Things to Consider
One of the best things about driving around in the Hill Country is that there are so many opportunities to view sweeping vistas, shimmering streams, undulating hills, and of course severed catfish heads hanging on fence lines. To capitalize on those opportunities you really should consider taking the path less traveled, especially when the beautiful wildflowers are out.
When you review our suggested scenic drive loops please consider the following. Many of our favorite routes are along back roads and sometimes they involve cattle guards, dirt roads, loose livestock, and low water crossings. We do not consider taking 16 from Llano to Kerrville as qualifying for taking the back roads of the Hill Country even though that is an excellent drive.
Instead, our idea of taking the back roads involves traveling along the more remote paths and several of our suggested loops will take you out to the middle of nowhere. Rather than attempting to give specific details about each segment of the individual routes, we urge you to assume that at some point in your journey you could encounter something significantly less smooth than the driving conditions typically available on State Highways, Farm to Market Roads and Ranch Roads. We purposefully have suggested some routes that most assuredly will take you out to the boonies so be careful and exercise caution when you exit the state roads, especially if there is water crossing the road because it takes a lot less of it than you might think to put you into the creek. Don’t forget what the LCRA says, “turn around, don’t drown.” If you follow all of our suggested routes eventually you will get onto some unpaved, bumpy, inundated, rocky, washed out county roads so there could be some times when you will want to be driving a vehicle with some decent ground clearance, or at least be willing to drive slowly over the bumpy spots.
Keep an Eye Out
It is probably a good idea to look for “(name of town) Loop” and the “Old (name of town) Road” signs along your travels. Both can be very fun to explore because they often take you to out of the way scenic routes where you can find unusual points of interest – Old Kendalia Road/CR 102 out of Blanco, and Old San Antonio Road out of Fredericksburg heading to Grapetown come to mind. The “Upper or Lower (Name of Town)” roads also could present some nice alternative routes for you to try. Finally, the various Water Streets and River Roads in the Hill Country are typically good bets for reasons that should be obvious to you aquaholics out there.
Take a Chance
You are going to have to decide whether you are willing to take a chance on getting turned around and maybe even being uncertain of your whereabouts for a while before you commit to following our suggested pathways. Some folks call that being lost, we call it being spatially unaccountable. We purposefully selected some of these roads to take you to rather remote spots and once you get onto the county roads you will find that ever now and again signs have been changed or are missing.
We suspect that there will be occasions when you become directionally challenged or geographically misplaced during some of the drives. You should assume that it might be necessary at times to back track or roll the dice and assume that the unmarked road beckoning you is the one referenced in our directions. And even though it might sound preposterous, there might even be times when you fellers are going to have to take one for the team and ask for directions — shut up.
Don’t forget, however, that throwing caution to the wind and deciding to take off down some unfamiliar or unmarked county road can be half the fun of getting out and exploring the Hills. Besides, that is how we found a lot of the places discussed in this Outdoor Guide – a combination of dumb luck and getting turned around every which way on the back roads. So, if you have plenty of petrol and a little patience just hop on one of these scenic routes and see where it takes you and maybe you will discover a hidden treasure or two of your own.
Additional Sources of Information
You are strongly encouraged to get a detailed map of the area where you will be traveling and to use your wits, compass, GPS and whatever else is at your disposal to arrive at your designated destination when you are traveling out in the sticks. County road maps can be obtained from many of the visitor centers without charge and they typically have rather detailed county roadway and watercourse information, including good details for area creeks. Another option is to purchase from the TxDOT map division copies of road maps with county roadway number designations (512/486-5012). TxDOT only recently began making these road maps available so be sure to specify that you want the maps with the county road numbers identified. However, the maps are delineated by grids rather than actual county boundaries so you probably will need to purchase multiple grid maps to cover an entire county. The best regional roadmap we have seen without a doubt is the “South Central Texas” map by Map Ventures, which covers most but not all of what we consider to be the Hill Country and it has pretty good detailed information for the county roads and major streams, especially given the size of the area it covers. Of course the old standby “The Roads of Texas” is a useful tool when driving around up in the Hills. Typically, when we are traveling we take every map we own along with us because you never know which one will prove to be the most useful depending on your needs at any given time. We haven’t tried the dash-mounted GPS devices yet, but the iPhone does a pretty good job of telling you where you are.
Be Careful Out There
Curves and turns on the County Roads are not always marked with signs so exercise caution while on your drive. You would not be the first person to go over the crest of a small hill on a slick street only to find there is an abrupt curve on the downside slope of the hill with no sign to alert you of the upcoming bend in the roadway — ooooops, there goes another reflector pole.
Have we mentioned how dangerous it can be to drive on our scenic routes at night? If you think driving on 281 and 71 can be treacherous at night “b-b-b-baby you ain’t seen nothing yet.” We will just keep this short and to the point. Do not take these back roads at night unless you want to increase significantly the chance of running into a large, suicidal quadruped, which could cause you to sustain serious bodily injury or even a premature demise. Even if you don’t hit a deer or a cow there is a fairly good possibility you will fly off the road going around a corner or drive into water that you thought wasn’t nearly as deep as it turned out to be. On many of these roads the only lights you will see at night will be the moon and the stars and reflections bouncing off the eyes of various critters scurrying along the roadside. Good luck and good motoring – onward.