words: Marla Cantrell
images:Marla Cantrell and courtesy Jill Dutton and Canyon of the Eagles
The Highland Lakes Region in Burnet County, Texas is approximately an hour’s drive from Austin and has the largest chain of lakes in the state.
I was in awe of the lakes that define this area. Five of them flow along the Colorado River in Burnet County, bringing visitors who are drawn to the water, and nature lovers who flock to this area for hiking, camping, and exploring.
For those who are always on the lookout for great American-made wine, there’s a self-guided Texas Hill Country Wine Tour with fifty-two stops that includes this area. Texas is proud of its wine, and in 2016, produced approximately 3.8 million gallons of it.
If you plan your trip for spring, you’ll see the wildflowers that start to bloom in the middle of March and stay through most of June. Bluebonnets show up first, followed by red Indian Paintbrush flowers.
ON THE WATER
Highland Lakes Region
There are more than a thousand miles of water in the
combined lakes of Burnet County, all of which are stocked with fish. Tourists come here to fish, canoe, kayak, ski, boat, and swim. Guides are available, as are equipment rental
businesses that can make your fishing expedition easy.
Lake Buchanan is famous for its striper fishing, and catfish are plenty. Inks Lake is a key spot for boating and water skiing, and the lake is stocked with largemouth bass, white bass, catfish, crappie, and sunfish. Lake Marble Falls is popular for boating and water skiing. Lake LBJ offers sailing and boating. Lake Travis has largemouth bass, Guadalupe bass, white and striped bass, catfish, and sunfish.
Vanishing River Cruise, Burnet
The Vanishing Texas River Cruise on Lake Buchanan and the Colorado River lets passengers a chance to see this beautiful waterway up close. There are winery cruises, scenic wilderness, Lake Buchanan tours, and a history cruise. Private charters are available, and there are also kayak rentals available on site.
Canyon Cruise, Burnet
This cruise originates at the Canyon of the Eagles Resort and explores the beauty of this section of Lake Buchanan on the Colorado River. You’ll get to see Fall Creek Falls and Deer
Creek Falls, so close you can feel the spray of the waterfall.
On either side of the waterway are towering limestone cliffs, and in certain sections, you may spy Spanish goats. In the 1500s, the goats were brought from Spain to the Caribbean Islands and finally to what would become the United States and Mexico.
Canyon of the Eagles Resort, Burnet
Canyon of the Eagles sits within this 940-acre nature park. The resort, with sixty-two guest rooms, RV hookups, and campsites, is carefully maintained. There are fourteen miles of manicured trails and a master naturalist who hosts guided hikes. If you’re traveling with kids, don’t miss the Shake, Rattle, and Coil show in the Nature Center, where you’ll get to see a wealth of reptiles, including snakes, up close.
There are yoga and meditation classes, yoga hikes, massages, kayak rentals, the Canyon Boat Cruise, swimming, and live music. Stop by the Eagles Nest Lounge for a cocktail, and Overlook Restaurant for world-class cuisine and a menu that changes seasonally.
Not to be missed is the star-gazing at the observatory that has five powerful telescopes. A park astronomer makes the experience even better, showing you the planets, nebulas,
and distant galaxies.
ON THE WATER’S EDGE
Painted Sky Inn, Burnet
Painted Sky Inn, on a quiet peninsula on the eastern shore of Lake Buchanan is great for small groups and reunions. The rooms offer a view of the water, and the refrigerator is stocked with S’mores kits for the fire pit that’s lit each night. You can fish on your own, or ask for a guide at the dock.
Log Country Cove, Burnet
Log Country Cove sits on the shore of the Colorado arm of Lake LBJ. Each of the log cabins and homes overlooks the lake, and are nestled in a wooded area of cedar, oak, and pecan trees. Guests enjoy swimming, fishing, boating, and hiking the trails. Some of the accommodations are pet-friendly.
TEXAS-SIZED EATS IN BURNET
The Overlook Restaurant at Canyon of the Eagles Resort has an extensive menu and is open every day of the year. I tried the Chicken Fried Wild Boar with Jalapeño Cream Gravy and finished the meal with Prickly Pear Sorbet. Delicious! Mama’s Home Cooking was spot-on with comfort foods like fried pork chops, blackened catfish, fried okra, and homemade desserts, but the highlight was the fried green beans. Highlander House of Buffet and Steakhouse has a buffet and fixed menu, all of which is wonderful. Trailblazer Grille on Main Street has impeccable Texas cuisine, and great live music. I had one of the best steaks ever, and a fried shrimp cocktail that was out of this world.
WINE AND BEER TOURS
Fall Creek Winery, Tow
What happens when a five-generation rancher decides to start a vineyard, a foreign concept in Texas at the time? Ed Auler says the gamble he and his wife Susan made in 1975 has paid off in spades. Today, Fall Creek Wines produces world-class, award-winning wines, under the guiding hand of winemaker Sergio Cuadra. When you visit this gorgeous property, make sure you try the Sangiovese 2017, which is between a red wine and a rosé.
Save the World Brewing Company, Marble Falls
In 2012, Dave and Quynh Rathkamp made a leap. Both were practicing physicians, and each year, the couple would go on a mission trip and then return to life as usual. But in 2012, the men’s pastor at their church started talking about meeting the world’s needs using your greatest passion. Dave realized his was beer making, which had been his hobby for fifteen years. Still, he wondered how that played into his purpose.
Quynh, who arrived in Texarkana as a refugee from Vietnam when she was six years old, had been dreaming of starting a non-profit. When Dave shared his idea, she jumped on board, and the two created Save the World Brewing Company, a business that gives away its profits to charity.
On my visit, they’d already contributed more than $100,000 to food efforts such as Meals on Wheels, Ebola relief, and Habitat for Humanity. Their story is enough to bring you here, but their artisanal Belgian-style ales seal the deal.