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March 2009 cover image of Pedernales Falls State Park

30 Cheap Trips

 

By Barbara Rodriguez, Wendee Holtcamp, Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Quick, outdoorsy getaways near Dallas, Houston, and Central Texas.

In this economy, it’s tempting to stay home and watch the Travel Channel instead of forking over the cash for an extended vacation. But even a mini-vacation can do wonders for your stress level and overall outlook on life. We’ve put together the following 1- and 2-day trips to help you enjoy the great outdoors without draining your savings account. Now get out there and have some fun!

DALLAS/FORTH WORTH

1. Meditate among the gardens

If you haven’t been to the Dallas Arboretum since your cousin’s wedding, you’ll find new muses in the 66 acres of themed gardens. The “water-on-water” pool in the Women’s Council Garden may do your mental health more good than months of yoga — for a lot less money.

tulips in bloom

To the east, a garden sloping to White Rock Lake features stone alcoves cozy enough for meditation, if not courtship. Rewarding rambling in all seasons make this a destination garden, but the Southern Garden’s wisteria is Gatsby worthy in the spring, and autumn’s mums are no quiet delight. Get a two-for punch by heading over to White Rock Lake for a picnic, fishing and a 9-mile stroll/bike around the lake. Hike up the spillway through a nature reserve for the cat’s meow in birding. (8525 Garland Road, southeast side of White Rock Lake, 214-515-6500; $9.50/ adults, $6/ages 3–12, $5 parking, www.dallasarboretum.org. White Rock Lake, 8300 East Lawther Drive, free admission) — BR

2. Hike, bike, horse around

Fort Richardson State Park and Historic Site features rolling prairie with beauty for sit-and-muse sorts, as well as rock outcroppings and creeks for high-energy types. The 10-mile Lost Creek Trailway invites hikers, bikers and horses to the reservoir for seasonal swimming. A tank full of hungry bass (sometimes trout) makes beginner anglers look like seasoned pros. Tent sites are appealing, or reserve a screened shelter. Eat barbecue at the Jacksboro Dairyland Drive-In, where ribs arrive with damp washcloths. (A half-mile south of Jacksboro on Hwy. 281, $3/13-up day use; camping fees vary. For information on fort tours, call 940-567-3506 or visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/fortrichardson) — BR

3. Flea market fun, chicken scratch dining

Weatherford’s best known for its 100-year-old flea market (retro boots to live chickens), but don’t miss a visit to the Chandor Gardens. The homeplace of ’30s portraitist Douglas Chandor was lavishly landscaped over two decades by the artist. Chinese tradition meets English formality there. Look for a Chinese fountain born of chunks of tile, glass and old Coke bottles. Try the cobbler at the Weatherford Downtown Café or lunch at the Chicken Scratch Bistro, both on the square. The flea market is a killer in the heat, but spring and fall are glorious. (Trade Days, Friday – Sunday, before the first Monday. Exit 409 from I-20, north to Santa Fe Drive, downtown, free, $3/parking. Chandor Gardens, 711 W. Lee Ave., April thru 3rd weekend of November, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Saturdays, 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. Sundays, or by appt. $5/adults, free/12-under, 817-613-1700, www.chandorgardens.com) — BR

4. Stop and smell the 3,400 roses

For many, the high point of Texas’ oldest botanic garden is the Sunken Rose Garden built by the WPA. The roses are beloved by brides and picnickers alike, but the interactive Texas Native Forest Boardwalk, a fine outdoor learning environment, is a bustling family favorite. Kids crawl through logs, listen to samplings of birdcalls, and try the whisper tube. The boardwalk connects the north and south ends of the 109 acres of themed plantings. The Japanese Garden is quietly elegant except for the showboating koi, who are hardly shy as they flirt for fish food. Rose drama is greatest in late April and October; burnished foliage is showy in autumn; Japanese maples are spectacular in the late fall. Across University, in Trinity Park, a miniature train whistles along the river and parallels 2 miles of hike/bike trails. Explore the 19th-century structures in the Log Cabin Village just south, across from the stellar Fort Worth Zoo. (3320 Botanic Garden Blvd. at University Dr., just north of I-30, 817-871-7686. General gardens free. Japanese Gardens: adults/$3.50, 4-up/$2, www.fwbg.org. Log Cabin Village, 2100 Log Cabin Village Lane, 817-392-5881, $3.50/adults; $3/17-under) — BR

