3 Texas Road Trips You Should Try to Take at Least Once
There's a lot to see in the Lone Star State, so pack up your car and make a beeline for these historic, scenic, and larger-than-life locales.
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Every vacation’s bigger in Texas
Texas is synonymous with big things. Think: steak dinners, high school and college football stadiums, its state capitol (it’s not only the largest in the country, but it’s also taller than the U.S. Capitol), houses (like a 60,000-square foot mansion that’s one of the biggest homes in America) and even hairstyles. Heck, if you chose to drive from the western edge of Texas to the eastern boundary, you’d put about 862 miles on your vehicle. As the second-largest state in the country, it’s no surprise that there are myriad cool places to visit in Texas. When planning your Texas road trips, consider one (or more!) of these three beloved routes.
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Texas Road Trip #1: Houston to Fredericksburg
Route distance: 234 miles
Suggested length of time: 3 to 5 days
Yearning for a small-town vibe, fields of wildflowers, Old World architecture, romance, and wine? Then a long weekend getaway in Texas Hill Country, and more specifically Fredericksburg, one of the coolest places to visit in Texas, is calling your name. In fact, some might say this is one of the best vacation spots in Texas—not to mention, one of the 13 most romantic small towns in the United States. Begin your trip well-rested and with a full belly at Houston’s La Maison in Midtown.
“This Black-owned bed and breakfast offers all the charms and intimacy of a home away from home,” says award-winning journalist Kristin Braswell, owner of CrushGlobal, a travel company that curates inclusive road trip guides throughout the United States. with a focus on supporting Black-owned and woman-owned businesses. “The full-sized suite offers a private veranda, and all guests can enjoy a good Southern breakfast.”
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Houston to Fredericksburg: Best route
While there are numerous routes on this Texas Road Trip from Houston to Fredericksburg, one of the most scenic is taking Highway 71 to 290, then riding a short stint on Highway 281 before hopping back on 290 all the way to town.
Along the way, the landscape changes from the flat concrete jungle of Houston to green, fluffy grass and green hills. Once you reach the Austin area, you’re treated to the rockier hills of the Texas Hill Country. Ready to see one of the prettiest places in Texas? Bluebonnets and wildflowers are typically abundant along the roadside along Highway 71 outside of La Grange and south of Austin (earning this area a spot on the list of America’s most beautiful spring destinations)—and wildflower patches continue all the way to Fredericksburg and beyond.
Former President Lyndon B. Johnson was born and raised in Texas Hill Country, so it’s fitting that this region features the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site. About 15 miles before reaching Fredericksburg, stop in Stonewall to check out his childhood home, walk easy farm trails and look for bison and longhorn cattle, and explore the LBJ Ranch, also known as the “Texas White House.”
If you’re in the mood to explore more of Texas Hill Country’s humble beginnings, carve out an hour or two for an interactive visit to the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farmstead, a working farm that recreates Texas pioneer life in the 1900s. The park rangers are actually farmhands who wear period clothing to carry out the very same day-to-day activities — from canning the produce grown onsite and spinning yarn from sheep’s wool to cooking their simple meals on a wood-burning stove and churning butter out of fresh cow’s milk — as that of the turn-of-the-century Texas-German farm families who once owned this property.
Another lovely stop to stretch your legs as you continue on your Texas road trip is Wildseed Farms, the largest working wildflower farm in the nation. Unlike wild wildflowers, whose availability depends on a number of factors, Wildseed Farms is always home to fields of beautiful wildflowers—with over 200 acres in Fredericksburg. Admission is free, but a modest parking fee may apply during peak times. There’s also 20 acres of grapes grown for winemaking, and a tasting room that’s open daily.
What to do in Fredericksburg
Once in Fredericksburg proper, one of the best vacation spots in Texas, it’s time to park your car and enjoy the downtown historic district on foot. It’s home to more than 150 shops, boutiques and art galleries, all locally owned and operated. You’ll find live music, two museums (the National Museum of the Pacific War and the Pioneer Museum), the urban wine trail, a brewery, and more.
You’ll no doubt notice the many German influences in Fredericksburg, especially in the architecture, which is a mash-up of German culture (due to the many Germans who settled here in the mid-1800s) and Texas frontier. The town is celebrating its 175th anniversary from May 2021-May 2022, including monthly themes with various events. Begin by acquainting yourself with Fredericksburg through a self-guided historic walking tour (maps are available at the Visitor Information Center). These are more of the most European towns in America.
Where to eat in Fredericksburg
When hunger strikes, there are plenty of local options ranging from Tex-Mex to German fare. Start with the can’t-miss coconut cream pie at Fredericksburg Pie Company—yes, start, as you’ll need to arrive early because they often sell out. Grab a sweet German pretzel at Pritzer Sweet Shop to nibble while walking around town. Savor a cup of cheesy chicken tortilla soup and homemade amaretto peach pecan ice cream (yes, that’s all one flavor!) at Clear River Ice Cream and Deli. The German pancakes and Belgium waffles at the Old German Bakery are always a big hit, and you can find more German fare at Der Lindenbaum. Enjoy pulled pork loaded fries, Yucatan chicken tacos and frozen lemonade (or frosé) while sitting at colorful picnic tables at Tubby’s Ice House. Spend happy hour at Bejas Grill & Cantina, sipping a Ruby Slipper cocktail while devouring a tasty Quattro appetizer (chips accompanied by nacho cheese, guacamole, salsa and beans). Finally, if you still have room, steak night at Backwoods BBQ is another local favorite, as is the shrimp and grits and bread pudding at Granite House Lounge.
