Wildflowers in the Texas Hill Country

John McStravick
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“Oh, pull over here!” she said excitedly. “That field is full of them!”

They nearly got rear-ended as he slowed onto the interstate’s shoulder, forgetting to signal as he slammed on the brakes.

“Okay kids, hurry up and sit down…. Yep, no…lower…”

“What?! We can’t hear you over the traffic!” the oldest child yelled.

“I said…” _HOOOOOONK!!!!…._a passing 18-wheeler interrupted.

Dad snapped a few hurried shots of his kids, who were awkwardly crouched in “potty squat” position on an overpass berm filled with bluebonnets, the Texas state flower and the Hill Country’s de facto symbol of spring’s arrival.

Photo by Jon Clegg via Flickr
Photo by Jon Clegg via Flickr

“I swear, honey,” groaned Mom as they reviewed the images on their phone over lunch. There’s got to be a better way to get pictures of us in the bluebonnets than rushing to squat on the Interstate shoulder.

Texas bluebonnets
Texas bluebonnets Jenn Deering Davis

Every year, thousands of children fall victim to this common malady that shows up each spring in Austin. No, not hay fever. It’s the awkward-family-in-the-flowers-with-a-semi-in-the-background photo disease, and only you can prevent it.

You can’t blame anyone though. It’s the perfect picture of Central Texas: wildflowers in spectacular colors with rustic barns, oaks, or winding roadsides in the background. It just requires some education on where to go to avoid getting flattened by traffic while enjoying the beauty that is spring in the Texas Hill Country around Austin.

The Austin area is the most beautiful springtime spot in the state, or the nation, in early spring, when wildflowers like the bluebonnet, paintbrush and Indian blanket show their colors. Medians and fields are covered with gorgeous hues of lavender, scarlet, amber and so many others. Most people who drive through Austin take the busy freeways to zoom to their destination and only think of the wildflowers when they see them, remembering that, “Oh yeah, this is bluebonnet season.”

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center – If you want to see wildflowers, this is the place to start, without a doubt. I can’t emphasize enough the necessity of witnessing firsthand the value of what Mrs. Johnson did for Texas. Without her efforts to keep Texas’ natural beauty...well, natural, more of central Texas land would be covered with condos or refineries instead of flowers. Be forewarned that it gets a bit crowded this time of year, but at least when you get in, you don’t have to worry about getting run over by a truck and can walk at your own leisurely pace on the many trails around the property.

Roy Niswanger via Flickr
Roy Niswanger via Flickr

Brenham, Bluebell, and the  Chappell Hill Bluebonnet Festival (April 12-13) – The fest is the “Official State of Texas Bluebonnet Festival, as declared by the state legislature.” Between Austin and Houston, off highway 290, this is the best time of year to enjoy this small-town fair that revolves around the state flower…not to mention the “best ice cream in the country.” If you can time it to combine a Blue Bell factory tour with the village-festival charm, colorful fields, and beautiful drives, this is the quintessential taste-of-Texas day trip.

Willow City Loop and the Knot in the Loop Saloon – Especially if you’re on a motorcycle, but otherwise still beautiful, this cruise on rural Texas highway offers a more relaxed way of seeing the wildflowers. From Austin, take 290 West to Fredericksburg. From there, go 12 miles north on Highway 16, then right on FM 1323. Go about two miles to Willow City; the Loop begins there. The Loop is still famous, so don’t expect to be alone, but it’s far better than taking your chances on I-35. Be sure to get yourself a good burger and beer at the Knot in the Loop Saloon before heading back to Austin.

 On the way to Enchanted Rock, bluebonnets line the highway. Photo by Timothy J Carroll via Flickr
On the way to Enchanted Rock, bluebonnets line the highway. Photo by Timothy J Carroll via Flickr

Fredericksburg, Enchanted Rock , and Cooper’s BBQ in Llano – If you don’t want to drive the Loop, at least drive out from Austin, to Fredericksburg, then to the beautiful Enchanted Rock. Start in the morning and take 290 West to Fredericksburg, then head north on 16 to Enchanted Rock, then go to Cooper’s Barbecue in Llano for lunch. This Llano location is my favorite non-cityfied BBQ in the region, especially if you’re in the mood for a 2-inch-thick pork chop that you personally pick straight off the grill. With smoke wafting from their open-pit grill just off the road, your nose will lead you there. You may stand in line for a while if it’s lunch rush, but trust me, it’s worth it.


  John McStravick

With all the highways around Austin, you can craft your own day trip and will likely see bluebonnets and other amazing displays of wildflowers, as they usually grow right on highway shoulders. But the above are some of the tried-and-true options that, year after year, have given generations the chance to see nature’s painting in all its bright glory. Of course, please be sure to use your turn signals while pulling over, but don’t miss this beautiful display that’s only around for a few weeks each year.

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