Taking a Sunday drive in the hill country to view wildflowers is a time-honored Austin tradition. For those who truly love viewing endless fields of wildflowers, however, a single scenic drive may not be enough. A three-day wildflower-focused vacation offers the opportunity to view more varied terrain and more types of flowers. Because of its location at the crossroads of several wildflower routes, Kerrville is the ideal spot to serve as home base for this adventure.
Check in at the Carlton Club Inn (126 Plaza Drive, 830-353-2799) in Kerrville. Formerly a small apartment complex, the Carlton Club Inn has accommodations ranging from one-bedroom rooms to two-bedroom townhomes with full kitchens. You can stock up the kitchen with groceries from the nearby HEB (300 Main, 830-896-3600). If you need to stretch your legs after the drive from Austin, the hotel is walking distance from the Guadalupe River.
If you get to the hotel in the early afternoon, you may have time for a short drive before sunset. From the hotel, take TX-27 west toward the tiny town of Hunt. Stay to the left as TX-27 merges into TX-39. It’s only about a 20-minute drive, and it winds along the Guadalupe River. In addition to tons of wildflowers, you’ll encounter a few dramatic overlooks and cross several pristine streams.
Upon arriving in Hunt, proceed directly to the Hunt Rock Cafe (1634 TX-39, 830-238-4410) for dinner. The casual restaurant has surprisingly sophisticated dishes, including pork tenderloin served with mango serrano sauce and crab enchiladas with a chipotle cream sauce. There’s indoor and outdoor seating, and the kids can play horseshoes on the fenced-in patio. The adjoining Hunt Store is a small grocery store and community gathering place.
The best breakfast spot in Kerrville is the Rio Ranch Cafe (2590 Junction Highway, 830-367-1850). For a light, healthy breakfast, try Johnny’s Homemade Granola, with steel-cut oats, walnuts and cranberries. Those with heartier appetites might want to choose the chicken and waffles, served with a big Belgian waffle and two pieces of breaded and fried chicken breast.
For your next scenic drive, take TX-16 northeast toward Fredericksburg. This portion of the highway usually has abundant wildflowers, but the star attraction lies a few miles beyond Fredericksburg. Since the drive to Fredericksburg is only about 30 minutes, you probably won’t yet be ready for another meal. However, Fredericksburg’s main street has plenty of other attractions, from antique shops to the impressive National Museum of the Pacific War. Even if you don’t plan to linger long, Fredericksburg’s downtown area is just big enough for a nice walk and a little window shopping.
For the next portion of the trip, if you’re following along with your GPS, the gadget may fail you. The Willow City Loop is a tiny road that may not show up on your electronic map. Proceed north on TX-16 north of Fredericksburg for 13 miles. Turn right on Ranch Road 1323. Continue 2.5 miles and turn left onto Willow City Loop. After that, you’ll wind through 13 miles of country road, past fields of bluebonnets, tri-colored Indian blanket and delicate reddish-purple winecup flowers.
Keep in mind that this is a very popular drive, particularly in April and May, so beware of other drivers and don’t get too distracted by the glorious scenery. Most of the land on either side of the road is private property, so think twice before setting out on an impromptu hike on someone else’s land. As you drive, the hills get higher, and the views become more and more dramatic. The road eventually leads back to TX-16.
If you’re not yet ready to return to Kerrville, you can go about 20 miles farther north on TX-16 and visit Enchanted Rock State Natural Area (16710 Ranch Road 965, 830-685-3636). The massive pink-granite dome is the centerpiece of the park, but the land around it is also covered in wildflowers in spring.
On the return trip, you’ll probably be ready for lunch by the time you get back to Fredericksburg. If you’re traveling with kids, they’ll love Clear River (138 E. Main Street, 830-997-8490) in downtown Fredericksburg. In addition to hefty sandwiches with homemade bread, Clear River has ice cream, pies, cakes, and candy -- all made in-house.
Back in Kerrville, another great spot for a downhome breakfast is the Save Inn Restaurant (1806 Sidney Baker, 830-257-7484). If you like a spicy Tex-Mex breakfast, try the migas plate. The oatmeal flapjacks with honey and cinnamon are another crowd favorite. The decor looks like it probably hasn’t changed much since the 1970s, but that only adds to the small-town charm.
For today’s adventure, head south on TX-16 toward the tiny town of Medina. In Medina, take a right on Ranch Road 337 toward Vanderpool. There are plenty of twists and turns all along this route, including several changes in elevation, and the wildflower views are simply stunning.
In Vanderpool (also a tiny town), head north on FM 187 for five more miles and you’ll arrive at Lost Maples State Natural Area (37221 FM 187, 830-966-3413). This is perhaps the most beautiful stretch of the trip. In addition to wildflowers, you’ll pass by gnarled old oak trees and idyllic farms. Lost Maples is home to the largest population of bigtooth maples in Texas. It’s also one of the few spots in Texas with dramatic fall color. The East Trail at the park is a scenic but somewhat strenuous hike; if you just want to dip your toe in the river, there are several shorter walks along the water.
For the return trip, retrace the same route and consider stopping for lunch at the Patio Cafe (14024 TX-16, 800-449-0882) in Medina, the apple-growing capital of Texas. Located adjacent to Love Creek Orchards, the restaurant has several types of burgers and sandwiches, but leave room for dessert. The cafe uses fresh apples to make amazing apple pies, turnovers, muffins and ice cream.