5. Lions, tigers & cougars, oh my!

Few folks know that there are 52 big cats lazing away their retirement on a ranch outside Bridgeport. Visit and contribute to the costs of rehabilitating amazing animals rescued from ill-informed rock stars and truckers who think a putty tat is a putty tat. Interns at the Center for Animal Research and Education enlighten you to each beast’s personality, background and general care. Fun facts are plentiful — there’s no such thing as a black panther (they’re actually leopards with rosettes in the deep shadows of the fur); the more testosterone, the blacker a lion’s mane; chuffing is as close to purring as a big cat (lion, tiger) gets — but the joy is the up-close and personal view of a tiger’s canines; an arctic leopard’s furry paws; or the bright eyes of a cougar sizing you up. Speaking of lunch, stop in for the blue plate special in town at Gail’s “Best Food in Texas.” Plan ahead and detour through Boyd to visit the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary, where you’ll see lions and tigers and, yes, bears — even a serval and a caracal. (Follow Hwy 114 through Boyd, continue towards Bridgeport; turn left onto FM 2123 for 1.5 miles; right on CR 3422, CARE is on the left; Saturdays and Sundays 10:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Monday – Friday by appointment. Suggested donation $10/adult, $5/child, www.bigcatcare.org. To visit the IEAS, see www.bigcat.org for tour information or call 940-433-5091) — BR

6. The attraction of rappelling

The screened shelters set atop stone slabs stair-stepping into Rock Creek make the best stand-in for a shaded summer lake house. Great fishing, quiet no-wake boating (rentals available) and serious rock climbing make Lake Mineral Wells State Park and Trailway a compelling hideaway that is both retro (camp store) fun and enthusiast-worthy (equestrian trails and horse camping). The funky antique stores minutes away in downtown Mineral Wells are a happy diversion on the way to Woody’s, a Quonset hut west of town where you’ll find some of the best burgers and biker watching in the state. (Lake Mineral Wells State Park, 100 Park Road 71, Mineral Wells, TX 76067. $5/age 13-up day use, camping fees vary, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/lakemineralwells. Climbers and rappellers must check in at headquarters.) — BR

7. Destination: Dallas’ back porch

A little-heralded, brand-new escape minutes from downtown, the 120 acres of the Trinity River Audubon Center facility are the ideal urban retreat. Slackers indulge in Internet surfing with great views (coffee and wireless access available). More motivated? Go for the hiking trails, the stellar birding and a seductive introduction to the 6,000-acre Great Trinity Forest, the largest forest within a city’s limits.

Trinity River audubon Center

Visitors to this impressive urban backyard will find the center’s 21,000-square-foot, bird-shaped interpretive center to be much like a welcoming back porch. Hands-on features beguile children and adults alike, while the soaring architecture provides an inviting space that’s cool, even on a 90-degree afternoon. Water features, fossil digs and seasonal exhibits and classes are bonuses. Individual and family memberships ($60-$90) get you in for a year and include a newsletter and store discount. Think of it as the ultimate country club for the conservation minded — at $5 a month. (6500 South Loop 12, Dallas, TX 75217, 214-370-9735, www.trinityriveraudubon.org) — BR

8. A touch of the Pacific Northwest

In spring and summer, Meridian State Park’s elevated trails and cliffs smack of the Pacific Northwest. In winter, perching on a boulder in the cloistered crush of cedar above the lake regenerates the spirit. In the spring you have a chance of spotting the endangered golden-cheeked warbler. Primitive camping is spectacular, or rent a screened shelter — the farthest flung of the waterside cabins offers fishing just steps away from the campfire. Little Springs Trail intersects Little Forest Trail and crosses the park’s looping central drive (ideal for biking and jogging) before climbing to Bee Ridge, a spectacular scenic overlook of the lake in its limestone cauldron. (Meridian State Park, 173 Park Road #7, Meridian, TX 76665, 254-435-2536, $5/13-up day use, camping fees vary, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/meridian) — BR

9. Dinosaurs & apple cheeks

For a weekend of doing little more than sitting pretty alongside the Paluxy, check into the one-time Dr. Snyder's Drugless Sanitarium, re-born as the Inn on the River. It’s an all-season getaway (with gourmet dining) guaranteed to put the apples back in your cheeks. Anglers get a line on the Paluxy's mossy-backed bass, then swap fish tales over burgers in the clubhouse at Tres Rios, a 1920s YWCA camp operated as an old-fashioned fishing retreat. Drive out to Fossil Rim (three miles south on U.S. Highway 67) for a tour through an exotic wildlife sanctuary or track prehistoric behemoths at Dinosaur Valley State Park. Pack the binoculars for spring migration of the golden-cheeked warbler and the black-capped vireo. (Dinosaur Valley State Park, $5/age 13-up day use, camping fees vary, www.tpwd.state.tx.us /dinosaurvalley; Inn on the River, 800-575-2101, www.innontheriver.com; Tres Rios, 2322 County Road 312, Glen Rose, 254-897-4253, www.tresrioscamping.com) — BR

