Road Trip Ideas from Austin, Texas

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Texas offers an endless variety of small towns and big scenery to explore.

Many of the most fun and unique places are near Austin, making it a great place to start on a road trip. 

Whether you’re looking for a quick getaway that will have you home by dinner time or a vacation without the airports and suitcases, Texas has a road trip for you.

Let’s take a look at road trip ideas from Austin! These are sorted by the time you have to make planning convenient. 

Austin Day Trip Ideas

Wimberley and the Devil’s Backbone

Wimberley is a charming and picturesque little town a quick 45 minutes southwest of Austin. Taking a cue from the Blanco River and Cypress Creek flowing slowly through town, Wimberley has a laid-back, comfortable feel.

It’s a favorite of artists and craftspeople, and strolling the galleries you can find authentic handmade decor, jewelry, apparel, and fine and folk art. 

At Bella Vista Ranch they make wine and olive oil – they realized the soil and climate resemble the Mediterranean, which is appealing enough by itself – and you can sample both at their tasting room.

Wimberley Glassworks, on the road toward San Marcos, offers the chance to watch master glassblowers at work and take home their creations.

Relax on a hot summer day at Blue Hole Regional Park, a beloved natural swimming hole hiding in the center of town surrounded by old-growth cypress forest, or at Jacob’s Well, an artesian spring and the headwaters of Cypress Creek, whose water is always a cool 68 degrees. If you prefer to stay dry, Wimberley Zipline Adventures offers a thrilling way to take in the natural beauty of the Wimberley Valley. 

On your way out of town, take the scenic route. Head south out of town to RR 32 toward Blanco, a drive known as the Devil’s Backbone. Feast your eyes on the big, beautiful vistas – but keep them peeled for ghosts.

The Devil’s Backbone has a long reputation of hauntings and ghost sightings. Boo!

Lockhart and Shiner

Austin has some great barbecue, of course – it would be a travesty if the capital of Texas didn’t – but Lockhart is a barbecue Mecca worthy of a pilgrimage.

Luckily it’s only about 40 minutes south along 183. The Barbecue Capital of Texas features three legendary BBQ joints in Kreuz Market, Smitty’s Market, and the original Black’s Barbecue. 

Kreuz Market has been around since 1900, and their pitmasters claim their coals have been burning nonstop for over a century, even through a move to a new location down the street.

Smitty’s now occupies the former Kreuz building after a family feud split the Schmidts, who had owned Kreuz’s since 1948. A single family, meanwhile, has run Black’s over four generations since 1932.

All three Lockhart joints are regularly rated among the best barbecue in Texas.

No matter how ambitious you are about hitting every BBQ destination, you’ll have some meat sweats to walk off. So explore Lockhart’s cowboy history before you head back out on the road. What looks like a red brick European castle is actually the Caldwell County Jail Museum, a five-story historical museum of Lockhart’s rough-and-tumble past.

Lockhart is also home to the oldest continuously operating library in Texas, the Dr. Eugene Clark Library, built in 1889. With its hardwood floors and two-story stained glass windows, it feels like a church dedicated to learning.

An hour’s drive southeast from Lockhart will take you to Shiner, the home of the famous Spoetzl Brewery.

Sure, there are a ton of craft breweries in and around Austin, but Shiner is special. Founded in 1909, it’s one of few breweries that survived Prohibition, and it’s generations older than every other Texas brewery. Beer goes great with barbecue, so touring the brewery pairs nicely with touring Lockhart’s barbecue joints.

Be sure to check the tour schedule, and designate a driver.

Round Top and Blue Bell

About an hour and a half east off 290 toward Houston you’ll find Round Top, nicknamed the Aspen of Texas. Round Top is a year-round haven for arts and crafts shopping and destination weddings, but the highlight is the twice-annual antique show.

It’s a two-week festival every spring and fall that draws vendors and treasure hunters from across the country. Even outside of the festival, though, Round Top offers a ton of history and culture to enjoy.

Take in a play at Shakespeare at Winedale, put on in the spring and summer by the University of Texas English Department. Or check out the oldest operating cotton gin in America, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, at the Texas Cotton Gin & Museum in nearby Burton. 

And if you’re an ice cream lover (and who isn’t?), don’t miss the Blue Bell Creamery in Brenham.

You can take a guided tour of the creamery before visiting their huge ice cream parlor and gift shop. It’s a great pit stop on a hot day – and let’s be honest, in Texas it’s always hot enough for ice cream.

Weekend Road Trip Ideas from Austin

Fredericksburg, Wildflowers, and Enchanted Rock

The hill country west of Austin offers great road trips for wildflower viewing in the spring, but it’s also worth exploring year-round.

The Texas hill country is famous for its bluebonnets. They draw tourists in the spring like the fall colors do in New England.