There’s one special spot that locals love and out-of-towners revisit time and time again: Das Peach Haus. This family-owned business began as a fruit stand in 1969, selling peaches on the side of the road (Texas Hill Country is known for producing the “Cadillac” of peaches, which command the highest prices because of their unmatched quality). Eventually, owners Case Fischer and Mark Wieser began canning the bounties coming from their gardens and orchards. Today, more than 50 years later, Fischer & Wieser is a specialty food company that sells its 150+ sauces, salsas, jams and jellies to stores and customers around the world. Stop by the tasting room for a glass of wine best enjoyed overlooking the farm’s tranquil pond, shop for delicious souvenirs every recipient on your list will adore (don’t forget a few for your own kitchen — the award-winning Original Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce is a gamechanger over a block of cream cheese and served with crackers), and sign up for intimate cooking classes through its Culinary Adventure Cooking School (some favorite classes include German cuisine, Spanish tapas and wine pairing).
Now you’re probably feeling a bit parched, so it’s time to check out the area’s 50+ wineries, vineyards, and tasting rooms. Some notable spots with scenic surroundings include the Narrow Path Winery, Becker Vineyards Estate, and Signor Vineyards. The Ab Astris Winery is a family-owned spot producing handcrafted vintages with Texas-grown fruit, and the Texas Wine Collective features three of Texas’ internationally recognized wineries: McPherson Cellars, Lost Oak Winery, and Brennan Vineyards. There are a few wineries worth visiting just outside of Fredericksburg, too, such as William Chris Vineyards in Hye. Here, you can grab a chef-prepared picnic basket or reserve a wine and food pairing experience featuring seasonal ingredients and current release wines.
Where to stay in Fredericksburg
There’s no shortage of charming places to rest your weary head during your time in Fredericksburg. The Outlot 201 Guest Houses are tucked into a grove of trees and offer laid-back views only a five-mile drive from historic Main Street. The three guest houses are designed in keeping with the traditional “Sunday Haus” style homes in the area, and the pantry stocked with homemade banana bread, fresh fruit, and beverages makes for an extra-cozy stay. For a boutique hotel experience, the Trueheart Hotel is just a few steps off Main Street and it’s 13 recently remodeled rooms were reimagined with comfort in mind: luxurious bedding and towels, handmade soaps, and a gas fireplace. Finally, the adults-only Hangar Hotel pays homage to the WWII era and pairs well with a visit to the National Museum of Pacific War.
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Texas Road Trip #2: Route 66
Route distance: 200 miles
Suggested length of time: 2 to 3 days
Any list of Texas road trip ideas would be incomplete without featuring Route 66. The entire Mother Road adventure takes you through eight states, from Chicago to the Santa Monica Pier—or vice versa, as there’s no “right” direction to go when motoring through one of the most iconic routes in the world. Surprisingly only 200 miles of the 2,448-mile Route 66 fall within state lines, but they are an important part of the journey.
The Texas stretch of Route 66 goes east-west through the Panhandle. From the east, start in the city of Shamrock, located near the crossroads of Interstate 40 and U.S. Route 83. The U-Drop Inn is an Art Deco building that houses the Shamrock Visitor Information Center—if you time this portion of your trip to evening hours, you’ll get to appreciate the neon lights that really set the stage for this historic property’s architecture. A few blocks away, you’ll find the Shamrock Water Tower. Its mural, which depicts the town’s history, makes for a lovely photo opp.
Route 66: McLean and Amarillo, Texas
Next up is McLean, Texas, the headquarters of the Texas Historic Route 66 Association. Stop by the Devil’s Rope Barbed Wire Museum to view its surprisingly enormous collection and then pop next door to the Old Route 66 Museum (which is housed in a former bra factory) for Mother Road memorabilia and souvenirs. If you’d like to make a night of it, check into the Cactus Inn and be sure to check out the fully restored (but not operational) Phillips 66 Station.
Head west toward Amarillo, but make a pit stop in Conway to visit the VW Slug Bug Ranch. Created in 2002 as a parody of the nearby Cadillac Ranch, it features five wrecked Volkswagen Beetles, buried hood-down.
The largest city on this stretch of Route 66 is Amarillo, and Cadillac Ranch is one of the most iconic places to go in Texas. Here you’ll view 10 Cadillacs that were buried nose-down in 1974 that have since been covered in colorful spray paint that’s up to six inches thick in some spots. The Big Texan Steak Ranch is your go-to spot for a Texas-sized meal, including a 72-ounce steak grilled over an open flame. While in town, carve out some time for the Palo Duro Canyon State Park to enjoy the great outdoors and 40 miles of hiking and biking trails. A stay at the Courtyard by Marriott Amarillo Downtown is the ideal base camp for other non-Route 66 activities, such as the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame and Museum, Amarillo Zoo, Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts, and Wonderland Amusement Park.
