#TravelTuesday: Burnet County — A Treasure Hidden in the Hills

by Leeza Dennis on July 5, 2016 in Living Texas, Travels,
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Burnet is one of the most beautiful places that I’ve seen in Texas. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You may be the type to be dazzled by the bustle and the lights of the big city, or perhaps you’re more appreciative of the quiet wonder of a small town. But no matter your inclination, trust me when I say that Burnet, Texas is sure to charm you with it’s soft, rustic beauty.

My hour-and-a-half drive from San Marcos to Burnet, along route 281, was full of picturesque winding roads, with large mountains rising on all sides of me, and batches of wildflowers sprouting every which way. Johnson City, Round Mountain, Marble Falls… Everything slipped by as nature began to take over the road, as if it were telling me to turn off my phone, all my electronics, and to just enjoy the world around me.

Canyon of the Eagles

Courtesy photo
Courtesy photos

Canyon of the Eagles is a resort nearly 19 miles outside the town of Burnet, situated on the north shore of Lake Buchanan. They’re located in the heart of the 940-acre nature reserve, which is evident when you see the deer skirting around your cabin in the dawn.

Their rooms are expansive and simple with a wall-spanning window that gives guests a view of either the shimmering lake or the courtyard. It almost feels as though you’re back at summer camp, except far more luxurious. It’s a fantastic feeling to nestle yourself on the window seat, a book in your lap, as the sun sets over the lake. Also included are porches with rocking chairs, native stone, and rough board-and-batten siding.  

The resort really takes care of its guests with round-the-clock service, a well-stocked hospitality roomed affectionately titled The Eagles Nest, and an amazing staff who make you feel right at home. Also, their restaurant, The Overlook, is full of delectable award-winning food and sits atop a hill that gives you a panoramic view of the Hill Country.

Entertainment-wise, highlights included the “Movie Under the Stars” and a “S’mores” night where guests are invited to enjoy the natural beauty of the resort with each other. But perhaps my absolute favorite was the Eagle Eye Observatory, operated by the Austin Astronomical Society. In-house Astronomer, Jim Sheets, is happy to answer any question you may ask, and one thing he explained to me was that the observatory sits under a patch of sky nearly untouched by light pollution. Now, maybe I’m a simple girl with simple pleasures, but I was in absolute awe – I had never seen so many stars in my life. It was honestly an unforgettable experience, and one that everyone should enjoy.

Smythwick Castle & Lodge

The castle grounds are beautiful. Courtesy photo
The castle grounds are beautiful.

Smythwick Castle & Lodge is a taste of fairytale on Texas fields. Located in Marble Falls, it is a wonderful place to have a wedding day, anniversary, weekend getaway and so much more. It’s stone fireplaces and unique old-world brick courtyard will add romance to any adventure you may choose to have here.

Smythwick seemed to glow, if that makes sense. It is grand with extensive details dripping with gold and classical beauty. An intimate dining and living area is decked with portraits that are both old and new – here it feels more like a comfortable home than a castle. However, this quickly changes when you venture outside. The courtyard, strings of lights, and not to mention an encounter with peacocks – two of which are white – goats and prize chickens that look too expensive to be cooked.

Encompassing the castle is a field of flowers – red, blue, violet, and yellow. I spent the better part of the hour on my belly taking photos of the Indian Paintbrushes and Blue Bonnets. Another interesting feature is a winding body of water next to the property.

Bittersweet Cakes Catering served us at Smythwick Castle & Lodge, and the two paired well together because the food was definitely fit for a king.

Vanishing Texas River Cruise

It was an overcast and somewhat rainy day when we boarded the two-deck Texas Eagle II for the Vanishing Texas River Cruise. Our tour was guided by an energetic crew who obviously knew the ins-and-outs of the Colorado River. There was no end to their knowledge – whether it be local folktales or scientific facts about the surrounding wildlife.

