An old series of advertisements proclaimed, “Texas … It’s Like a Whole Other Country.” And should your next family road trip take you by way of Burnet County, Texas, you’ll discover that saying is even more true than it was a couple of decades back when those ads first aired.
While cities like Austin, San Antonio and Fredericksburg are riding high as vibrant “city break” destinations with their dynamic art and culture, trendy dining and outdoor activities, Burnet County (a.k.a. Texas Hill Country; the Highland Lakes region) presents a successful argument that simple outdoor pleasures and “old-fashioned” forms of family fun can be just as exciting.
The swath of rural Texas the late president Lyndon Baines Johnson once called home beckons with seven picturesque lakes and hilly vistas with history and wildlife hiding in plain sight. Some of it can be discovered through Vanishing Texas River Cruises along Lake Buchanan, led by lifelong residents of the area with a vested interest in conservation and education; and Fort Croghan, a museum built out of one of four Texas forts erected in 1849 by the U.S. government. The outdoor part of the museum includes a hospital, classroom, officers’ quarters, enlisted men’s huts, commissary, adjutant’s office, bakery and horse lots with storage.
In the heart of all this calm activity (arguably, in the heart of Texas itself) is Canyon of the Eagles Resort. The sprawling and woodsy expanse brings back a kind of family road trip travel free of many bells and whistles. With simple-but-spacious cabin-style guestrooms as well as areas for RVs and campsites, owner Cindy Bower aptly describes the property as a “900-acre mini national park.” While WiFi is available, rooms are deliberately not furnished with televisions. This ensures guests (including dogs, welcome for an extra fee) will have to unplug and enjoy the resort’s many outdoor adventures.
A wonderful and immersive first-day activity offered by the resort is a two-hour Canyon Cruise ($40/person), which takes guests past several natural landmarks, including Fall Creek Falls, Sometimes Falls and Deer Creek Falls, along with towering cliffs and spectacular landscapes along Lake Buchanan. Texas wildlife, including eagles, hawks, blue heron and bobcats; wild Spanish goats will often make appearances.
Other highlights include guided and non-guided hikes, stargazing in the resort’s Eagle Eye observatory manned by Jim Sheets (whose passion and knowledge would impress Neil DeGrasse-Tyson), and Saturday Shake, Rattle, and Coil shows with on-site naturalist Robert, accompanied by an interesting cast of local critters. The resort is also outfitted with Eaglet Corner (a learning center) for the youngest explorers, as well as arts-and-crafts classes, s’mores-making sessions and seasonal adventures like the Owl Prowl.
That said, there are some modern additions Cindy and her team are factoring into the formula. The old Park Store is being converted into a wellness center where yoga classes and other activities will be staged when the weather does not permit outdoor sessions on the Sunset Terrace. At the acclaimed Overlook Restaurant, Chef Matthew Wayland offers modern but honest Austin/San Antonio-caliber fare, as well as imaginative breakfast and lunch dishes made with Highland Lakes-sourced products.
Outside of the resort, nearby eateries specialize in home-y, Texas-sized plates of comfort food. The best of these include the folksy small town diner flavor of Mama’s Home Cooking, known for its blackened catfish and chicken-fried steak, and Highlander House of Buffet & Steakhouse, offering a real deal “hometown buffet” with excellent fried chicken and barbecue ribs. For nighttime fun, there’s Trailblazer Grille, with fantastic live shows that can compete with an Austin venue
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