Texas Hill Country sits near the middle of the state. The gentle rolling hills, crystal clear rivers, and rich history give rise to state and national historic parks that are perfect destinations for both nature lovers and history buffs. The area’s 31,000 square miles begin north of San Antonio and west of Austin and include some of the most beautiful parks in the state.
Fredericksburg, a town settled in the 1840s by German immigrants, lies in the heart of Texas Hill Country and is surrounded by orchards, vineyards, and wineries. Fredericksburg provides an ideal jumping-off point to explore these beautiful and historic Hill Country parks, only to return in the evening and reward yourself with wine tasting and a fine meal.
Here are seven beautiful parks to visit near Fredericksburg.
1. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is 18 miles north of Fredericksburg via Ranch Road 965. Enchanted Rock was thought to have mystical properties by ancient people who inhabited the area 12,000 years ago. As far as the mystical properties go, most, it seems, can be explained. The groaning rocks aren’t unsettled spirits but a product of the expansion and contraction of the stone. And the “ghost fires” are likely a reflection of small pockets of water against the glassy feldspar rock.
In any case, a hike along the base of Enchanted Rock or to its summit is enchanting, especially as dusk approaches. As the sun nears the horizon, Enchanted Rock seems to glow. Enchanted Rock is a 640-acre pink granite dome exposed by erosion over thousands of years. Large boulders have tumbled down the dome and are perched so precariously you wonder if a strong gust of wind will topple them over.
From afar, Enchanted Rock looks to be nothing but stone, but a walk on the dome shows off the rock’s lichen, plant life that somehow ekes out an existence in the crevices, and tiny ponds in divots on the rock’s surface. Panoramic views of the forested valley and smaller granite outcroppings reward those who climb to the top.
The park offers about 11 miles of trails, from easy to challenging, that also show off the beautiful countryside.
Pro Tip: The park’s website lists available trails and expected walking/hiking times. It took me longer than the expected 45 minutes to tackle the summit trail. Wear sturdy shoes and bring plenty of water. Visit their website for entrance fees and the recommended reservations for day use and tent camping.
2. Old Tunnel State Park
Located 14 miles south of Fredericksburg via Old San Antonio Road, the free-to-enter Old Tunnel State Park is open daily from dawn until 5 p.m. for anyone who wants to walk the half-mile nature trail. But the main attraction is the exodus of 3 million Mexican free-tail bats that roost in the abandoned railroad tunnel from May until October.
To watch the bats spiral out of the tunnel in the evening, you’ll need to make a reservation. Tickets are available for the upper and lower viewing areas – both have seats. The upper viewing platform is ADA accessible.
Pro Tip: Tickets are limited so reserve early. Tickets are not sold at the park.
3. Lyndon B. Johnson State Park And Historic Site
Lyndon B. Johnson State Park is on Highway 290, about 17 miles east of Fredericksburg. The visitor center details Johnson’s childhood years as well as his presidential accomplishments. It also provides a snapshot of the Indigenous people and German immigrants that settled in the Fredericksburg area.
The Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm is a must-see. Rangers and volunteers, wearing period costumes, explain life on a late 1800s to early 1900s farm and demonstrate how chores were done back in the day. It is a working farm with livestock, a huge garden, and a farmhouse with a wood-burning cookstove. You might see women spinning cotton yarn from cotton picked in the garden or smell freshly baked cornbread. Try not to think too much about where the sausage comes from.
Pro Tip: On Highway 290 East (aka Wine Road 290) between Fredericksburg and the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park, you’ll pass dozens of wineries with tasting rooms. Or take a detour to Luckenbach, 13 miles south, for a beverage and live music.
4. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park can be somewhat confusing because it has two districts — the Johnson City District and the Ranch District. The main visitor center and Johnson’s boyhood home are in Johnson City, 30 miles east of Fredericksburg on Highway 290. The visitor center museum contains memorabilia and a look at President Johnson’s ancestors, his early years, political career, and the “Great Society” platform. In addition to the modest boyhood home with wide porches, the Johnson City portion of the park includes the Johnson Settlement with his ancestors’ cabins, barns, and outbuildings.
