Most visitors to Burnet County, in the Highland Lakes region about an hour northwest of Austin, come for the water. Boating, fishing, and swimming are the main draws on the string of seven turquoise Colorado River reservoirs that wind through this picturesque portion of the Hill Country. It’s easy to pass a perfect summer day splashing in the Devil’s Waterhole at Inks Lake State Park, waterskiing on Lake Buchanan (pronounced “Buck-cannon” by those in the know), or looking for bass and catfish on Lake LBJ. Increasingly, however, there’s plenty to do on land as well. A growing number of wineries, cafes, shops, and even the state’s only mountain bike park with a chairlift all beckon. Between the towns of Burnet (“It’s Burn-it, Durn-it. Lurn-it!,” as the locals won’t hesitate to remind you) and Marble Falls, which are separated by an easy fifteen-minute drive, there are more than enough ways to spend an idyllic weekend here, all while avoiding the crowds that flock to more touristy spots such as Fredericksburg or Galveston.
Eat + Shop
Overlook Restaurant at Canyon of the Eagles
The ideal place to enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the sunset over Lake Buchanan, this upscale eatery has expansive windows and a big deck. Two standouts were the Kiki fried chicken and the seafood Cobb salad with shaved salmon and shrimp.
This modestly sized white-brick storefront beckons with display cases of sweet concoctions, each more tantalizing than the next. The pecan English toffee is the main attraction. Choose from dark, milk, or white chocolate, or take home a decadent jar of toffee topping to drizzle on ice cream. Owners Michele and Steve Parsons are generous with the free samples; there’s also a coffee bar and a cozy seating area. The Parsonses also own Third Street Treasures, the airy gift shop next door, where you can browse ceramic tchotchkes, jewelry, and the like.
Crazy Gals Cafe
This quirky breakfast-and-lunch place is popular with locals, which is always a good sign. The four-egg omelets and the chocolate chip pancakes are divine. While you’re eating, take a moment to admire the handcrafted tabletop designs, which include a bicycle made from buttons and a guitar buried under acrylic.
Highland Arts Guild and Gallery
This eclectic mix of artworks is the creation of more than sixty local artists and volunteers. Stroll the displays and choose a piece that will remind you of your Highland Lakes getaway. A full 90 percent of each sale’s proceeds goes to the artist, who you may even get to meet.
House of Cheese
Open since last fall, this fromagerie sits on Marble Falls’ center courtyard and peddles cheeses that are pungent, creamy, and distinctive. Stop in for a sample of the Prairie Breeze aged white cheddar (or anything else that suits your palate), and you’re likely to stay for a charcuterie plate and a bottle of wine.
Sugar Mama Cookies
A bakery that celebrates moments of joy, this cafe is decorated with strung-up photos of happy customers biting into sweet treats. The stuffed cookie—it’s actually two cookies stuffed with frosting—is as big as a plate and perfect for two.
Taste + Toast
Flat Creek Estate Winery & Vineyard
Under new ownership this year, Flat Creek is expanding and innovating. The eighty-acre estate is gorgeous, with a jaw-dropping tasting room and a covered outdoor area offering sweeping vineyard views. Sit and sip the Super Texan, a blend of sangiovese, montepulciano, primativo, and petite syrah, or try the aglianico, one of the most frequently requested wines. The property is also home to a championship-level disc golf course, which is open to the public.
Perissos Vineyard & Winery
A lovely stop with indoor and outdoor tasting options, Perissos offers a distinctive roussanne aged in acacia for six to eight months. It’s the same kind of wood used to build the tabernacle mentioned in the Bible—hence the drink’s nickname, the holy wine. Visitors come back for the viognier and the bold Italian Stallion. Even on a busy weekend, the winery doesn’t feel crowded.
