Picture this (and hopefully it doesn’t sound familiar): you’re standing outside a state park, blistering and squinting under a blaring Texas sun. As you sit on the bumper of a dusty Prius, mosquitoes itching, 20 miles away from the nearest diner, you wonder whether the park rangers will accept four dollars in quarters as payment for a day pass. Murphy’s Law.
Cue the Jeep Wrangler pulling up next to you. A perfect crew of hikers pile out in their sun hats and Tevas, along with a Yeti cooler stocked with healthy food options and libations that will accompany them through a blissful afternoon soaking in the Texas sun.
Years of trial and error while hiking, camping, tubing and swimming across Texas have earned me more sunburns, chigger bites and mishaps than I care to admit. Three decades into outdoor adventuring in Central Texas, these are my day trip tips for spending a pleasant, laid-back day in the area around Austin.
Prepare Like a Pro
- Be ready for a long drive. What is a reasonable distance in Texas is considered insane in other states. Consult your map and, if you want to get settled in before the heat of the day, I highly suggest starting early.
- Plan accordingly for food stops. The best Texas road trips involve sustenance far superior to Buc-ee’s, despite what you’ve heard. As you plan your route, note where decent kolache bakeries, taco stands and BBQ joints can be found. I always take the long way if it involves the Dr. Pepper Museum (Waco), Blue Bell factory (Brenham) or Czech Stop (West). Nothing tastes better than smoky Texas brisket at the end of a day of hiking.
- Dress for your day. If you’re hiking through brush, wear long socks, closed-toed hiking shoes and pants. This might seem like overkill, but full leg coverage prevents the affects of chiggers, poison ivy, snakes and bug bites. Flip flops sound fun. But if you’re doing any hiking, shoes with tread are always the smartest bet.
- Consult the forecast to find out when the hottest part of the day is, and plan strategically. Do yourself a solid and prepare to be basking in the shade or water when 3 p.m. rolls around.
- Know which insects and wildlife to watch out for at your destination. Come prepared for mosquitoes, obviously, but looking out for fire ants, snakes and other critters is the next step in safety. If you’re entering an area thick with chiggers, pick up some sulphur powder from your local pharmacist. DEET also does the trick and helps ward off other bugs, too.
- We have venomous snakes in Central Texas! In addition to coral snakes and rattlesnakes, cottonmouth snakes–also known as water moccasins–swim throughout some creeks and rivers in our area. My grandmother swears that snakes are most active after a big rain. But I would call the watering hole you plan to visit before heading out for a swim, no matter what the weather has been.
Day Trip Packing List
- Always pack your swim suit and towel. Hiking? Stash your bikini in the bottom of your bag just in case. Trust me on this. It’s lightweight and summers in Central Texas are best when they include spontaneous swimming adventures.
- Several bandanas. Immerse them in water at home, stash them in your cooler and, when it gets hot out, lace them around your neck for a lovely rush of cool water.
- Cash. Many Texas Parks only accept cash. I learned this the hard way, adding a 30-minute detour searching for the nearest ATM outside Dripping Springs, just to get into Reimer’s Ranch. Even better, if you day trip often, I suggest purchasing a Texas State Parks pass. For just $70, you and your guests get in free at over 90 state parks for an entire year.
- Cheap sunglasses and a Neoprene strap. If you plan on tubing or heading to a water park, leave your Ray-Bans at home and pack some cheap, replaceable shades that can withstand battering. If you do bring your nice sunglasses, pick up a neoprene strap to keep them on your person, no matter where the river takes you.
- Pack a ton of water. And then throw in two more Nalgene bottles. Water can be hard to acquire outdoors and you’re going to be sweating. Don’t be that guy. Stow enough hydration for yourself with some to spare.
- If you’re not sure what terrain you’ll be hiking in, wear shoes suitable for hiking and water. Teva, Chaco and Keen have tons of shoes that fit the bill. One trip to Whole Earth Provision Co. will have you outfitted.
- Sun hat with a wide brim and sunscreen, always sunscreen.
- Stash a first aid kit in your car. Seriously, folks, nature in Texas wants to kill you.
- A cooler or bag filled with a mix of decadent and wholesome picnic treats. My favorites include whole wheat bagels, cheese sticks, locally-made Epic bars, cookies, trail mix and granola bars. Pre-cut fruit spoils fast, but it’s so worth it. And flavored fizzy water is always a welcome treat when you’re basking in the sun. The latter also turns into festive, low-maintenance cocktails with a few splashes of your favorite liquor (but consult alcohol policies at your location).
Choosing a Day Trip Destination
Ready to go and need destination ideas? Check out our collection of day trip suggestions! Whether you’re floating down the Frio, hiking a limestone outcropping, exploring a cavernous swimming hole or getting cozy in one of the many breweries dotting the Hill Country, there are countless ways to enjoy Central Texas this summer.
@kristinmleigh wants to know:
What is your favorite life hack for enjoying a day outdoors in Central Texas?