Texas Hill Country: Canyon Lake, The Preserve, & San Antonio
Probably my favorite part of Texas... even including the coastal areas that we went to, at least this time around. It could change in the future, or if we were to visit in a different time of the year, but we spent over 3 months of the winter in Texas and Hill Country carved a place in my heart unlike other areas we went to.
Texas Hill Country includes central and south Texas, and forms the southeast portion of the Edwards Plateau. There are many limestone and granite hills in this area that rise up to 400-500 feet high! Some of the common vegetation here is yucca, prickly pear cactuses and wildflowers. Hill Country is also filled with many caverns, aquifers, and rivers. I feel like aside from the fact that it can commonly get to 100 degrees in the summer here, this would make a really great area to visit in the summertime.
Honestly, I had never heard of this specific area of Texas before we were actually in Texas, but I'm so glad that it is something that we were able to discover and explore even on a surface level.
Where we stayed | Canyon Lake
This was our second time around staying in a Yogi Bear Jellystone Park. We first stayed a month at one in Burleson, just south of Fort Worth, during the month of November. I have to say I definitely liked this Yogi Bear better - it seemed smaller but more dense with huge trees, greenery and coverage. There were so many places in the park that were just covered in luscious green grass, something we had not seen in awhile, and it really warmed my heart and reminded me of Minnesota.
This Yogi Bear was situated near Canyon Lake, which is a reservoir and a city just north of New Braunfels. This lake is considered "the jewel" of Hill Country, and I can see why. It shimmers colors like the caribbean in the sun, and is a vast expansive area for walking, hiking, camping, and exploring of all kinds. Canyon Lake is located on the Guadalupe River and features all the different kinds of water activities you could possibly want to indulge in. Since we were visiting here in the 'winter' there were not a ton of water activities taking place, but I could see how it would be a popular destination in the summer months.
We first drove through the Canyon Lake Dam area, to Canyon Lake Overlook on our first full day in Hill Country, but it was raining so we didn't get to get out and properly take a look around. A few days later we came back when the sun was shining and took a long walk across the platform on top of the dam, where there were a handful of locals doing the same thing. This would definitely be an area I would come back to and camp right on the lake in the future!
A vibrant little city, in between San Antonio and Austin, but closer to San Antonio, is New Braunfels. I had originally eyed up this place on the map as a contender to stay in, but was still trying to find a place to stay that was closer to Austin. The State Parks near Austin ended up filling up completely and I had resorted back to looking near New Braunfels. I had heard good things about this city too and figured it would suit us well.
The city was actually larger than I thought it would be, and had everything you could possibly need for comfortable living. There were plenty of restaurants and stores, grocery stops, Target, and everything in between. One of our nights we were quite ravaged with hunger and decided to check out the Golden Corral buffet, which I don't necessarily recommend that place, but driving through New Braunfels to check things out was just like being in any suburban neighborhood, but with a lot of trees and rolling hills.
New Braunfels is named after Braunfels Germany, meaning "brown rock", and there are actually a substantial number of Germans in this city in Texas. The city is full of cold spring rivers that attract a lot of tourists in the summer months, especially for activities like tubing down the river. I can't even tell you how many signs we saw for that just driving around! You can read more about the city here.
Back in November when my mom surprise visited us with Kae, and we went down to Waco to meet up with her cousins Rusty & Chris, they had told me about a place we could go not too far from Austin, in Fredericksburg, to interact with elephants. I had never heard of this place before either and would have never in a million years guessed that there was an elephant sanctuary in the United States, let alone Texas. I made mental note that we needed to partake in this experience no matter what when we were in the area, and am so grateful that it worked out for us right away in the new year.
The Preserve's mottos is Touch, Learn, Experience, and they offer an intimate and meaningful experience between people and their elephants to help educate and promote elephant conservation in Asia and across the world.
During our 1.5 hour interactive experience we learned what it takes to keep an elephant fit and healthy. We got to see what bath time entails, and even help wash an elephant ourselves, and they also showed us how they give the elephants pedicures to keep their feet strong and healthy too. They taught us about human/elephant conflicts and how it is important to support efforts to restore elephant habitats in the wild. We stood next to elephants, had our photos taken by staff, got to touch the elephants and I'm telling you this was an experience unlike anything else I've ever done before. I'm so happy and grateful for this type of interaction and I think it can truly be a spiritual experience to interact with these ancient giants. (Plus it boggles my mind to think about them as basically modern day dinosaurs!)
The Preserve has 5 asian elephants: Rosie, Dixie, Kitty, Tai and Becky. Without picking favorites, Tai was my favorite because she was the tallest and most dramatic, and she has also been with The Preserve family for 40 years!! Tai happens to also be the biggest previous Hollywood star and was featured in movies such as Water for Elephants, and George of the Jungle. You can read more about all 5 elephants here.
I also really enjoyed that The Preserve featured other animals in their sanctuary as well, including goats and horses. It also sounds like they are in the process of expanding their place to make it bigger and more interactive. Their mission is: "To preserve all animals by building awareness through contact and education in partnership with our animal ambassadors. Contact cultivates caring which encourages conservation."
You can find a lot of footage from our elephant experience in my new YouTube video about 'Exploring Texas Hill Country', here.