We owe their proliferation to Lady Bird Johnson and her Texas Highway Beautification Awards, so it’s only natural to start a bluebonnet tour at the LBJ National Historical Park a little over an hour west of Austin. 

The park was formerly LBJ’s ranch, which the Johnsons donated to the U.S. Park Service, and you can take a driving tour of the grounds.

The ranch house, known as the Texas White House ever since LBJ’s presidency, remained their private residence until Lady Bird’s death in 2007, and now you can tour the house as well.

For a dazzling bluebonnet tour during the season, continue west to Fredericksburg, then follow Highway 16 north to FM 1323 at Eckert. That will take you to Willow City Loop, a picturesque, wildflower-filled 13-mile loop road that reconnects to Highway 16. At that point you’re most of the way to Enchanted Rock via RR 965.

Enchanted Rock is a huge pink granite dome – technically called a monadnock – which passes for a mountain in largely flat Texas.

It’s a State Natural Area popular with visitors for hiking and camping, with spectacular views from the summit. (It is a mountain after all.) Enchanted Rock is also a prime destination for rock climbers, with many routes bolted for lead climbing and even some set up for top-roping. 

Fredericksburg is the place to stay as you tour this part of the hill country. It’s packed with B&B’s and vacation rentals that ooze personality and Texas hospitality. For a unique getaway you can stay in an old Pullman Palace Car that once hosted Teddy Roosevelt! 

Fredericksburg is in the heart of hill country wine country, with dozens of wineries in and around the town. There’s even a wine shuttle, so you don’t have to pick a designated driver.

The area is also packed with peach orchards and pecan trees, so you can almost always find local produce on roadside stands or at the farmer’s market.

When it’s time to head indoors, visit the National Museum of the Pacific War, located in little Fredericksburg because it’s the hometown of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.

7-Day Road Trip Ideas from Austin

Marfa and Big Bend

Austin may be in the center of Texas, but you can still take a very long road trip without leaving the state. If you’re up for a driving vacation, west Texas offers some real highlights.

Six and a half hours away, about an hour off I-10 and twenty minutes from nowhere in every direction, you’ll find the unlikely art town of Marfa. Marfa is a place to get away from it all, relax, and marvel at its weirdness.

The highlight of the Marfa calendar is the Marfa Lights Festival at the beginning of September.

It celebrates the mysterious phenomenon of the Marfa Lights: unexplained, sourceless lights visible on the horizon to the southeast, seemingly coming from all that nowhere.

Whatever their source – UFOs, weird atmospheric effects, distant fires – they have mystified locals and visitors since before the town was founded in the 1880s as a railroad water stop. There’s even an official Marfa Lights viewing area outside town.

Weird art (no judgment!) joined the weird (paranormal?) lights in Marfa in the 1970s. Minimalist artist Donald Judd moved here from New York and began setting up large-scale art installations in aircraft hangars at a military complex dating to World War II.

His galleries drew the attention of the art world to this sparse west Texas town, and it now has a thriving community of artists and galleries that make it an unlikely tourist destination.

Marfa’s reputation, and weirdness, only grew with the creation of Prada Marfa, a freestanding replica Prada store in the middle of nowhere, about 40 miles west on Highway 90.

Marfa is no day trip, so you’ll need a place to stay. In keeping with the town’s theme, many of its hotels boast distinctive architecture, but El Cosmico epitomizes the Marfa experience.

It offers desert glamping in a variety of renovated vintage trailers, tents, teepees, and yurts, as well as tent campsites.

Plan to spend an evening at the McDonald Observatory, about 45 minutes north of Marfa on Mount Locke.

Recognizable to NPR listeners for the StarDate program produced there, the Observatory hosts popular Star Parties, guided tours of the constellations, in its outdoor amphitheater.

Dress warmly! The Observatory’s elevation is almost 6,800 feet, so here in the desert it gets cold at night year round.

After making the long trip to Marfa, you owe it to yourself to take the last leg of the drive down to Big Bend National Park. It’s three hours southeast almost to the Mexican border, to one of the most remote areas in the lower 48 states.

Keep your eyes open along the way for the Tiny Target on Highway 90; it’s a wildcat homage to Prada Marfa and its weird art spirit.

Near the Big Bend National Park headquarters, the Fossil Discovery Exhibit shows off the impressive fossil history of the area, which covers the widest span of geologic time of any American national park.

Once you get some context and background, it’s time to head into the park for your own adventure.

The amount of time you can spend at Big Bend will determine your itinerary, but at a minimum you should drive the 30-mile Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to sample the wide variety of historical and geological features of the park.

Spend a few days in Big Bend and, like any large national park, it has countless unique hiking and camping opportunities to discover.

Conor

I'm the owner of Beast Auto. I live in Phoenix, Arizona. I love anything automotive related, and taking road trips all across my beautiful state.