When it comes to choosing a getaway, the Hill Country doesn’t have to campaign hard for our affections. Its lush expanses of bounding green hills and serpentine rivers stretch over some 25 of the most idyllic counties in the state. And those picturesque towns that cling proudly to their heritage lend themselves perfectly to that quintessential summer endeavor: the road trip. Driving for miles along rural state highways and squiggly back roads with no particular endpoint in mind is a vacation unto itself. Of course, you’re going to need a base camp from which you can launch your daily jaunts, and I’ve picked the perfect spot: cabins along the Guadalupe River. So stuff the Grand Wagoneer with tubes and coolers and hit the road. Who knows? The dramatic views and rolling terrain may even get your kids to stop texting, if only for a moment.
Where to Stay
Enjoy the view from the Hideout on
Nothing sets off my “too good to be true” radar like hearing the words “luxury” and “cabin” in the same sentence. But the alarms in my head were silenced when I pulled into the Hideout on the Horseshoe, a tree-lined property situated on a bluff about four miles west of Canyon Lake. The nineteen wood cabins are nobody’s idea of roughing it, with full-sized refrigerators, first-class toiletries, and comfy beds with wagon-wheel headboards. The greatest amenity, however, is just outside each front door: a shaded porch overlooking the opalescent Guadalupe River. To access the clear, green water, just take the vine-covered walkway down to the Hideout’s stone landing and hop in. Or arrange for the tubing shuttle to deposit you at the nearest put-in for a one- or three-hour float along the river’s horseshoe-shaped loop. One thing the Hideout doesn’t have is room service, but there are several notable dives nearby, including Jay and Diane’s Horseshoe Grill, a walk-up stand that serves gloriously greasy burgers.
Where to Go
Mileage from cabins 9 miles
Though smaller than Fredericksburg’s central drag, Boerne’s Main Street has just as much oompah. On the historic Hauptstrasse—that’s German for “a cluster of delightful, bank-account-draining boutiques”—you can find hand-forged iron chandeliers at Calamity Jane’s, vibrant floral frocks at Ella Blue, and ice cream sodas at the Tall Pony. Not to mention impressive nineteenth-century architecture, like the recently restored Kendall County Courthouse and the limestone Dienger Building, which houses the public library, where you can view a rare 1614 Low German Bible.
Mileage from cabins 55 miles
Because Comfort’s historic district is so humble, out-of-towners don’t swarm this German settlement like they do others in these parts. Which means you don’t have to limber up for an elbow-throwing, antiques-accumulating spree; instead, you can take your time ambling between the well-preserved buildings that house unassuming enterprises like Wilson Clements Antiques (nab Mexican sugar molds made of Spanish cedar or mango wood), the Tinsmith’s Wife (a knitter’s paradise that hosts Friday night stitch-a-thons), the Comfort Common (the old Ingenhuett-Faust Hotel that’s now a B&B and antiques co-op), and the Comfort Cellars Winery (the homemade jalapeño wine is too novel not to try). Better yet, sit for a long spell at High’s Cafe and Store. As you scoop up homemade hummus with garlicky pita chips or lick the frosting off a lemon cupcake, let the locals fill you in on the antigovernment antics of their Freethinking founders, which might, in turn, get you thinking about your own Slowmoving forebears.
Mileage from cabins 40 miles
After spending the morning near Stonewall traipsing through LBJ’s Texas White House, head east on U.S. 290 to Johnson City to eat lunch at the—wait! Was that a chrome Longhorn made of motorcycle parts you just passed? Double back to the hulking animal, turn down Flat Creek Road, and follow the signs—and possibly a tractor—to the Benini Studio And Sculpture Ranch. Situated on LBJ’s old deer camp, the 140-acre site is dotted with more than a hundred sizable contemporary works by artists from around the globe, including Benini, the one-name, Italian-born painter who dreamed up this outdoor gallery with his wife, Lorraine. The couple graciously welcomes rubberneckers on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, so plan to spend at least an hour cruising down (and sometimes up) gravel roads gawking at works like Loren Impson’s giant white hands made of ferro-cement and steel and Steven Harris’ skeletal yellow bat. When you do make it back to 290, hungry as ever, continue on to the Silver K Café, located in an old lumberyard, for honey-pecan fried chicken and pimento cheese sandwiches.