It was only about a 40 minute drive to downtown San Antonio from our campground. We took a day to drive down to explore The Riverwalk and to check out the Alamo, before hitting a Trader Joe's and Costco on our way back. (It was a very packed day, but full of sunshine at least!)
San Antonio, which is spanish for Saint Anthony, is the 7th most populated city in America, and the 2nd most populated city in Texas. This city is a very popular tourist destination and often referred to as a 'every Texan's favorite city'. San Antonio claims to be the birthplace to chilli, cheetos, and Fritos, which I find quite interesting as those are a lot of Adam's favorite things.
The Riverwalk is the main reason we went to check out downtown San Antonio and I found it to be a really impressive and beautiful display of restaurants, shops, an area to get outside and walk and explore, and just decorations and tours of spanish history. The water from the Guadalupe River was turquoise, the scenery was decorated with lights, music, flowers, and birds and ducks galore. There were so many places to pick from to eat and drink that I don't even know how one would choose. We did indulge in a chip and salsa-margarita happy hour at a mexican restaurant on the river and it was very enjoyable. Also, the ducks here in Texas seem to be much larger and have a larger variety of colors and patterns. I honestly think they are all so pretty and I loved watching them in the river and on the sidewalks trying to steal food from people.
Just a short walk away from the Riverwalk is the historic Alamo. We took a jaunt away from the river to check it out and walked through the grounds surrounding the main Alamo structure. We did not go inside the Alamo, even though it was free to enter, as there was an extremely long line of people waiting and we were trying to optimize on time. The entire area is full of historic and informative plaques showcasing what you are seeing and showing you what it was when it was first established, to also show all the changes it has undergone throughout history.
In case you aren't super familiar, the Alamo is a historic spanish mission "fortress" compound founded in the 18th century by Roman Catholic Missionaries. It is located in the heart of San Antonio and is Texas's most visited historic landmark!
Another thing I hadn't known before arriving is that San Antonio also has a huge military presence and many forts and military bases throughout. Lackland Air Force base is in this area and is home to a well-known medical research facility. Another army post is Fort Sam Houston, which is extremely unique. It serves an active military installation and also contains some of the oldest structures on an army post. You can read more about San Antonio here.
One odd thing we first encountered here in San Antonio is that at Costco grocery stores they are unable to sell Costco brand liquors (usually larger bottles of better quality for cheap) because of some Texas alcohol laws. We were definitely disappointed on that one!
If we had more time...
Only booking one week here was not at all enough time. We did experience a few days of rain that hindered us from further exploring (as it was also paired with far cooler temps) but if we had another week or more here there is so much more we would have explored.
First and foremost, I'm very saddened that we did not have a chance to go to Austin, the musical capital and overall Capital of Texas. This was one of the main cities I originally wanted to visit while we were planning to stay right near Austin until all of our plans got changed around of course. Austin is quite literally in the middle of the Lone Star State, and is an extremely diverse area that has a slogan referred to as, 'keep Austin weird', which I can totally get behind. I feel like I would have vibed well with this city and I have to return to Texas in the near future to go here alone. There are so many areas to hike around Austin and so many surrounding Texas State Parks that it could take weeks to fully explore - and that's not even to mention the vibrant night lift and music scene that Austin has to offer. You can read more about Austin here.
There are honestly so many beautiful cities to check out in Texas Hill Country, it would take several more trips to get to them all. Check out the full list here.
If we had more time (& if the weather was more cooperative), I would have loved to do more hiking in the area in many of the Texas State Parks located in Hill Country and on rivers and creeks in the area. Some of the more well known ones I would have loved to explore were McKinney Falls State Park, and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, which is a pink granite mountain located about 17 miles north of Fredericksburg and it is attributed with spiritual powers by the Tonkawa Indians. I believe it might also be one of the tallest peaks in Texas?? I could be wrong though.
I had a Texas State Park Annual Pass that we used to reduce our fees from staying at Mustang Island, and I would have loved to put it to greater use to explore so many outdoor wonders in Texas. *Sigh*. Maybe another year!
And lastly, the number one thing that Adam probably can't even believe that we did not do the entire 3 months we were in Texas, and I'm sure would be shame to admit in the RV world... is that we did NOT go to a Buc-ee's gas station (AKA super mall)! I had never heard of these before Adam pointed them out but they are apparently a huge deal in general, and even more so in the RV community due to their vast size and things to shop for and look around at. We drove by one in New Braunfels that I still can't believe we forgot to go back to and stop at, and they truly are one of those things that you can't help but say, "everything is bigger in Texas" to. Unreal why anyone would need gas stations combined with malls to this capacity, ha!
We will meet again
Needless to say, but just a matter of when. Texas Hill Country and I will most certainly meet again! I'm pleasantly surprised with our entire experience. Texas has really opened my eyes in more ways than one and all my initial judgements of what the state has to offer have been thrown out the window the past 3 months. I used to think of the state as just open farmland and coasts, but I've learned how it is filled with mysterious beauties like Palo Duro Canyon, Galveston, Hill Country, and even Big Bend.
After 3 months in the Texas it began to feel like home, and Hill Country is one of those specific places that felt comfortable and familiar. I can't wait to go back again!
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