Q: Peter, what would be some beautiful drives in the central Hill Country or Gulf Coast of Texas?
–David, Houston, Texas
A: There are almost too many beautiful drives to mention in Texas' Hill Country, an area that encompasses 22 wineries, numerous state parks, hundreds of historic farming villages, dozens of charming cafés, several rock caves, and an infinite number of wooded canyons and jaw-dropping limestone formations. Bounded roughly by San Antonio and Austin, the Hill Country lends itself to drives of several hours' duration or to multi-day treks.
If you only have a day or so, try driving from Medina to Vanderpool on Ranch Road 337. This scenic trek takes you through some of the most rugged terrain and offers many majestic views of the Hill Country as it crisscrosses several major river valleys. Continue on to the town of Leakey, and you'll have completed the whole stretch of road the locals call "the Switzerland of Texas." It's especially beautiful in autumn, when the foliage is at its most vibrant.
If you want to venture into more remote territory, head a little farther north. Between the towns of Llano and Mason, you'll also find amazing panoramic views, plus dramatic granite outcroppings that add a splash of pink to the landscape.
If you have several days, make a giant loop from San Antonio up to Fredericksburg via Bandera, then over to Austin via Johnson City, and back down to San Antonio through Gruene and New Braunfels. Bandera is known as the "Cowboy Capital of the World" and is surrounded by dozens of authentic dude ranches. The German town of Fredericksburg is a hub for shopping, but it is also near hiking in the Enchanted Rock Natural Area.
Johnson City is not only the birthplace of former President Lyndon Johnson, but it's also where you'll find the lesser-known but visit-worthy Pedernales Falls State Park, known for its picturesque river and water-sport activities. Gruene is home to Texas's oldest dance hall, and New Braunfels is the antique capital of Texas. Between New Braunfels and San Antonio are the natural bridge caverns, where you can take a guided tour of a half-mile's worth of wild underground rock formations that nature is still creating.
There are some good online planners that can help you choose and customize your own route:Trails.com and TexasEscapes.com are both good ones. If you prefer a guidebook, Fodor’s makes one specifically about San Antonio, Austin, and Hill Country.