10. Historic trees, big steaks, bigger adventures

Go for the dramatic Lonesome Dove vistas and the town square — the largest in the U.S. — stay for the drive-in, one of few left in Texas. Rent a cottage at the 1,000-acre Hockaday Ranch or stay long enough to toast the scenery from the deck of the Wildcatter Ranch Steakhouse. Find big adventure on a scenic stretch of the Brazos or plan a picnic at Fort Belknap (reason enough is the vast grape arbor, but the eccentric museum is intriguing, too). With some inside skinny (ask at the Wildcatter) you can visit the graves of the real life “Sons of Katie Elder,” the Marlow brothers. Plan ahead to see the National Champion live oak — the time-worn giant is broken, but unbowed at 48 feet tall and 357 inches around. Bluebonnets and painted buntings flash in spring. Off-season fall/winter rates make the plush cabins at the Wildcatter a steal. Year-round bring your fishing pole to wrangle monster catfish (or trout stocked in the river during the winter). (Hockaday Ranch Guesthouse, 940-549-0087, www.grahamguests.com; Wildcatter Ranch, 6062 Hwy. 16 South, 940-549-3500, 888-462 9277, www.hockadayranch.com; Rochelle’s Canoe Rental & Shuttle Service, Farm Road #4 at Brazos River, 940-659-3341, 940-659-2581. Fort Belknap, 11 miles northwest of Graham on FM 61, 940-846-3222. National Live Oak Champion, Atwood Ranch, by appointment only, 940-549-4446, 940-549-6510) — BR

HOUSTON

11. Forest wilderness camping

Just northeast of Houston lies the 5,000-acre Lake Houston Park, with dense bottomland hardwood forest and fantastic opportunities for birdwatching, hiking and horseback riding. Just a short walk to Peach Creek, with sandy and river-rock beaches to explore, and depending on water level, to canoe or kayak. Peach Creek flows into the San Jacinto River, which connects to Lake Houston outside the park boundaries. The park also has a wonderful nature center with snakes, amphibians, insects and educational exhibits. Ownership of the park transferred from TPWD to the City of Houston in 2006. The park has two cottages that sleep 12 or 26 guests in bunkbeds, as well as 24 tent campsites, one group campsite with six tent pads, and one equestrian campsite. (www.houstontx.gov/parks/lakehoustonpark.html, 281-354-6881) — WH

12. Pet-friendly park on Lake Sam Rayburn

Sam Rayburn Reservoir, a 114,500-acre lake nestled in the Big Thicket of East Texas, is renowned for its trophy largemouth bass and a great spot for a weekend boating or fishing getaway. Jackson Hill Park and Marina is a pet-friendly private park on the reservoir, with its own sandy beach, private pavilion, RV and tent campsites and fisherman’s cabins ($75 for 4 people). Just outside of Broaddus, this fun place to stay ­regularly hosts live music, campfire karaoke and everything you need for fishing, including cleaning station, scales, sinks and banners. Spot bald eagles, and enjoy Cajun country cooking at the Marina Lodge. (www.jacksonhill.us, 936-872-9266) — WH

13. Crockett fishing fun

In the rolling hills and pineywoods of East Texas lies the virtually undiscovered Crockett Family Resort on Houston County Lake — an impoundment of Little Elkhart Creek stocked with trophy largemouth bass. An inexpensive getaway for fishing enthusiasts, Crockett Family Resort has all manner of fun family activities including shuffleboard, a miniature golf course, horseshoes, paddleboats, volleyball, and swimming in a pool or the lake. A clubhouse and pavilion can be rented, and the resort also has a grocery, bait shop and restaurant. Cabins rent for $99–$125, or you can pitch a tent or hook up your RV. (www.crockettresort.com, 936-544-8466) — WH

