Whether you’re just visiting the area or are an Austin local, a day trip out to the Hill Country is a great escape from the city. Travel just 20 minutes west of downtown and you will find yourself among rolling green hills and an increasingly rural setting.
While Austin is growing at a rapid pace, it is still fairly easy to travel off the beaten path and discover lesser-known towns, restaurants, and other hidden gems located just a few dozen miles outside of the city center.
Texas BBQ: A Tradition You Can’t Skip
A trip to the small Hill Country town of Spicewood is the perfect activity for a summer day. Take Highway 71 about 30 miles west of town and you will find a tiny town square with a single stop light (it was just a flashing caution light until last year, but the times are a-changin’…). At the NE corner of the intersection sits a true Texas treasure: Opie’s BBQ.
Get here around 11am (opening time) for the best selection of freshly barbecued meats. The brisket is an absolute must-have and is far and away the best I’ve ever had. Other standouts are the short ribs and pork loin, in addition to the chicken and turkey slices they offer. Make sure to try the sausage as well – jalapeño, cheese, or regular are all fantastic.
Opie’s offers all the traditional BBQ sides but cooked in some sort of secret fashion that makes them so much more tasty than at the other barbecue joints. On the weekends, they feature large pots of butter beans for the dine-in customers and I am obsessed with them. I could devour their buttery deliciousness every day.
Sometimes they have live music going on – usually an older guy with a guitar singing some Texas country songs. It fits the mood and is a great complement to the place.
While their official closing time is 4pm, the real answer is that they close when the food runs out, which is decidedly before 4:00. Since you’re having a full day of hill country fun, get here for an early lunch. On the weekends, this place is packed. But don’t worry, the line moves quickly and there is plenty of smoky BBQ goodness for everyone.
–> Opie’s BBQ
9504 Hwy 71
Spicewood, TX 78669
*unless they run out of meat!
Texas is Hot, So Find a Swimming Hole!
After lunch, it’s time to shake off that Texas heat and explore a beautiful and unique hideaway known as Krause (pronounced krow-see) Springs. It’s just around the corner, also located in Spicewood.
From Opie’s, turn right at the light onto Spur 191. What a ‘spur’ is, don’t ask me. Continue along this so-called road until you reach County Road 404. Make a right and you will see the entrance to the park on your right.
You will need cash to pay the park fee of $8 per person. Once you pay the entrance fee at the front booth, make your way along the short trail and follow it down to the natural pools. There are multiple routes to get down to the water, and it doesn’t really matter how you do it. The walk is peaceful and beautiful as you are surrounded by tall trees and clear water.
The main swimming area is easy to find and is located at the end of the main path. Once you’ve arrived, the rest of the day is up to you. When you see the water, you will certainly want to jump right in. The water is a cool 68 degrees year round.
Fed by natural springs and streams, the clear water has fish and the occasional turtle floating through the water. Kids and the young at heart can use a rope swing to plunge into the water.
I do recommend wearing water shoes rather than flip flops as the rocks surrounding the pool are very slippery with algae and it can be hard to climb in and out with bare feet.
You are welcome to bring coolers, non-glass drinks, and floating tubes to enjoy the day. It’s easy to spend an entire day floating, drinking, and swimming with friends in the natural pool.
As the pool is surrounded by trees on all sides, it feels like you have found a secret swimming hole in the middle of the forest. Krause Springs feels enchanting and magical and like you are anywhere but Texas.
–> Krause Springs
404 Krause Spring Rd
Spicewood, TX 78669
Hours: 9am – 8pm daily
Closed December 1 through February 15
The drive back to Austin is only about thirty minutes once you’ve had your fill of swimming. But with a gorgeous summer sun in the sky and a drink in your hand, I have a feeling you won’t be in any hurry to leave.