I’m getting antsy for that glorious—and rapidly approaching—stretch in the middle of March when it seems wrong not to take a brief hiatus from life and hit the road. That’s right: another spring break is nearly upon us, and while you could go to Mexico, there’s no reason to cross state lines just to go a little wild, whether you’re looking to decompress at a beachside bar or commune with nature. Here, a handful of ideas to help you nail down the particulars of your spring sabbatical.
1. The other Padre.
Why: Let the college kids have South Padre. You’ll be avoiding the crowds and sleeping under the stars on the National Seashore.
Read up: “Bright Skies, Big Shell” by David Courtney
The down-island isolation is truly amazing—not a soul in sight in any direction and just a scant few fishermen traveling by. After a stunning sunset dinner with the requisite s’mores, my daughter, all aglow in campfire light and her six-year-old’s excitement, asked with total sincerity whether it was all just a dream.
(See also: “15 Best Spots on the Coast: South Beach,” by Dan Oko)
2. The brisk Rio Frio.
Why: The cypress-lined waterway squiggles through (and near) a few of the state’s most charming towns (Concan, Rio Frio, Leakey, Utopia, Vanderpool), not to mention Garner State Park, making it ideal for lazy tubing excursions, long hikes, and meandering drives.
Read up: “Hello to a River,” by Katy Vine
We ate our breakfast down at the riverbank, where smooth oval rocks hug the water on both sides, and sipped hot coffee while preparing to take a dip in the ice-cold, crystal-clear water. Tubing is the way to see the landscape, no question, especially on a 98-degree day. Through the trees that grow in and around the river, you can take in a panoramic view of the hills surrounding the water.
(See also: “The Hill Country Drive,” by Courtney Bond)
3. Big Bend with the whole family in tow.
Why: Yes, the national park will be more crowded than usual, but with more than 800,000 acres to explore—and a number of kid-friendly paths—you’ll have plenty of elbow room to bask in its basins, caves, and hot springs.
Read up: “Pretty Little Heaven” by Matt Bondurant
We stop at a sign marked “Fossil Bone Exhibit,” and our son and daughter sprint up a path and mount a platform of red rock, spreading their arms and spinning in circles, taking in the immensity of the space around us, the vast martian landscape lit afire, the Chisos Mountains a bronze Stonehenge assembled by titans. I already regret all the time I’ve spent not being here.
(See also: our latest blowout guide to Big Bend)
4. East Texas’s otherworldly Caddo Lake.
Why: With bald cypress trees, aquatic vegetation galore, and more than a few gators, this eerily beautiful body of water is best traversed via steamboat or pontoon, and is advantageously close to Jefferson, a small town that’s big on B&Bs, antiques, and bayou excursions.
Read up: “The Wanderer: It’s Fine Bayou”
We drive thirty minutes east to Karnack to meet John Winn, a well-known backwater guide (1869 Pine Island Road, 903-789-3384). He asks if we want the “swampy” tour or the “really swampy” tour (easy call), and off we go in his narrow Go-Devil boat. We’re soon covered by a canopy of cypress trees, some up to ninety feet tall, dripping with Spanish moss. We glide by tiny frogs hopping on lily pads, a pair of snowy egrets, and a fortresslike beaver lodge, but no alligators. John says we’ll have to go out at night to see those. This sounds both terrifying and exhilarating.
(See also: “Let’s Go Wild: Goat Island” by Dan Oko)
5. An all-inclusive dude ranch in Bandera, the Cowboy Capital of the World.
Why: Because a little country kitsch goes a long way—and you’ve secretly always wanted to unleash your inner John Wayne/Dale Evans while saddling up, grilling ribeyes, and two-stepping on sawdust.
Read up: “The Wanderer: Cowgirl Up!”
After breakfast, Clay and Diane’s oldest son, Alec, helps hoist me onto my steed, Fred, for our hour-long ride over narrow, rocky paths. We get to a clearing, and the horses take off at a tailbone-jostling trot. My feet go flying out of their stirrups. When Alec sees my legs flapping like the wings of an agitated duck, he brings the whole conga line to a halt. The Brits, who I notice are all wearing real cowboy boots, look annoyed. I’m being out-Texaned by a bunch of Europeans!
(See also: “Home on the Range”)