14. Lake escape

Located near the ghost town of Swartwout, Lake Livingston State Park lies on the 90,000-acre reservoir Lake Livingston, a great restful place for boating, paddlesports or fishing for crappie, perch, bass and catfish. The park has an outdoor swimming pool, a playground, a group pavilion and nearly 7 miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. Stay in one of 10 screen shelters or one of the many campsites with and without RV hookups. On April 4–5, 2009, the park offers a Texas Outdoor Family Workshop designed to teach families new to camping how to set up a tent, cook outdoors and basic fishing techniques. (www.tpwd.state.tx.us/lakelivingston, 936-365-2201) — WH

15. Beach wildlife wonderland

Looking for a great beach destination that avoided Hurricane Ike’s fury? Matagorda Island Wild-life Management Area offers 38 miles of wild beach to explore. Access to the island is by private boat or charter boat only. No motorized vehicles are allowed on the island. The beaches offer some of the best shelling in Texas. The island provides habitat for endangered Aplomado falcons, often seen on the island hunting in pairs. It also is home to endangered Texas horned lizards and other threatened or endangered species. American alligators live in the coastal marsh, and a historic lighthouse stands at the north end of the island. Campers (fees apply) must portage in their own drinking water, as no facilities exist, only primitive camping. (www.tpwd.state.tx.us/matagorda island, 979-244-7697) — WH

16. Nature on the bayou

See a little nature in the heart of the Bayou City. Houston was founded in 1836 near the confluence of Buffalo Bayou and White Oak Bayou at downtown’s Allen’s Landing. What better way to spend a day-long getaway than visiting this historic and ecological jewel? Buffalo Bayou Partnership offers historical hiking tours along Allen’s Landing with docents from Greater Houston Preservation Alliance. BBP also coordinates pontoon boat tours as well as 5-hour canoe and 3-hour kayaking trips regularly. After the end of your canoe or kayak trip, go on a tour of Houston’s bat bridge along Waugh Drive, by taking a 1 1/2-hour pontoon boat tour, which begins 45 minutes before dusk. BBP also sponsors a free annual Kids Day along Buffalo Bayou every June, which includes bayou boat rides, wetland hikes, scavenger hunts, wildflower planting, fishing lessons, skateboarding demos, music and lots of other exciting and educational activities. (www.buffalobayou.org/, 713-752-0314) — WH

17. Go tribal in the Big Thicket

Visit the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation in the dense woods of the Big Thicket, between Livingston and Woodville. During summer months they offer the Beyond the Sundown outdoor show and host an annual Pow-Wow during the first weekend of June. Colorful dances in full regalia are sure to delight people of all ages! You can camp at the reservation itself, which has a restaurant, as well as a fishing and swimming lake, or just visit for the day. The reservation closes from December through February. (www.alabama-coushatta.com; 936-563-1100) — WH

18. Eco-friendly escape

Despite its name, the Duck Farm in Liberty isn’t named for ducks or for farming, says owner Barbara Lange. Instead, the name means Discovering, Understanding Creativity and Knowledge for a Farm Alternative Restoration Model. At $65 per night for a private room and a delicious homestyle breakfast, this spot is a bargain for nature lovers. Set on 100 acres, Charles and Barbara opened their land to those seeking a country getaway in 2004. The ecoresort has a labyrinth maze and a peaceful meditation garden. The Langes have restored native plants and trees throughout the property and have a lovely pond — with ducks! The ecoresort also has a cabin which sleeps up to 10 people ($130 for 4, $25 per extra person). (duckfarm.org, 936-587-4325) — WH

19. Gator-watch and stargaze

The 5,000-acre Brazos Bend State Park, just southwest of Houston, with its ancient coastal live oaks and almost guaranteed alligator sightings, is a must-visit spot. Fish at six lakes within the park (three have piers); go on one of the free interpretive hikes offered on the weekends. The park’s nature center has an aquarium, a touch table, live snakes and a hands-on alligator discovery area. Stop by the George Observatory, where they offer “Saturdays at the George,” a $10 program with telescope viewing, stargazing and educational programs. The park has screened shelters, campsites with water and electricity and also primitive sites. On April 25 – 26, this park offers a Texas Outdoor Family Work-shop. (Brazos Bend, www.tpwd .state.tx.us/brazosbend, 979-553-5101); (George Observatory, www.hmns.org/see_do/george_observatory.asp, 281-242-3055) — WH

