Weekend in The Austin HIll Country
It’s a little known fact to those who have never been to Texas (and maybe those who have) that, on the outskirts of Austin, a truly beautiful hill country exists full of hiking trails, unbelievably good rock climbing for all skill levels, lakes & natural pools, caves, and much more. My girlfriend and I are somewhat obsessed with this area and may have camped out here 4-5 times in the last 2 years.. But in our defense, this place is incredible, especially in the spring and fall when the weather is warm and a lot less humid. Places like Pace Bend, Milton Reimers Ranch, Pedernales Falls, and Hamilton Pool Preserve provide stimulating escapes away from the urban sprawls where we spend most of our time. Also, rustic and hill-quaint (yes, I’m making up a term) venues like the Jester King Brewery or the Crystal Creek Distillery, set the stage for you to relax and enjoy the slow, simple lifestyle of the hills while also sampling some local crafts.
This itinerary can be customized depending on your interests. I’ve included a fairly adventure heavy weekend because I really didn’t want you to miss anything. Personally, I think this itinerary would make a great bachelor or bachelorette party for a someone who loves the great outdoors.
I’ve provided two different guides for this weekend, depending on whether you want to climb or not.
Accommodation: Camping at Pace Bend Park
I strongly recommend you camp at Pace Bend! Almost all of the campsites are first come, first served. However, they have a TON of campsites and almost never fill up, even on busy holiday weekends.
If you camp here, make sure you get a campsite on the western side of the park. Here’s why: the western side lines Lake Travis with beautiful cliffs ranging from 5-30 ft tall and most campsites are pretty private with their own cliff area, perfect for watching sunsets and enjoying some seclusion in nature. For the most part, there are no cliffs on the east side of the park and privacy is pretty nonexistent. With a more beachy waterfront and spring break-ish party scene, it’s actually a very strange contrast with the beautiful, peaceful west side. And don’t worry, if you’re camping on the cliff side, you can’t hear the east side. The park is quite large.
Lastly, there’s a bunch of hiking in Pace Bend so if you don’t want to do a lot (or any) driving once you get to your campsite, Pace Bend can definitely be your one-stop-shop.
Note: All entry and camping fees for Pace Bend are CASH ONLY. If you happen to forget to bring that precious green with you, there is an ATM at the Paleface Grocery just up the road from the park entrance. Also, your entrance fee at Pace Bend will get you into Reimers Ranch (featured later in the article) at no additional cost.
Friday Night in the Hill Country: Crystal Creek Distillery
If you’re looking for something before the bonfire (or instead of - I don’t know your life), I’d recommend checking out the Crystal Creek Distillery. Here, they serve true country style moonshine, and it’s actually pretty tasty. The distillery is quaint and the regulars are very friendly. While sipping your specialty moonshine cocktail, and maybe enjoying a live tune or two, you’ll really start to feel the down-to-earth, easy going vibes of the Hill-Life (#hill-life).
Here’s a tip: Mention that you’re camping at Pace Bend. They may have discounted drinks or other specials for campers.
Saturday Morning: Climbing or Hiking
Climbing Option: Milton Reimers Ranch Park
Reimers Ranch is an absolute gem with great limestone climbing for all skill levels. My favorite wall is Dead Cats, featuring dozens of well bolted sport climbing routes between 5.6-5.10s. However, there are advanced routes there too if that’s more your speed. Check out the route specifics on Mountain Project.
The hike to the main climbing areas is pretty rad. Even if you don’t want to climb, this path is worth a wander just to see a b-e-a-utiful climbers cave (see photo below), complete with Stalagmites, stalactites, and a nearly perfectly flat roof. Vines and other foliage grow around and through the cave making it very stunning and picturesque.
Bonus! Another thing I love about this spot is the refreshing, shallow, and slow moving river that’s only a short walk from the climbing walls. Taking a dip in these waters after or between climbs is always a very soothing reward.
Honestly, I can’t say enough nice things about Reimers Ranch, so I suppose I’ll just repeat myself, this place is a gem.
Non-Climbing Option: Hiking at Pedernales Falls State Park
If you’re not interested in climbing, Pedernales Falls State Park is close by too and offers some great hiking and refreshing rivers. This park is great regardless of what time of year you're visiting. If it’s the wet season, the waterfalls are rushing and gorgeous. If it’s been droughty and the falls are nearly dry, you will be captivated by exploring the maze of trenches that have formed under the falls throughout the millennia.
Saturday night: Pizza and beer at the Jester King Brewery
You cannot go to Austin’s Hill Country without a stop by the Jester King Brewery for a slice of pizza and a local craft brew. This rustic, open air beer garden has one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever experienced and is a very family and pet friendly environment. Every time I go here, I always think, dang I wish my backyard could be this awesome. I suppose I’d have to start with getting a larger backyard because this place is very open and large. Also, the pizza is delicious!!! Overall, it’s a great spot, what can I say.
Some Bonus Notes: Jester King specializes in sour beers, which are amazing, but may not be for everyone. If sour beers are not your thing, be sure to order your beer from the pizza place instead. Also, they offer 30 minute brewery tours on Friday (6pm), Saturday (1pm, 3pm, 5pm), and Sunday (1pm, 3pm, 5pm) and adorable farm tours on Saturday (2pm, 6pm). Both are free of charge and do not require a reservation. Check out their website for more details.
Sunday Morning: Climbing at Pace Bend or Swimming at Hamilton Pool Preserve
Deep water free solo climbing in Thurman Cove (Pace Bend)
The water in Pace Bend (Lake Travis) is usually very comfortable. It’s definitely warmer in summer and fall, but still refreshing in the spring. The climbs are fun and challenging, but if you have to fall, make sure you land far enough away from the wall and trees growing under the water. That being said, it’s probably not the best option for a droughty year when the lake levels are low… Also, there is a sweet 30-35 ft cliff jump across from the main bouldering wall. In other words, lots of fun things to do, JUST BE CAREFUL and always check water depths and scan for unseen underwater objects!
Here’s a tip: bring or buy an inner tube or some sort of floatie so you can big chill in the water between climbs. These can be purchased at the Paleface Grocery (location on Google Maps) a couple miles down the road.
Even if you don’t want to climb, chilling in Lake Travis with a floatie and a beer is always a fun time.
Hamilton Pool Preserve
For you non-climbers out there that don’t feel like floating around Lake Travis, Hamilton Pool Preserve is a solid choice. The water here is famously very blue or turquoise or whatever. It’s interesting, let’s put it this way.
Notes: you must get a reservation to visit Hamilton Pool during all seasons except winter so book well in advance. Make sure you check out reservations and park alerts on their web page. Also, Hamilton Pool can be very crowded so if you’re not the kind of person that likes to share your nature, this is probably not the right spot for you. You could try Krause Springs instead, which is epic in its own ways but less popular than Hamilton Pool.
Whatever you decide to do in the Austin Hill Country, you’re going to have a great time. So get out there have some fun!
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