First of all, it’s important to know how to pronounce the town’s name. It’s “burn it” with the emphasis on “burn,” not “burn-ett.” That’s apparently how it was pronounced by the town’s namesake, David G. Burnet. He was an early Texas politician who briefly served as the interim president of the Republic of Texas.
Nowadays, the town is known primarily for its scenic beauty and the growing population of bald eagles that call the area home from November to March. A wide variety of wildlife and birds can also be seen in Burnet year-round.
Day 1 - Canyon of the Eagles Resort
Check in at Canyon of the Eagles Resort on Lake Buchanan. Several of the rustic cabins have gorgeous lake views. After many years of drought, the lake is finally full again. Abundant rain over the last couple of years also means that the greenery is lusher than ever.
A short hike is a great way to get acquainted with the property. The 940-acre park includes 14 miles of nature trails. Note that some trails are off-limits during spring nesting season to protect the golden-cheeked warbler and the black capped vireo, two endangered species found in the park. The 2.9-mile Lakeside Trail offers dramatic views of the water and the hilly scenery.
When you’re ready for dinner, head to the Overlook Restaurant. With panoramic, floor-to-ceiling windows, the restaurant provides a calming setting for enjoying your meal and winding down. The restaurant serves everything from deeply satisfying beef pot pie to gourmet seafood crepes. Leave room to enjoy one of the house-made desserts as you watch the sun go down.
The fun doesn’t end at sundown, though. In conjunction with the Austin Astronomical Society, the resort hosts regular Star Parties at the on-site Eagle Eye Observatory. Equipped with powerful 16-inch and 12.5-inch telescopes, the observatory can give you a perspective on the night sky you’ve never seen before. In addition to spying stars and planets, you can also see gas clouds and spy satellites. Experts are always on hand to help you and your family understand what all those bright lights and colorful blobs are.
Day 2 - Mama’s Home Cooking and Wilderness Cruise
To prepare for the day’s adventures, head into town for a hearty breakfast at Mama’s Home Cooking (200 South West Street; 512-234-8030). The diner serves a wide variety of breakfast staples and omelets, but make sure you order a side of hash browns to go along with your main dish. The cook here knows how to make some tasty potatoes.
After breakfast, a fun side trip just west of town is the Fort Croghan Museum (703 Buchanan Drive; 512-756-8281). The small site offers a fascinating glimpse into early Texas history. Established in 1849, the fort was intended to protect settlers from surrounding Indian tribes. It was only in use until 1853, so it’s amazing that the fort was not completely lost to history. A devoted group of local history buffs helped to preserve the site and related artifacts. Admission to the site is free, but donations are greatly appreciated.
Back at Canyon of the Eagles, the Scenic Wilderness River Cruise typically departs at 11 a.m. This is one of the year-round cruises offered by the Vanishing Texas River Cruise tour company. Seasonal tours include eagle cruises from November to March, winery tours to Fall Creek Vineyards and sunset cruises from May to October.
The two-hour wilderness cruise meanders along a beautiful 22-mile route. Depending on recent rainfall, you may see small waterfalls or raging ones. You can always see dramatic cliff faces, birds and other native wildlife.
Back on land, another popular nighttime activity at the resort is the Owl Prowl, which is only available from September to January. At the on-site amphitheater, a staff naturalist uses a mechanical call to attract eastern screech owls. Since these are wild owls, every show is different and unpredictable. The owls swoop in noiselessly to see who/what is making the calls. Screech owls are among the smallest owls in Texas, but they still have impressive wingspans and an amazing ability to fly between trees and around obstacles without making a sound.
Other educational programs at the resort include the Shake, Rattle & Coil snake presentation and the Don’t Go Buggy demonstration, which teaches all about the insects at the park.
Day 3 - Longhorn Cavern State Park and Inks Lake
One of the best places to escape the Texas heat is deep underground. At Longhorn Cavern State Park (6211 Park Rd 4 S; 830-598-2283), the temperature in the caves is always pleasant, but it’s still a little humid. After all, it was water that formed these stunningly beautiful caves over millions of years. Both the flow of water and its ability to gradually dissolve limestone helped create the one-of-a-kind structures in the cavern.
Before heading down, you can learn about some of the cave’s more recent history at the visitor’s center. Prehistoric people used the caves for shelter for thousands of years. In the 1800s, European settlers stumbled upon the cavern and started mining the bat guano inside. Guano (or bat poop) was used to make gunpowder during the Civil War.
The standard walking tour takes about an hour and a half, and you’ll be walking a little over a mile at a relaxed pace. One of the most interesting formations is the Queen’s Watchdog. It looks like an incomplete sculpture of a dog, complete with four legs. Though it was found deep in the cavern, some have speculated that it may have been carved by early man. Most experts agree, though, that the dog-like shape is just a remarkable coincidence, a result of natural forces over millions of years. Another formation looks like a massive throne.
Many of the walls seems\ to be in motion, featuring curved marks that make the rock look like it’s flowing. Sparkling quartz-like rocks also dot many of the walls.
The sheer size of a few of the rooms is astonishing. The area known as the Indian Council Room was large enough to host large Comanche tribal meetings. Today, the park occasionally hosts concerts underground, taking advantage of the site’s unique acoustics.
No trip to Burnet would be complete without a visit to nearby Inks Lake State Park (3630 Park Road 4 West; 512-793-2223). Unlike most bodies of water in central Texas, Inks Lake stays at a more-or-less constant level regardless of the region’s periodic droughts and flash floods.
A short hike leads to Devil’s Waterhole. Despite the ominous name, it’s a great place for a quick swim. After heavy rains, there are also several scenic waterfalls in the area. Fishing is another popular activity year-round, and the park store can even loan you fishing tackle if you didn’t bring your own.
Serious nature buffs will enjoy hiking the Pecan Flats trail. A handy interpretive guide will help you identify many of the plants and trees along the 3.3-mile route. You can also pack a lunch and stop to enjoy your meal at one of the scenic overlooks on the trail.
At the camp store, you can rent kayaks and paddle boats by the hour.
For a less strenuous activity, the bird blind near the headquarters allows you to photograph many of the park’s abundant bird species from the comfort of a little shack. Deer, skunks, armadillo, and opossums are also frequently sighted around the park.
Before you leave, make sure you check out the campsites along the water. Inks Lake has some of the best camping spots with wonderful lake views and plenty of room. After you see what this park has to offer, you’ll want to plan a longer visit in the near future. In every season, this is one of the true gems of the Texas state park system.