20. Hoggs, history and sharks

If you love history, visit the Varner-Hogg Plantation State Historic Site, 50 miles south of Houston in West Columbia. The plantation, which sits on the banks of Varner Creek, was first owned by Martin Varner, a member of Stephen F. Austin’s Old Three Hundred colonists. Former Texas Governor James Hogg bought the property in 1902, and his daughter Ima Hogg donated the plantation to the state in 1957. Guided tours of the two-story Greek revival plantation house, built in 1835, are offered Tuesday through Sundays. While in the area, stop at the wonderful Sea Center Texas aquarium in Lake Jackson, just a few miles away. Sea Center has aquaria displaying native Texas aquatic animals and ecosystems, including marsh, jetty and reef and open gulf. See a nurse shark, snapper and moray eel. The center also has a touch tank for kids and tours of the fish hatchery. (Sea Center Texas, www.tpwd.state.tx .us/seacenter, 979-345-4656. Varner Hogg, http://www.thc.state.tx.us/hsites/hs_varner.aspx, 979-292-0100) — WH

CENTRAL TEXAS

21. Explore a sunken garden

Bring a book or a sketchpad. You’ll want to linger at the Japanese Tea Garden (free), a tropical oasis sculpted from an old rock quarry in San Antonio’s Brackenridge Park. Shaded walkways meander past thousands of plants. Stone bridges cross the koi-filled pond. Nearby Witte Museum offers free admission Tuesdays from 3 – 8 p.m. South of downtown, more than 7 miles of nature trails crisscross the 624-acre Mitchell Lake Audubon Center ($2 fee, 8 to 4 weekends or by appointment). Great place to birdwatch, with more than 300 species. (Japanese Tea Garden, www.sanantonio.gov/sapar, 210-207-3053. Mitchell Lake Audubon Center, www.tx.audubon.org /Mitchell.html, 210-628-1639) — SSR

22. Let’s go fly a kite

Remember flying a kite? Be a kid again and head for Austin’s annual Zilker Park Kite Festival (free), set to sail Sunday, March 1. In a morning workshop, learn how to make your own kite. Any breezy day’s great for kite flying at Zilker. Admission’s free to the nearby Zilker Botanical Garden ($3 fee per car weekends). Allow plenty of time for strolling through the garden’s different areas planted with roses, cacti, natives, herbs and more. Cheap sweet treat: frozen custard at Sandy’s Hamburgers on Barton Springs. Burn off those calories with a bike ride on the paved trail at McKinney Falls State Park ($4 fee). (Zilker Kite Festival, www.zilkerkitefestival.com, 512-448-5483. Zilker Botanical Garden, www.zilkergarden.org, 512-477-8672. McKinney Falls State Park, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/mckinneyfalls, 512-243-1643) — SSR

23. Discover underwater wonders

Think aquatic for a day. Visit the A.E. Wood Fish Hatchery in San Marcos and find out how biologists rear sportfish for stocking Texas waters. For instance, spawning eggs for striped bass requires round-the-clock work in April. Free tours 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. weekdays. At the San Marcos National Fish Hatchery and Technology Center, see how biologists raise Texas blind salamanders, fountain darters and other endangered species that inhabit the Edwards Aquifer. Free tours 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays (call ahead). Wrap up with a visit to the Aquarena Center, which encircles Spring Lake and natural springs that feed the San Marcos River. Admission’s free to aquarium exhibits and the Floating Wetlands boardwalk. (A.E. Wood Fish Hatchery, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/fishboat/fish/management/hatcheries/aewood.phtml, 512-353-0572. San Marcos Hatchery, www.fws.gov/southwest/fisheries/sanmarcos.html, 512-353-0011. Aquarena Center, www.aquarena.txstate.edu, 512-245-7570) — SSR

24. Hike a favorite bat roost

Get thee to the Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area (day-use free), a well-kept secret southeast of Fredericksburg. Back roads off U.S. 290 wind past rolling hills, old German homesteads, and ancient stone fences. The WMA’s hilltop deck — built for bat watching — offers stunning views. (Mexican free-tailed bats inhabit the abandoned train tunnel April through October. Fees for up-close viewing.) Mosey along the half-mile hiking trail, occasionally studded with stone markers that identify such natives as Texas sotol, cedar elms, frostweeds and twist leaf yucca. From the timber footbridge, see bats flitting inside the dark tunnel. Burgers at nearby Alamo Spring Cafe are big enough to share. (Old Tunnel WMA, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/hunt/wma/wildlife_management/old_tunnel_wma/bats_of_otwma/, 830-990-2659) — SSR

