Texas Roadtrip Series: Buchanan Lake
An Isolation Vacation in the Highland Lakes Region of Texas Hill Country
Travel is going to look a whole lot different this summer and fall due to COVID-19. It can be done – but responsibly, while social distancing and wearing a mask when appropriate. For me, air plane rides sound scary and bothersome with children, so our family will be avoiding air travel until necessary. Marketing research shows that others feel this way too, which is why 2020 will be the year of road trips and weekend getaways!
Before San Antonio went on full lockdown this Spring, my husband and I embarked on what we called an “isolation vacation” to Buchanan Lake in the Highland Lakes area of Texas. We had planned to stay in a cabin on the lake while he did a mountain bike race. When that was of course canceled along with all other sporting events this spring, we decided to make the most of it and enjoy some peace and quiet in Hill Country while my parents watched the kids for two nights. I was on the mend from a hysterectomy, and this getaway was just what I needed to recover emotionally and physically while soaking in the sensory experience that a lake vacation provides.
Lake Buchanan is only one hour west of Austin and two hours north of our home in San Antonio. On the way up, we had to stop at Real Ale Brewing Co. and stock up for the trip! The brewery closed its doors to the public in mid-March, but has been operating curbside and to-go orders through the summer. You simply order online and pick up your order through its drive-thru station! Real Ale’s Zero Gravity Brut IPA has become one of my favorites and is bottled in San Antonio stores.
Our cottage was located at Thunderbird Lodge at Spider Mountain, a combination of rustic lodging and the nation’s only year-round, lift-served mountain bike park. We arrived just in time to witness a magnificent sunset over the lake. With the temperature in the low 70’s and the water much cooler, we opted to observe and sip our brews from the docks. Had we been more motivated to get on the water, there was a small marina here where guests can rent boats, paddle boards and other activities. There were only a few other guests at the lodge, and we all gathered (and social distanced) on the dock, enjoying our drinks and talking about our kids (isn’t that always the case when parents get away?!).
There was a full kitchen in the cabin, but we had planned to get takeout from local restaurants for dinner and cook lunch and breakfast. The first night we drove into the downtown area of Burnet and randomly found Aranya Thai tucked away in a shopping center. We love our ethnic food – and Aranya’s was as spicy as we hoped and owned by a sweet family from Thailand.
The next morning was supposed to be Rhett’s bike race, and he still planned to do the course, unofficially, which was allowed by the venue, Reveille Peak Ranch. I had no idea that mountain biking was so prevalent in Texas, and from some quick research, it appears that several other resorts in Hill Country operate similar to Spider Mountain and Reveille Peak Ranch.
While Rhett embarked on the more-challenging-than-expected trails, I went on a three-mile hike around the small pond and back into the countryside where the bluebonnets were in full bloom. Burnet is actually the bluebonnet capital! I spent the rest of the morning sunning by the lake on the main pavilion, which I imagine would have been the center for race operations in a non-pandemic world. I only saw one other person for the four hours I was there, which was comforting during that uncertain time.
Our hiking and biking worked up ravenous appetites, so we headed southwest around the lake toward Buchanan Dam to find lunch. We eventually stopped at Reverend Jim’s Dam Pub for burgers and fries. Don’t let the country name fool you – these folks know how to cook a modern burger with fresh ingredients. The view of the lake looked nice from the outdoor seating area, but alas, dining areas were closed.
After a nap, we spent the late afternoon hanging on the dock with some happy hour beverages. Some locals recommended Mama’s Homecooking in Burnet for a mix of Italian and southern fare, so we ordered some fresh salads with pecan pie for dessert. The homemade dressing exceeded our expectations!
On our final morning, it was time to check out our own “backyard” at Spider Mountain. Because the local area was starting to lock down due to Covid-19, the lifts weren’t actually running, and no staff was on duty - but the trails were available for hiking and biking. Rhett took off on his bike toward the peak, and I was joined by the resort owners’ sweet lab/golden retriever mix on my hike up the switchbacks. After a 10-15-minute hike up the mountain, we were rewarded with panoramas of Lake Buchanan and the surrounding area.
We were sad to leave and had such an amazing time that I immediately started researching real estate in the Highland Lakes region for a possible retirement home. Not with serious intentions, but I do this frequently when I fall in love with a destination. We plan to take our kids back to the lake and do some boating next time to explore the 124 miles of shoreline Lake Buchanan has to offer.