When we headed west on FM 1431 from Austin one lazy Sunday afternoon not too long ago, we weren’t intending to go to Marble Falls—we had another destination in mind—but somehow we managed to end up in the delightful Hill Country town, which sits right on the edge of Lake Marble Falls. Our impromptu excursion turned out to be a pleasant day of exploring.
In 1854, it was General Adam Johnson, a native of Kentucky, who was doing the exploring in Texas. He was so taken with the region that he decided to make his home in the Hill Country area where he had seen a waterfall that cascaded over a 22-foot ledge of pink marble. Johnson returned to Kentucky for the Civil War, but he never forgot his Texas dream. He officially founded Marble Falls in 1887.
Today, the town’s namesake is underneath Lake Marble Falls, which was created by damming the Colorado River in 1951. Lake Marble Falls, part of the Highland Lakes chain, lies between Lake LBJ to the north and Lake Travis to the south. The proximity to so many lakes (there are six lakes in the chain) and to the state’s capital is precisely why so many tourists flock to this area, which has experienced a building boom in recent years (think the new Horseshoe Bay Resort Marriott). In addition to Horseshoe Bay, a luxury resort that peeked in popularity in the late seventies and early eighties and is making a comeback, there’s Sunset Point on Lake LBJ, which offers an RV park and cabins for rent as well as a swimming area, a fishing area, and a boat ramp for day use. And if you don’t have your own boat or personal watercraft, you can rent (or buy) one at the Lake LBJ Yacht Club and Marina, where you’ll also find a water park for the kids (and burger shack) as well as luxury cabins for rent.
But it wasn’t the lake that first drew us in, it was the small sign for Flat Creek Estate vineyard and winery, just east of town. The land for this beautiful eighteen-acre vineyard and winery was acquired in 1998 by Rick and Madelyn Naber. The first vines were planted on the estate in 2000, and the winery now produces about 5,500 cases of wine per year.
The tasting room is open Tuesday through Sunday, and for a $5 fee, visitors can sample nine of Flat Creek Estate’s wines, including a rosé, a Super Texan (modeled after the “Super Tuscan” wine), a cabernet sauvignon, and a deliciously sweet moscato. If you’d like to expand your palate to include some of Flat Creek’s reserve wines, glasses are available for $5 or $7 each. Bottles and cases of each of the wines are available for purchase at the tasting or to ship across Texas. Out-of-state shipping depends on individual state rules.
The estate itself spans nearly 80 acres, and guests are encouraged to wander around the grounds and explore the picturesque property. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at one of Flat Creek’s picnic tables. In addition to the winery, a new conference center opened on the property with seating for up to one hundred guests, a catering kitchen, and a showcase wine bar. There is also the Vintner’s Quarters, which houses up to six guests for overnight stays.
After our taste of Flat Creek Estate’s wines, we headed to downtown Marble Falls for a late lunch at the River City Grill, which overlooks Lake Marble Falls. The quaint downtown area features several restaurants, some that offer water views, and the typical small-town array of antiques shops and boutiques. We were too hungry to do any serious shopping, so we got settled on the patio at River City Grill and enjoyed watching water sports while we ate our meal.
If water sports aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other outdoor activities to do. We chose to finish our afternoon with a hike at the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. The park is open to the public from sunrise to sunset every day and features foot trails that wind through the habitat of the golden-cheeked warbler, which can be seen from March through July. If you choose to hike the trail system, which runs approximately two miles, make sure to bring plenty of water and wear good hiking shoes. On hot days it is still extremely warm, even in the shade of the foliage, and the trail is narrow and steep in some places in order to disturb as little of the habitat as possible. At the top of the Warbler Vista trail system is the sunset observation deck—the fabulous view of the Hill Country and the Colorado River below was the perfect ending to our outing.