms and vending machines down by the trailhead as well as at the visitors center near where you enter the park and pay admission.
Pedernales Falls State Park is a great day trip from Austin or San Antonio but try to arrive before noon if you wish to beat the crowds.
Please note that if you are visiting the park, it is best to check its website here, as the park recently has experienced low water levels and fire restrictions. You can always find up-to-date information on the website and the Pedernales Falls Twitter account @PedernalesFalls.
An up-and-coming Hill country destination lies further north and west of Pedernales Falls in Castell, Texas.
Castell is a small town in the Texas Hill Country, with a population of 72 people as of the last census, that was first settled by German immigrants. Located 18 miles west of Llano and nestled alongside the Llano River, Castell is an ideal spot from which to do day trips to Enchanted Rock, Fredericksburg and other desirable locales in the Hill Country.
One of my friends is a co-owner of El Castell - On the Llano River.
El Castell is a gem of an AirBnB (really more like a boutique cabin hotel) right on the Llano River in Castell, Texas. I drove about an hour and a half from Austin to get to El Castell, and it was an easy, straight shot on TX-71.
As I pulled into this riverfront property, I found that there are four rentable cabins that comprise El Castell: Cabins A, B, C and D, which range from one to two bedrooms each.
Every cabin has its own kitchen, and kayaks and bikes are available for rental using a QR code from the brochure in each unit. Access to the Llano River is about 80 yards downhill, where you can sit by a picnic table as you hear the rushing of the River of a small rapids area.
In the evenings, the sun went down and the temperatures cooled. We sat by the firepit enjoying listening to the crickets chirp and gazed up at a sky full of bright stars (as there was no light pollution at all out in the country).
Alternatively, you can visit the Castell General Store for excellent burgers and live music outdoors on the weekends.
Overall, be sure to check out the town of Castell, which is a true Hill Country diamond in the rough (probably like Fredericksburg was 30 years ago or perhaps Luckenbach is now), and the surrounding towns of Llano and Mason. If you need a break from urban life for some Texas Hill Country relaxation, you won’t be disappointed.
Floating the Comal River in New Braunfels
If you went to college in Central Texas, you are probably well aware of the river floats in San Marcos and New Braunfels, Texas.
This summer, I met friends down on the Comal River near Landa Park in New Braunfels. The Comal River is a beautiful spring-fed river with a water temperature in the 70s, so floating the river is an incredibly refreshing activity to do on a 100-degree day.
We met at Corner Floats, one of the many establishments that provides floats for rent, parking and a shuttle to and from the river.
We decided to do multiple floats down the river (each trip takes about two to three hours) for a price of $32 per person. You can find prices here.
The float begins at Landa Park and winds you past several chutes (which are like mini rapids), the Schlitterbahn Waterpark, restaurants and river houses set in a lush Hill Country environment.
Many floaters bring coolers, music and other river accoutrements to add to the outdoor ambiance. One person even brought a bong.
I would recommend bringing a hat, sunscreen, water shoes and whatever you want to drink (alcohol is allowed on the Comal River; however, not in glass containers).
On the way back to Austin, of course I hit the Buc-ees on I-35 near the Canyon Lake exit, which happens to be the largest Buc-ees in the system.
I hope you are enjoying your summer.
Season 2 of the Social Musings by Austin podcast begins next month, in September, and be sure to subscribe here so that you don't miss that great season I have planned for you.
If you happened to miss any of Season 1, you can always listen to past episodes on Apple Podcasts and now on Substack.
Finally, many of you have asked for me to post more music videos, so here is one of me performing Pearl Jam's classic 90s ballad, "Black."