An easy day trip from Cordillera Ranch, the Highland Lakes region of the Texas Hill Country becomes a blooming hotbed of our state flower every spring. A charming spot year-round, the area boasts family-friendly activities like leisurely river cruises, a thrilling cavern, a first-class resort and six freshwater lakes. In March and April, the famous blue flowers move front and center with justifiable pride — in 1981, the Texas Legislature designated Burnet the official Bluebonnet Capital of Texas®. There’s even a State Wildflower Day on April 24th.
By Julie Catalano
April 12-14, 2019
Now in its 36th year, the Bluebonnet Festival in Burnet (pop. 6,000) draws upwards of 30,000 visitors to the annual festivities held in the historic town square. With three days of events and more than 200 arts and crafts vendors, live entertainment, a food court, children’s activities, a pet parade, a grand parade, a bluebonnet biergarten, 5K and 10K runs and much more, the festival promises something for everybody. The Highland Lakes Birding & Wildflower Show features free exhibits at the Burnet public library on Friday and Saturday, with local master naturalists and native plant personnel on hand to answer questions about local flowers and provide maps to the best roadside spots for viewing and picture-taking. Admission to the festival grounds and Friday night concert with Gary P. Nunn is free. Tickets for the Saturday night headliner concert with Shotgun Rider and Mike Ryan Band are available at the gate.
Highland Lakes Squadron Commemorative Air Force Museum
This small but impressive museum is located at Burnet Municipal Kate Craddock Field and filled with authentic WWII artifacts from the United States, Germany and Japan, plus uniforms, weapons, newspapers of the day and more. Dedicated to preserving vintage WWII aircraft, the working hangar holds a fascinating array of restored planes including the T-6/SNJ Texan. The museum’s annual air show every September brings aviation enthusiasts and history buffs from all over. Open Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Note: The museum’s Douglas C-47 Skytrain “Bluebonnet Belle” was destroyed in a crash in July 2018 with 13 passengers and crew aboard; miraculously there were no fatalities. The museum’s website states in part: “… we will move forward and our mission remains the same. We will strive to preserve our aviation history by continuing to restore and maintain the old War Birds and tell the story of the Greatest Generation and aviation in general.”
Part of the Texas system of state parks, Longhorn Cavern — carved by ancient underground rivers — is located on a chain of limestone hills called Backbone Ridge. The most popular tour is the Cavern Walking Tour, on the hour from 10:00am to 4:00pm, first come-first served (groups of 20 or more can request a group booking). The 90-minute guided tour takes visitors through the Underground Ballroom, Indian Council Room, Hall of Diamonds, Moon Room and more. The Wild Cave Tour is a two-to-three-hour primitive wriggling, crawling, caving adventure (you will get dirty and wet!). It’s for booked groups of 4-12 guests, ages 8+ and scheduled on Saturdays at 9:30am — see the website or call for required and recommended caving safety equipment and girth restrictions (shoulders, hips).
Canyon of the Eagles, A Calibre Resort
Rustic comfort in a great outdoors setting, the resort is a 940-acre nature park on the shores of Lake Buchanan. Cabin-style buildings house 61 comfortable standard-to-deluxe nonsmoking rooms with outstanding views through large windows or from front porch rocking chairs. You just might spot an American Bald Eagle if you’re lucky. Enjoy signature dishes and cocktails at the Eagles Nest Lounge and the Overlook Restaurant. Better yet, get out and about for a hike on more than 14 miles of park trails, attend hands-on programs on reptiles or birding, or enjoy the pool. This pristine spot is also one of the best places in Central Texas for stargazing. Talk to the resort staff about booking a private group trip up the hill to the Eagle Eye Observatory where an on-site expert astronomer conducts an informative “tour” of the night sky. Other amenities include primitive camping and RV park, a fishing pier, arts and crafts, a park store, and meeting and banquet facilities. The property is pet friendly, parking is complimentary and amenities are free for resort guests. For the public, a $7 per person day pass provides access to the resort’s amenities (except the swimming pool).
Vanishing Texas River Cruise
Reserve your spot aboard a double-decker Texas Eagle II for a variety of popular cruises. These serene cruises offer excellent opportunities to view regional and migrating birds, including the wintering Bald Eagles, as well as views of native Texas wildlife, cascading waterfalls and towering cliffs. Friendly, knowledgeable tour guides discuss history, geology and natural and manmade points of interest as the boat glides past. The Original Scenic Wilderness Cruise operates from March 1 through November 14 in an 18-mile journey across Lake Buchanan to the mouth of the Colorado River. Sunset Cruises are from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Eagle Cruises are from November 15 to end of February. Note: All cruises are entirely dependent on water levels on Lake Buchanan and the Highland Lakes River Chain — too much or too little rain can result in cruises being canceled or changed to accommodate the existing water level.
Inks Lake State Park
Just six miles north of Longhorn Cavern State Park on historic Park Road 4 is Inks Lake — a 1,200-acre gem of a state park with pink rock “islands,” ample wildlife and camping from primitive to cabins, along with boat rentals, kayaking, canoeing, a nine-hole golf course, wildlife viewing stations, a park store and more. “There are plenty of things to see and do, including nine miles of hiking trails featuring a visit to the popular Devil’s Sinkhole swimming area,” says Cory Evans, superintendent. “That’s a beautiful hike.” The park is open daily with seasonal hours and a $6 day-use pass for ages 13 and up; free admission for ages 12 and under.
Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
More than eight miles of hiking trails (from easy to strenuous) with scenic overlooks and photo blinds await the nature lover at this 72-square-mile national wildlife refuge founded in 1992. It’s a birdwatcher’s paradise with spoonbills, red-tailed hawks, sandpipers, cranes and more. Even the endangered golden-cheeked warbler songbirds know a good thing when they see it; the oak-juniper woodlands of Central Texas are their exclusive nesting grounds upon arrival from Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala and until they head south at the end of July. A true wildlife refuge, there is no camping or fishing, no pets, no firearms and no collecting or disturbing of plants, animals, fossils or artifacts. Admission is free and the refuge is open Monday to Friday, 8:00am to 4:30pm, year-round except federal holidays.
For more information, visit www.burnetcountytexas.