We’re big fans of the small-town weekend trip and even more so in these days of crowd avoidance. Texas may be reopening, but the pandemic is still of major concern, so keep your group safe and protect the locals by choosing the right kind of lodging (a standalone rental property or cabin), cooking your own meals or getting curbside takeout, and enjoying a wealth of outdoor activities.
From charming Hill Country getaways to secluded seaside vacations, here are some great bets for a pandemic-appropriate road trip this spring.
Bastrop — 45 minutes
The warm waters of Lake Bastrop mean you can start enjoying water sports early. Rent a cabin at LCRA’s Lake Bastrop South Shore and hike, rent a kayak/canoe/SUP, or fish (ask in the park store for recommendations for a guide if you’re new to angling). For more exotic accommodations, book an Airstream, cabin, or safari tent at the North Shore park. Nearby Bastrop State Park has hiking trails, or grab your bike and ride the 12 miles on Park Road 1C to Buescher State Park. There are two sections of paddling trails on the Colorado River through Bastrop, with local rentals and shuttle services available. Grab takeout or enjoy ample outdoor seating at Neighbor’s Kitchen & Bar, specializing in pizzas and calzones with beer selections from neighboring Iron Bridge Icehouse or other Texas brewers.
Fort Davis — 6 hours, 45 minutes
Rooms at retro Stone Village Tourist Camp open to the great outdoors, so no bumping into strangers in the hallway. The site also boasts a shaded outdoor seating area, pool, and an onsite market and deli. Wander the spacious Fort Davis National Historic Site and hike and birdwatch at Davis Mountains State Park and the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center (make reservations for both online). After you've worked up an appetite, order online or by phone from an extensive menu at the Fort Davis Drug Store (the chicken-fried steak is legit). Or if you’d rather take it easy, drive the 75-mile scenic loop, which passes McDonald Observatory and Davis Mountains Preserve’s 2.4-mile Madera Canyon Trail.
Johnson City — 1 hour
It's hard to find crowds in this small town, especially if you stick to outdoor activities. LBJ State Park and Historic Site has a nature trail that passes longhorns and bison, picnic areas, and river access for fishing. A short drive away, Pedernales Falls State Park offers hiking trails ranging in length from a half-mile to nearly six, as well as a 9.7-mile mountain bike trail, and two equestrian trails. Camping is also available, but remember, reservations are recommended for state parks, even for day use. Cabins at the Exotic Resort Zoo offer plenty of distance from the neighbors and views of the property and its wild residents.
Medina — 2 hours, 20 minutes
At Medina Highpoint Resort, choose from several types of cabins or tent and RV spots. The sprawling property includes trails, two ponds, a dog park, and two observation decks, including one on the second highest spot in the Hill Country (walk up for an incredible view during the day and stargazing at night). Keep your distance while hiking some 40 miles of trails at nearby Hill Country State Natural Area, including along creeks and through woods and on high rocky hills. Day pass reservations encouraged. Takeout dining options include Keese’s Barbecue and The Apple Store Bakery and Café (considering Medina is the Apple Capital of Texas, the apple pie is a must).
Port Aransas — 4 hours
Bypass the hotels and rent a stand-alone beach house or cottage to keep your distance. Spend the day on one of the wide, long beaches reading, walking, shelling, tossing a ball, building a sandcastle, fishing, or just people-watching. Stroll trails and boardwalks at the Port Aransas Nature Preserve; head to the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center on the bay side of the island for bird-watching; or rent a golf cart or bikes to tour the town. Try one of the area paddling trails, including one around the historic 1857 Lydia Ann Lighthouse, or take bayside routes along Mustang Island State Park, another great spot for looking at birds and dolphins or fishing (rentals/shuttle service in Aransas Pass). The state park also has camping and RV sites. Grab a seafood dinner curbside.