GRUENE & NEW BRAUNFELS
Mileage from cabins Gruene 11 miles
Mileage from cabins New Braunfels 15 miles
The burg of Gruene is a front-runner when it comes to ensnaring tourists like me, who happily zig and zag across its specialty-shop-lined avenues and fall quickly in love with Gruene Hall, the state’s oldest dance hall. In the summer, it’s not odd to see just as many flip-flops as cowboy boots scooting across the worn floor, a sartorial spillover from neighboring New Braunfels, the water-sport capital of Texas. There’s Tubing, of course, on both the Guadalupe and the Comal, as well as the 65-acre Schlitterbahn, which boasts three uphill water coasters and seventeen waterslides, and the Texas Ski Ranch, where adrenaline-seeking (but boatless) skiers and wakeboarders are pulled across man-made lakes on newfangled cableways.
Mileage from cabins 17 miles
Zip through the trees above Winn Ranch
Founded by a man named Pleasant, Wimberley is a genial artists’ colony that has one of the region’s most breathtaking vistas. But there’s a catch: To see the stunning outlook you have to be suspended a hundred feet in the air over the 1,200-acre Winn Ranch. After assuring me that my weight was as inconsequential as a mosquito’s, the guides at Wimberley Zipline Adventures clipped me to a steel cable and I went whizzing from one rocky hilltop to another (the first of eight rides), my eyes fixed on the miles of pastoral countryside stretching out on all sides. Postflight, drive north to the Wild West Store, just off the bustling square, for a consultation with the Boot Whisperer, a sweet German expat named Ulli Johnston who reads feet like psychics read palms. She’ll survey the five hundred or so vintage kicks lining her shelves and pick out the perfect pair. Then walk your well-shod self down the street for one more treat: a slice of gooey Dutch apple goodness just out of the oven at the Wimberley Pie Company.
What to bring back
Sampling leads to buying in bulk when it comes to the sweet but zesty pickles sold at Carousel Antiques and Fickle Pickles, in Boerne (with a second location, in Gruene).
Hill Country Directory
Benini Studio and Sculpture Ranch
377 Shiloh Rd., near Johnson City; 830-868-5244;
404 S. Main, in Boerne; 830-249-0081;
Carousel Antiques and Fickle Pickles
118 S. Main, in Boerne (830-249-9306) and 1720 Hunter Rd., in Gruene (830-627-8999);
Comfort Cellars Winery
723 Front, in Comfort; 830-995-3274;
717 High, in Comfort; 830-995-3030;
thecomfortcommon.com. Rates start at $80 a night.
210 N. Main, in Boerne; 830-249-3053 ella blue 146 S. Main, in Boerne; 830-249-6336;
1281 Gruene Rd., in Gruene; 830-606-1281;
Hideout on the Horseshoe
Four miles west of Canyon Lake, on FM 2673; 830-964-4540;
stayandfloat.com. Rates start at $179 a night.
High’s Cafe and Store
726 High, in Comfort; 830-995-4995;
Jay and Diane’s Horseshoe Grill
12020 FM 306, in Canyon Lake; 830-964-3644;
Kendall County Courthouse
204 E. San Antonio, in Boerne; 830-249-9343;
305 W. Austin, in New Braunfels; 830-625-2351;
Silver K Café
209 E. Main, in Johnson City; 830-868-2911;
The Tall Pony
259 S. Main, in Boerne; 830-249-2009;
Texas Ski Ranch
6700 I-35 North, in New Braunfels; 830-627-2843;
Texas White House at The Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park U.S.
290 at Park Road 52, near Stonewall; 830-868-7128;
The Tinsmith’s Wife
409 Seventh, in Comfort; 830-995-5539;
Wild West Store
13709 Ranch Road 12, in Wimberley; 512-847-1219; kool
Wilson Clements Antiques
405 Seventh, in Comfort; 830-995-5039;
Wimberley Pie Company
13619 Ranch Road 12, in Wimberley; 512-847-9462;
Wimberley Zipline Adventures
Winn Valley Road, on the Winn Ranch, in Wimberley; 512-847-9990;