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Route 66: Adrian, Texas
Finally, the town of Adrian (near the Texas-New Mexico border) is widely accepted as the “Midpoint of Route 66” (it’s 1,139 miles in each direction to the Route’s starting and ending points) and its aptly named Midpoint Café is a stop everyone should make. Here, you’ll find a restaurant (trust us: order the pie) and souvenir shop. Pixar fans might also notice an uncanny resemblance to Flo’s V-8 Diner from the movie Cars. That’s because this café—which opened in 1928 and once served Route 66 travelers 24 hours a day—served as inspiration for the animated film. The character Flo is based on former owner Fran Houser and Mia and Tia were based on two servers (and sisters). If you’re feeling inspired, here’s a few more ways to visit the real places that inspired Disney attractions.
Texas Road Trip #3: El Paso, Texas to Ruidoso, New Mexico
Route distance: 139 miles
Suggested length of time: 3 to 4 days
From most Texan cities, you could drive for many hours in any direction and still be in Texas—the longest drive in Texas takes upwards of 12 hours. But that’s not the case when starting in El Paso, as you’re mere minutes from the New Mexico border. Wouldn’t it be nice to see another state on your getaway? If so, set your sights on the quaint mountain town of Ruidoso.
As with most Texas road trips, you don’t want to drive straight through because you’ll miss out on the spectacular and quirky stops along the way. Begin your trek with a view anyone can appreciate: The Scenic Drive, a two-mile-long road aptly named for its views—at the overlook on top, which is at an elevation of 4,222 feet, you can see not only El Paso but Juarez, Mexico, too. If you’d rather stretch your legs a bit before hitting the road, there are over 100 miles of trails in the Franklin Mountains State Park just begging to be explored.
The first leg of your journey will take you north on U.S. 54 for 100 miles until you reach the White Sands National Park— one of the 12 most peaceful places on earth. (Be sure to have your National Park Pass ready.) Stop by the Visitor’s center, designed in Spanish Pueblo adobe architecture, to get a lay of the land and stock up on water. You could easily spend an entire day walking across and sliding down the fine sand that makes up these Chihuahuan Desert dunes and marveling at how the gypsum sparkles in the sunlight.
Alamogordo and Cloudcroft, New Mexico
Next, continue up U.S. 54 and make a quick stop at McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Here, you’ll get to see the world’s largest pistachio (it stands 30 feet tall) and purchase some delicious souvenirs since the Tularosa Basic has the perfect climate for growing pistachios, pecans, and grapes.
Spend the evening at The Lodge Resort and Spa in Cloudcroft, a village located within the Lincoln National Forest. You’ll find 480,000 acres of open forest that’s perfect for hiking, mountain biking, camping, bird watching, and horseback riding. Don’t miss a meal at Rebecca’s (located within the resort)—it’s named after the hotel’s resident ghost and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily.
Ruidoso, New Mexico
Now it’s time to make the final drive north into Ruidoso, which will take about an hour via State Road 244 and U.S. 70. This quaint town is positioned among the expansive Sierra Blanca mountain range in Lincoln County and has an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet. If you’re traveling by RV, consider parking at the Bonito Hollow RV Park & Campground, which is one of the best RV parks in every state. Otherwise, make the Ruidoso River Resort the basecamp for your stay, as it’s right in the center of town—and yes, the Ruidoso River, which starts at the top of Sierra Blanca Peak, winds through the back of this wooded property. (Fun fact: Ruidoso means “noisy” in Spanish, but the river is quite tame at this point).
Get acclimated by taking a leisurely stroll through Midtown, the extremely walkable heart of Ruidoso. Spend your time savoring a flight at the Noisy Water Winery, snapping photos in front of the 10 colorful murals, chatting with the friendly proprietors in the many shops and galleries, and enjoying a bite to eat and a cold beer at Hunt and Harvest at The Mercantile.
There’s plenty to do just outside of the city center, too, as this gorgeous alpine setting is surrounded by over a million acres of wilderness and national forest. Try zipping down Ski Apache’s mountain (the three-segment course begins at a jaw-dropping 11,500 feet above sea level), off-roading through mountainous terrain with Backcountry Attitudes as your tour guide, playing nine holes of disc golf at Wingfield Park, or just spending a lazy day fishing for rainbow trout at Grindstone Lake.
For mountain biking paths, check out Ski Apache (take your bike on a scenic gondola ride up before biking downhill) and the trails at Grindstone Lake. Finally, explore easy hiking paths—such as the Alto Reservoir Loop—or more moderate trails, such as the Perk Ridge Trail or Cedar Creek Loop.
For more on where to go and what to see around the country, check out our American Road Trip Guide.
- Kristin Braswell, owner of CrushGlobal