As you might have noticed, this summer we are running a few new regular features. On Wednesdays, we’re writing about taking on the city as tourists — even though we live here. So, we might write about packing up the family to check out a swimming hole, taking part in a tour or checking out a nearby resort for a staycation. Here’s to a summer full of exploring the best city around!
It takes a lot of planning and agonizing (and just sheer mettle) to take a trip with a two-year-old… and even if you pull it off, the experience can hardly be described as relaxing. That’s why, after a week in California visiting friends earlier this summer, we were all vacationed out.
But, of course, we still like to get out and have a little weekend fun, so, one day recently (when it miraculously wasn’t blistering hot), the hubby and I loaded the kiddo in the car and took off for the Hill Country. It’s close to home, but, as it turns out, Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge — a 23,000-acre preserve that serves as a protected habitat for two bird species and home to a host of other wildlife — holds plenty of opportunities for outdoor fun.
We stopped off at the Shin Oak Observation Deck to see what we could see (not much, as it turned out), and then continued on to our real destination, Doeskin Ranch Public Use Area, for some hiking fun. At 2 1/2, Nora is still a little young to tackle a whole hike on her own two feet, so we brought along a structured hiking backpack and decided to see where the trails took us.
We were cautious enough to do a couple of small loops first — the scenic half-mile Pond and Prairie Trail in particular — but, since things were going swimmingly, we decided to take off on the Rimrock Trail, described as a “vigorous 2.2 mile hike taking you to the top of the plateau where you will find spectacular panoramic views of the Texas Hill Country.”
Vigorous it was, with pretty steep and unrelenting switchbacks on the uphill, but the views were as lovely as promised. Our little adventurer even hiked most of the uphill herself, which lightened our load considerably.
We saw plenty of wildlife — mostly birds, but a few lizards rustling in the underbrush, and big red ant colonies at the top of the trail provided endless entertainment for our budding entomologist.
There are bathroom facilities at the trailhead, but no water, so bring plenty of your own. Snacks (trail mix is a classic choice) are also a good idea — but when isn’t that the case on an outing with kids? Definitely bring a sun hat (it’s unprotected at the top of the ridge, though most of the hikes have some shade) and sunscreen, and wear sturdy shoes.
On the way home, we detoured to Flat Creek Estate for wine tasting and a picnic lunch. The winery has a gorgeous patio that’s perfect for picnicking, as well as a restaurant if you didn’t pack your own lunch. Plus the wine is good, and the tasting room staff is friendly and accommodating to families.
All in all, it was a great little trip out into the Hill Country, which we haven’t explored much, and that’s a shame — it’s beautiful country.
For more information on Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, visit http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Balcones_Canyonlands/.
For more information on Flat Creek Estate, visit http://www.flatcreekestate.com/.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.livemom.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/lauren.jpg[/author_image] [author_info] Lauren Walz is a freelance writer and editor and mama to a two-year-old girl. While she’s quick to brag about being a fifth-generation Texan, Lauren moved to Northern California in 2004 after graduating from UT Law and lived in the Silicon Valley area until last spring, when she and her family were drawn back to Austin. Lauren is busy getting re-acquainted with her old stomping grounds and is astonished by how the food and wine scene has changed in Austin in the past 8 years. Lauren also blogs about cooking and parenthood on gourmetveggiemama.com.[/author_info] [/author]