25. Bop over to Blanco State Park

No one hurries in Blanco, where you’ll find just one ­traffic light. Soak up the slow pace with a stroll around the square. Then tour the historic courthouse (free, Tuesday — Saturday 10 – 3), built in 1886 and now used as a community center. Four bucks gets you into Blanco State Park, where you can hike the Caswell Nature Trail, relax under the cypress trees, or float in the Blanco River (tube rentals $5 each all day). Enjoy free interpretive programs, such as Second Saturday nature walks. Cheap eats: legendary cream pie at the Blanco Bowling Club and Cafe. No joke — meringues measure 5 inches tall. Or more. (Blanco State Park, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/blanco, 830-833-4333) — SSR

26. Join a canoe adventure on Inks Lake

Grab some kids, then holler, “Field trip!” Every month, Inks Lake State Park hosts lots of educational and fun things to do. Most are free ($5 entry fee). Learn about spring wildflowers, native animals, edible plants, and more on one-hour hikes. Or join a more strenuous, three-hour hike and see the park’s remote areas. Guided, two-hour canoe tours to Devil’s Waterhole paddle past wooded banks and granite outcroppings (nominal fee covers canoe, paddles and life jacket). Most Saturday evenings, kids can learn how to fish with a park ranger (poles and bait provided). Check out the park’s online activity calendar for more fun stuff to do. (Inks Lake State Park, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/inks, 512-793-2223) — SSR

27. The tropics are closer than you think

Ever longed to trek through a jungle? Then head for Palmetto State Park ($3 entry), so named for the dwarf palmettos that fan the park’s swamp. Densely vegetated and boggy, Palmetto Trail could pass for the tropics. Watch for the natives: wild turkeys, raccoons, white-tailed deer and armadillos. More than 240 bird species have been spotted in the park. Rent a paddleboat ($10 per hour) or canoe ($8 per hour), then cruise Oxbow Lake. Take a lunch break in nearby Gonzales and enjoy some smoked barbecue at the Gonzales Food Market. Then tour the Gonzales Memorial Museum (free, Tuesday – Saturday 10 a.m.– noon, 1 – 5 p.m., Sunday 1 – 5 p.m.), which honors Texans who died at the Alamo. (Palmetto State Park, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/palmetto, 830-672-3266. Gonzales Chamber of Commerce, www.gonzalestexas.com, 830-672-6532) — SSR

28. Follow the falls

Pack up the camping gear and snooze beneath the starry skies at Pedernales Falls State Park ($5 entry, $20 campsite). Prefer absolute quiet? Hike 2 miles to a primitive camping area ($10). From a scenic overlook, view the park’s Pedernales Falls, a magnificent geological formation of stair-stepped limestone. Better yet, hike down the rock staircase and explore the falls (no swimming or wading). Hike the nature trail from the main camping area, and you’ll glimpse Twin Falls, surrounded by lush vegetation and spilling into blue-green water. Bring binoculars and head for the enclosed bird-viewing station, with feeders and a drip bath. (Pedernales Falls State Park, www.tpwd .state.tx.us/pedernales falls, 830-868-7304) — SSR

29. Lose yourself in the Lost Pines

Book a rustic cabin at Bastrop State Park ($80 – $200), then meander through the pineywoods. Don’t miss Saturday morning hikes, led by a master naturalist who tells about Bastrop’s Lost Pines, the park’s endangered Houston toad and more. Check the online activity calendar for occasional Sunday hikes that spotlight wildflowers or birds. What a deal — rent a kayak or canoe for $5 an hour. Also, visit nearby McKinney Roughs Nature Park ($3 adults, $1 seniors, 13 and under free). Along more than 18 miles of nature trails, watch out for the natives, including Texas spiny lizards, gray foxes and scissor-tailed flycatchers. (Bastrop State Park, www.tpwd.state.us/bastrop, 512-321-2101. McKinney Roughs Nature Park, www.lcra.org/parks, 512-303-5073) — SSR

 30. Have a bloomin’ good time

Wild about wildflowers? Cruise the Willow City Loop, a back road in Gillespie County renowned for its spectacular scenery and spring flowers. Note: Property along the 13-mile route is privately owned; stay on road only. At the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site (free), picnic beneath pecan trees by the Pedernales River. A nature trail winds past fenced pastures containing longhorns, white-tailed deer and American bison. At the Sauer-Beckmann Farmstead, park interpreters portray life on a Hill Country farm in 1918. Take a bus tour to the LBJ Ranch (nominal fee) or get a free driving permit to park at the Texas White House. (Lyndon B. Johnson State Park, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/lyndonbjohnson, 830-644-2252. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, www.nps.gov/lyjo, 830-868-7128) — SSR

 

 

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