Torr Na Lochs Vineyard & Winery
Owners Karen and Blake DeBerry have selected Mediterranean varietals that are well adapted to Texas’s hot, arid climate, such as sangiovese and malbec. The tasting room’s hilly setting (Torr Na Loches translates to “hill over lakes”) offers exquisite views. On a hot summer day, try the Afternoon Delight, which the DeBerrys call “sangria without the sugar.” Don’t leave without tasting the tempranillo, which has a hint of clove that will keep you sipping.
Wedding Oak Winery
The city of Burnet wanted a tasting room, and Wedding Oak obliged. Without having to drive out to a vineyard, you can sample the popular Bridal series of sweet wines, or try any of the eleven new wines—yes, eleven—that debuted in April 2022.
Eagle Eye Observatory
City folk will be blown away by the dark sky and the bright constellations at this lookout, which is located at the Canyon of the Eagles resort and has a sliding roof that opens to the heavens. Presentations start at 10 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, and are a steal at $10 per person. An astronomer will use telescopes and computer-enhanced imaging to help locate your zodiac sign and all those constellations you learned about in school.
Inks Lake State Park
Work up a sweat on the 3.4-mile out-and-back Devil’s Backbone Nature Trail, which passes several small waterfalls and a wildlife viewing station before climbing to scenic views of the water. Conclude your hike by joining in a time-honored Texas tradition: jumping into the Devil’s Waterhole from a precarious rocky perch. (If eight-year-olds can do it, so can you—and swimmers often cheer one another on.) Take a naturalist-led walk for a chance to spot the endangered golden-cheeked warbler, which nests exclusively in Texas, then rent old-school paddleboats and check out the cute Ranger Station store.
Longhorn Cavern State Park
Descend into this ancient river-carved cavern, where tiny bats sleep overhead. The lighting makes this walk surreal, as flashlight beams bounce off rocks and highlight each crevice. Your guide will tell you about the history of the cavern, when Depression-era bands once played belowground, and well-dressed attendees danced and dined in the largest part of the cavern. In some areas, you will duck until your back hurts; in others, you’ll strain your neck gazing up at towering ceilings.
Spider Mountain Bike Park
The only chairlift-served mountain bike park in Texas offers routes for all skills levels. This popular spot is a draw for kids and adventure seekers. The trail names give you a hint as to their level of difficulty, from Itsy Bitsy to Stinger; boat and cabin rentals are also on offer. The views from the lift only get better as you ascend the mountain, with Burnet County spread out below you.
Vanishing River Cruise
If you do anything on the water, it should be this. Hop on this double-decker boat for a relaxing ride on Lake Buchanan and the Colorado River. This waterway was once dry; now submerged willow trees reach their branches out of the water, searching for sun. Round a corner and gasp as an unexpected waterfall reveals itself among the limestone cliffs. On the eighteen-mile scenic wilderness cruise, you might see cows and wild hogs grazing on a sandbar where Comanches once came to cool off. In the winter, bald eagles nest on the cliffs.
Canyon of the Eagles (Burnet)
As you wend your way up Ranch Road 2341, the turquoise waters of Lake Buchanan suddenly appear. Your resort is just ahead, and you’ll be greeted there with a personal shuttle to your cabin. Covered decks with rocking chairs are the perfect place to kick back. For a more rustic experience, pitch a tent in the resort’s primitive campground or pull up your RV.
Container City at Spider Mountain
This newly constructed property features shipping containers transformed into modern cabins, some stacked to accommodate larger groups. Onsite is Peddler’s Pies, which cranks out yummy wood-fired pizzas with a multitude of toppings, and Templeton Tavern, an outdoor bar with live music, cornhole, and a fun rustic vibe.
The Verandas Guest House
Sit in a rocking chair on the wraparound porch and feel free to use the kitchen to whip up a meal at this guest house, centrally located in Burnet. Creaky hardwood floors, floral wallpaper, gold draperies, antique furniture, and a clawfoot tub bring charm to each private suite, which features a living room, large bedroom, and bathroom. Every stay here includes a breakfast voucher to use at one of several local restaurants.