If you are looking for a getaway spot offering scenic nature hikes, relaxing river cruises, impressive vineyards, unique accommodations, and fine food, consider a trip to the Highland Hills of Burnet County, Texas.
By Dr. Mel Borins, Travel Writer & Physician
Texas may not be the first destination that you think of when planning a trip to the Southern States, but it has a lot to offer and is a bit more economical than Florida or California. Many travelers visit the big cities of Dallas, Houston, and Austin, but the Highland Lakes Region of Burnet County – about an hour Northwest of Austin – is a fairly undiscovered destination. If you want a quiet getaway, want to explore nature, are interested in water activities or just want good food and wine, consider taking a trip to the delightful Highland Lakes Region in Burnet County, Texas.
Lake Buchanan, Lake LBJ, and Inks Lake are the trio of lakes that define this area, and Burnet and Marble Falls are the towns that make up the region. I flew into Austin International Airport and took a rental car an hour and a half to Burnet County.
I booked into a fancy log cabin at Log Country Cove, which has 36 rental homes overlooking Lake Lyndon B. Johnson. Log Country Cove is great for those wanting to swim, fish, boat or walk the trails surrounding the property. You can rent a cabin or a large home and do your own cooking and housekeeping. Most people buy their supplies at the busy town of Marble Falls or eat in the excellent restaurants in town.
Take a Cruise along the Colorado River
The first thing I did was take a two-hour boat cruise with Vanishing Texas Cruises. I got to enjoy beautiful scenic views of Lake Buchanan and the Colorado River with impressive sheer cliffs and beautiful waterfalls and also got an excellent guided tour of the region. The cormorants, blue herons, and pelicans were plentiful and wonderful to look at. Unfortunately, the bald eagles which come here from the West during the winter months were hiding and I did not get a chance to see one.
The Colorado River canyons are one of the last sanctuaries for Texas Wildlife. There are 54 species of mammals, 68 species of reptiles, and 18 species of birds. The cliffs and hills are covered by 152 species of flowering plants and shrubs and oak, pecan, sycamore, ash, elm, and willow trees. If you’re lucky enough to get there in the spring, the place goes wild – that is, wild with an amazing array of wildflowers. You will find that Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush cover this part of Texas Hill Country.
The Texas Hill Country is also home to one of the largest populations of white-tailed deer in the world. The deer roam around and into the community and you have to often stop your car to allow for the deer to cross the road.
Stargazing at the Canyon of the Eagles Resort in the Texas Hill Country
The Canyon of the Eagles Eco-Lodge Resort, which has 62 lakefront rooms in cottages as well as campsites, is one of the best locations in central Texas for star-gazing because of minimal light pollution in the region. Jim Sheets – the resident astrologer – guided us through the sky. He was inspiring with his love of astronomy, and his description of the universe and galaxy was daunting. Two telescopes, a computerized 25-inch aperture, Truss-Dobsonian reflector, and 12.5-inch Newtonian reflector, gave me special views of the bright planets, nebulas, and distant galaxies. Mars, Venus, and Saturn were easy to spot, and learning about the Sun, black holes, shooting stars, comets, and the vast Milky Way so many light years away was fascinating and made me feel tiny in comparison to the vastness of the universe. Texas is known as the “Lone Star” State – but after visiting the Canyon of the Eagles, I think you’ll agree that a better name would be the “Infinite Stars” State!
Also at Canyon of the Eagles are 14 miles of designated hiking trails. Limestone outcroppings, oak trees, and multiple biological zones of native plants are all part of the Burnet County’s State Park. I took a one-mile guided walk with master naturalist Robert Lindsey who pointed out the various cacti, Texas plants, and trees. He was extremely knowledgeable about wildlife and very entertaining. The walk was pleasant if it had not been for the torrential downpour which soaked my shoes and pants and made me appreciate the sunny day which followed.
From Wine Ignoramus to Wine Connoisseur
I must declare I am a wine ignoramus. When my friends discuss their wine preferences and appreciations I fade into the woodwork and really never understand what it is all about. I can enjoy a $7 bottle of wine just as easily as a $150 bottle of a bottle of a rare vintage famous from a renowned vinyard in Bordeaux, France. That all changed after experiencing the tour and tasting at Perissos Vineyard and Winery.
It seems that wine production is an up-and-coming industry in Texas and the number of small independent wine growers is expanding every year. The Perissos Vineyard has 16 acres of vines and 13 different grape varieties. All their wines are made from Texas-grown grapes. I had no idea about soil composition, temperature variations, natural wood kegs, different kinds of grapes, and what makes a special wine until I listened to Jeremy Wilson – the Sommelier – with his excited, turned on educational talk about the Texas wine industry. I felt in awe about his enchantment with the variety of grapes and how the owner, Seth, had built the business from scratch. I tasted some seven different varieties of wines and by the end could (almost) smell and taste the differences in aromas and palates of the wines.
If you are traveling with children, an excursion to Sweet Berry Farm would be in order. There is a maze game, a beautiful flower garden, and plentiful butterflies. In the spring from mid-March to late May you get to pick strawberries. In May you can pick your own blackberries and in the autumn from late September to early November the children can do face painting, paint pumpkins, and play other games. Being up close and personal with the farm’s friendly goats was also lots of fun.
Fine Dining in Highland Hills, Texas
Throughout the Highland Hills there were fine restaurants with home cooked food that was reasonably priced and of excellent quality. I highly recommend eating at Mama’s Home Cooking and Highlander House of Buffet & Steakhouse located on Buchanan Drive in the town of Burnet, and the Trailblazer Grille, also in Burnet. The Overlook Restaurant located at Canyon of the Eagles eco-lodge resort also has fine food and a great view of Lake Buchanan.
The town of Burnet was established with the construction of Fort Croghan in 1849 as a frontier outpost. You can tour the Museum and walk around the boutique shops and galleries in this town of about 6,000 residents. Farming and ranching have always played large roles in the life and economy of Burnet, but tourism is becoming more prevalent.
If you are looking for a getaway spot that offers unique dining and lodging options, stunning parks, nature preserves, and hidden treasures – such as extraordinary caverns carved by running water – consider a trip to the Highland Hills of Burnet County, Texas. The temperature is mild, the people are friendly, and the area is relatively undiscovered. The southwest has much to offer the curious traveler, and you’d be wise add this region to your list.
Dr. Mel Borins is a travel writer and family physician. He is the author of the books Go Away Just for the Health of It, An Apple a Day: A Holistic Health Primer, and A Doctor’s Guide to Alternative Medicine: What Works, What Doesn’t and Why. www.melborinscreative.com.
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