I sat cross-legged at the bow of the ship, camera and binoculars at the ready. If you love bird watching, you will love this tour. Out of 900 bird species found in the United States, 600 can be found in the state of Texas. Many interesting birds migrate through the Highland Lakes Area and others spend the winter here. Guests may also catch a glimpse of any of the following birds types: Scissor-tailed Flychatcher, Owls, Crows, Hawks, Great Blue Herons, Mallards and other ducks, gulls, roadrunners, painted Buntings, Robins and wild Turkeys, just to name a few. That being said, I am very proud to say that I caught a glimpse of a baby Bald Eagle. Give me my bird-watching badge now.

Fort Croghan Museum

The characters were very interesting to say the least.
The characters were very interesting to say the least.

Fort Croghan is an interactive museum where guests are invited to explore preserved remnants from the 1800s. These include a blacksmith shop, an old powder house and various log cabins that belonged to Burnet’s pioneers.

We were greeted by reenactors of every variety – a fur tradesman, a Native American, pioneers and even an old soldier wielding a musket. They were giving us a small taste of their October event called “Fort Croghan Day.” On this day, volunteers live life as though they were back on the western frontier. Events include tin punch, doll making, churning butter, playing on stilts and much more.

Natural Reserves

One thing that Burnet has ample supply of is natural wildlife and formations, and I was able to explore three of their many parks: Inks Lake State Park, Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge and the Longhorn Cavern State Park.

If you’re looking for a great camping spot this summer, then Inks Lake State Park should be first on your list. Relatively unknown compared to giants like Big Bend, Inks Lake packs just as mighty a punch with its deep blue water, gorgeous rock outcrops, and striking sunsets. There are 200 campsites and 22 cabins available if you’re ever looking to just chill out and forget the world. Other fun things are 7.5 miles of hiking trails, or swimming and other watersports in the lake.

The Balcones Canyonlands is the place to be if you’re looking to spot exotic species. On the refuge, well above the surface, the deep, clear-water pools are not only important sources of water for wildlife during a drought, they are often the last refuge for the hardy fish that remain. The refuge harbors 245 bird species for part or all of the year. Almost half are neotropical migratory birds that breed in the U.S. and live winter south of the border.  Because of its importance to birds, this refuge has been identified as being significant for world bird conservation and officially designated a Globally Important Bird Area. The American Bird Conservancy recognized Balcones Canyonlands NWR as an IBA for its significant role in conserving the golden-cheeked warbler, the black-capped vireo, and their habitats.

If you want to be amazed then visit the Longhorn State Cavern Park. Here we were given a tour of the caverns — which are really astounding, beyond words in my opinion – by an energetic tour guide who wasn’t an expert geologist but he “knew enough to be dangerous.” Before you even encounter the caves, you walk through the remnants of an old building that looks like it was once a mission of some sort. You suddenly walk into the past, the ancient, when you enter the ground of Longhorn State Cavern Park. The path to the caves is through a set of stairs that are old and worn, and you descend further and further down until you look up and there’s a hole in the sky. Our guide stood at the gate of the caverns, a small figure dressed in blue before a large black entrance that seemed to breathe. It’s mystical standing there. There’s a lot of stories in the caverns — from moonshining business to ghosts to daring escapades and the list goes on and on. I’m sure your tour guide will be more than happy to explain to you when you schedule your trip.

Trailblazer Grille had the ambiance of those old western towns you grew up in. Rowdy, loud, and fun – this is the place to be when you want to chill out and eat some good ol’ fashioned food. A highlight of Trailblazer Grille — other than it’s attentive waitstaff — was the live music that lifted already high spirits. Going here will be sure to put you in a good mood. Check out their Pecan Pie – honestly the best I’ve ever had.

Burnet is a small-town wonder, full with Bluebonnets, good people, and untouched nature. It is the perfect place to bring your family and friends, and stocked to the brim with things to do. I went in Spring – Bluebonnet season – but Winter, Summer, and Fall are lovely time to visit Burnet as well. Go ahead and get to it!