Texas Hill Country for Free and Cheap

Photo by Earl McGehee

10 awesome things to do for $10 or less

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Remember the good old days when taking the family out didn’t cost a stack of Andrew Jacksons? Luckily, for those of us in the Texas Hill Country, opportunities exist for fun that won’t leave you feeling like you need your own personal Fort Knox. Here’s a list of recommendations.

By Marcy Stellfox, courtesy of TexasHillCountry.com

1. Visit a Museum

Hill Country Science Mill, Johnson City. Admission: adults $8, children (2-18) $6.50.
Got a little Einstein under your roof? Then this museum will definitely fan the fires of his or her chemistry set. Interactive exhibits on earth sciences, energy, engineering, life sciences and computer sciences.

Witte Museum, San Antonio. Interested in the history and the art of Texas? Founded in 1923, the Witte Museum boasts an ever-growing collection of both. Admission: adults (12-64), children (4-11) $7, free on Tuesdays from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Museum of Western Art, Kerrville. The old west and cowboys have inspired artists for generations. Check out the collection of sculptures and paintings that pay homage to life in the wild west. Admission: adults $7, students $5, children (under 8) free.

2. Kick Around Kickapoo Cavern State Park, Bracketville

Interested in caves? Then strap on your head lamp and flashlight and get your spelunking on. The guided cave tour will have you dreaming for days about all things dark and drippy. Bust out your binoculars for birding and bat watching, too. For a little extra fee, stay overnight. Who doesn’t love open starry skies and restful nights in the Texas Hill Country wilderness? Open every day in March, it’s the perfect Spring Break destination. Admission: Daily entrance fee $3, guided cave tour $10.

3. Mountain Bike at Reveille Peak Ranch

Want to check out the Texas Hill Country and get your blood pumping? Then grab your bike or your running shoes and cruise out to Burnet. With 62 miles of trails to wander, this granite dome hollers out for exploration. Can’t get enough? Hunker down overnight in a tent for an extra fee. Loads of trail running and bike races are held at this location so be sure to check out the event calendar before heading out. Open mainly during the weekends and by appointment. Admission: adult day pass $10, children (12 and under) $5.

4. Get a Wildflower Education
We are all familiar with the painter’s palette explosion that washes over the Texas Hill Country each spring. Learn all about our native landscape, plants, and wildflowers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. Educate yourself on endangered species and how best to keep our unique THC flora alive and well. Check out a Discovery Pack when you arrive complete with hand lenses, scavenger hunt info, books and binoculars to make your trip a true treasure hunt. Admission: adults $10, children (5-17) $4.

5. While Away the Day at Wimberley Market Days

Okay, so when you’re trying to keep things cost friendly, tempting you with a shopping extravaganza probably isn’t nice. But Wimberley Market Days belongs on every shopping lover’s bucket list and it is free to get in. Antiques, arts and crafts and DIY’ers rejoice, you’ll find a little something for everyone here. You don’t have to buy anything. Browse the vendors and pick up some ideas for your own projects. Lion’s Club sponsored food booths and local music make this an easy all day experience. Admission: free with $5 parking fee.

6. Geocache at a Texas State Park

Geo-what? That’s what we thought, too. Let’s break it down. “Geo” means earth and cache means “hidden item.” And apparently some people decided that stashing little hidden items all over the earth for other people to find based on clues (or GPS coordinates) equals a good time. Thus, geocache happened.

Want a taste? Plan a trip to a Texas park. Then visit http://geocaching.com to download coordinates of hidden treasures right here in parks all over the Texas Hill Country. You can even sign up for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Geocache Challenge, get a passport, and receive prizes for your finds. Daily entrance fees at many parks runs below $10. Playing the game is free.

7. View Bat Babies in Mason

Did you know that the Eckert James River Bat Cave Preserve is home to one of the largest bat nurseries in the country? Every year from May to September, mom-to-be bats show up here to have a giant birthing party with the rest of their friends. Bats usually give birth to just one baby (a pup) in June or July, but everyone hangs out here until September after which they impersonate snowbirds and travel to Mexico for the winter. Admission: adults $5, children (under 5) free.

8. Take a Local Brewery Tour

Sipping suds while touring a Texas Hill Country brewery will bring an air of festivity to any day. Consider a visit to Real Ale Brewing Company in Blanco or one of the other local breweries sprouting up throughout the Hill Country. Beautiful scenery, beer making tips, plus local flavor make it a can’t fail kind of day. Tap room open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Tours happen every Friday and Saturday afternoon. Wear closed toed shoes to keep it safe. Admission: free.

9. Venture Out to a Local Swimming Hole

Relive your childhood at Blue Hole Regional Park in Wimberley. Perfect your Tarzan yell while sailing through the trees on a rope swing before plunging into the clear waters of this Texas Hill Country swimming spot. Other amenities include basketball court, volleyball court, amphitheater, hiking trails and picnic areas. Play year round in the 126-acre park. Swim season starts in May. The park gets packed during peak season and will close the swimming hole when at capacity. Get there early! Admission for swimming: adults $9, children (12-14) $5, children (under 3) free.

If sluicing through shimmering 70-degree water like a sleek little sunfish sounds like your idea of bliss, then consider a visit to Barton Springs Pool in Austin. Keep your eyes peeled for the Barton Springs Salamander, an endangered species that makes these springs the only spot in the world they call home. Tip your goggles to the full moon each month during a special night swim beginning at 9 p.m. Closed Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. for detailed cleaning. Admission: free November through mid-March. After that fees vary from $1 to $3 for residents based on age, and $2 to $8 for non-residents.

10. Participate in a Bird Count

Do you consider yourself a birding enthusiast? Then why not join other like-minded fellow admirers and participate in a birding survey? Experience the beautiful Texas Hill Country and help the folks from Travis Audubon Society keep count on our unique feathered population. These birding surveys take place all over the Texas Hill Country. Often, surveys may be held in areas not generally open to the public. This could be your opportunity to finally see that Golden Cheeked Warbler everyone always crows about. Birding field trips are free, but fill up fast.
This itinerary by Marcy Stellfox is compliments of TexasHillCountry.com.

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