The Ranch District is across the Pedernales River from the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park, near Stonewall, about halfway between Fredericksburg and Johnson City. Johnson entrusted a portion of his ranch to the National Historic Park. It continues as a working ranch.
The Ranch District Visitor Center and Museum are in the airplane hangar, just steps away from his Air Force One Half plane. Walking tours of the grounds begin at the hangar. Nearby a garage houses Johnson’s cars, a golf cart that carried foreign dignitaries around the ranch, and an amphibious vehicle that Johnson drove into the Pedernales River with unsuspecting passengers.
Inquire at the hangar visitor center about walking tours of the grounds and stories about life at the Texas White House. The Texas White House is currently closed due to structural issues, but renovations are due to start in July of 2022.
Pro Tip: Visit the Johnson City District first and get directions for the Ranch District. Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and the National Historic Park Ranch District are across the Pedernales River from each other, but the connecting road is currently closed, so check with personnel at the Johnson City Visitor Center for up-to-date directions.
5. Pedernales Falls State Park
About 43 miles east of Fredericksburg via Highway 290, Pedernales Falls State Park preserves an extraordinary piece of the Pedernales River. “Here is where I would always return, to the Pedernales River, the scenes of my childhood,” Johnson said. I could see the appeal.
Here the river glides over massive limestone slabs along the path of least resistance. A short walk leads to an overlook of the falls, while a more challenging hike leads you to the water’s edge.
2 miles downstream, swimming areas allow you to get in the water, which is not allowed by the falls. The trail leading to the swimming area is steep and has steps. Other trails cater to equestrians.
The park has camping spots with water and electricity hook-ups and access to the river.
Pro Tip: The park requires reservations for campsites as well as reservations with timed entry for day visitors. The park’s visitor center, picnic area by the scenic overlook, and bird blind are ADA accessible.
6. Lost Maples State Natural Area
Lost Maples State Natural Area lies 75 miles southwest of Fredericksburg via TX-16 South and Ranch Road 337. While an old bigtooth maple grove is a star of the park, especially in the fall, over 10 miles of trails allow you to see wildflowers in the spring, birds, and the crystal clear waters of Sabinal River.
The Maple Trail passes through the old maple trees and over the Sabinal River by way of stepping stones a few times. Continuing beyond the Maple Trail, the trail becomes the East Trail and takes you to Monkey Rock, the Grotto, and an overlook of the maple-filled canyon.
If you’d like to spend a few days here in your home away from home, make reservations for the campground. Some sites have RV hook-ups.
Pro Tip: While visiting in autumn is most popular, reservations for camping and day visits are recommended year-round as the park closes once it reaches full capacity.
7. Garner State Park
Garner State Park is 98 miles southwest of Fredericksburg but is worth the drive on Highways 290 West and 83 South. With the Frio River running through the park, visitors have plenty of ways to cool off in the summer with tubing or paddle boating. You can fish for rainbow trout, bicycle, or hike 16 miles of trails that range from easy to challenging.
The park is divided into several sections with campsites, trails, and easy access to the Frio River in each. Most visitors flock to the Old Garner section of the park. Here, the Civilian Conservation Corps built the lodge, pavilion, and cabins from 1935 to 1941.
Since the 1940s, the pavilion has served as the dance floor for jukebox dances on summer nights. The cabins are available to rent with a two-night minimum and have kitchens and full baths. The park has campsites with and without RV hook-ups in both the newer sections and Old Garner.
Pro Tip: A park ranger told me the best time to visit is spring and fall when fewer people are camping. Make reservations online for day use and camping. Old Garner cabins and campsites fill months in advance in the summer.
If you plan on visiting a number of Texas State Parks, you can save money by buying an annual pass. And for more information on Fredericksburg-area activities, stop by their visitor center.