East Texas is famous for its towering loblolly pine trees, but you might not know a swath of that pine forest migrated down to Central Texas’s Bastrop County. How this lowly pocket of pine forest ended up 100 miles away from its eastern home is unclear – what is clear is that these “lost pines” provide a natural playground with endless opportunities for nature lovers.
Situated on the Colorado River, located centrally between Houston, Austin and San Antonio, Bastrop County is an ideal escape for those wanting a break from the hustle and bustle of city life. While the historic downtowns of Bastrop County retain all the attractions of quaint small Texas towns, families travel to the area for the abundance of outdoor activities
Bastrop and Buescher State Parks
Bastrop County is home to two incredible pine tree-filled state parks. The county’s namesake, Bastrop State Park has 7,400 acres of biking, swimming, hiking, birding, fishing and geocaching – more than enough activities to keep your nature-loving family entertained for days. Campers can pitch a tent in one of 78 single-family campsites, or if you prefer a mattress to a sleeping pad, the park also rents historic cabins built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, also known as the CCC.
Cyclists rave about the scenic 12-mile winding road between Bastrop State Park and Buescher State Park, a sister park near Smithville also built by the CCC in the 1930s. The tree-lined road is a great way to soak up the beauty of the Hill Country while getting in a dose of exercise. Buescher also reserves historic cabins and campgrounds, and you can see the stones hand-hewn by the CCC that support bridges and buildings.
Texas Tidbit: When it comes time to find a place to lay your head, Bastrop has charming historical bed-and-breakfasts for fans of Victorian architecture – including the Pecan Street Inn Bed and Breakfast, and Katy House Bed and Breakfast. You can also check out the unique lodging options.
The Colorado River, Lake Bastrop and its two parks
If you prefer to be on the water, Bastrop County has two official Texas Paddling Trails along the Colorado River. Beginner paddlers gravitate toward El Camino Real Paddling Trail. Kayak trips along this slow-moving, six-mile portion of the river trail generally take between two to three hours to complete. To turn the outing into a full day excursion, pack a picnic in a waterproof bag and stop at designated city and county parks along the banks of the river to eat and appreciate the scenery.
The vegetation along the Colorado River supports a diversity of wildlife. Birders will have a field day keeping their eyes peeled for Crested Caracaras, Ospreys, Red-shouldered Hawks, kingfishers, vultures, woodpeckers, Great Blue Herons, Wood Ducks, and Killdeer.
The Wilbarger Long Paddle Trail is a popular longer trail if you have the endurance to paddle for six to eight hours. Like El Camino Real, this section of the river is also slow-moving with plenty of sandbanks to easily pull over to rest. If you want to paddle either trail, consider joining a guided tour or renting kayaks for a self-guided tour.
If you prefer lake fun, the 906-acre Lake Bastrop has a wide variety of watercraft available at North Shore Park, including one-person, round fishing boats for recreational fishing. The lake is stocked with Florida largemouth bass, channel, blue, and flathead catfish. Because this is a cooling lake for LCRA, the water is mild year-round.
North Shore Park also has several glamping options including large tents and Airstreams for a fully immersive trip. Wooded hiking trails connect the North Shore Park and the South Shore Park, which has a mini-golf course, volleyball nets, and a pavilion.
Back in time and up in the air
If you have a kiddo going through a dinosaur phase, stop by Dinosaur Park to get a glimpse of what Texas was like when dinosaurs ruled the earth. Unlike most museums that display dinosaur skeletons, this family-run park created life-sized realistic replicas of the extinct reptiles and placed them along a nature trail. Grab a scavenger hunt list before starting the mile-long loop to see if you can spot all 30 species of dinosaur. The 2-foot long Compsognathus might be hard to see, but at 123 feet, Diplodocus – the longest dinosaur to have ever lived – is almost impossible to miss.
If you have an adventurous family, spend at least one afternoon ziplining over McKinney Roughs Nature Park. Zip Lost Pines offers six tandem lines with some of the best views in the county. Side-by-side lines foster friendly competitions to see who can get down the line the fastest. The Valley Vista line takes riders across a steep canyon, but the highlight of the tour is the River Run line. The quarter-mile line will have you soaring over trees toward the Colorado River at up to 40 miles per hour.
Hyatt Lost Pines Spa and Resort
For a one-stop-shop for activities and accommodations, the crown jewel of the area is the Hyatt Lost Pines Spa and Resort, a great peace offering for those family members wary of spending a week in nature. The expansive property abuts the 1,100-acre McKinney Roughs Nature Park, offering a wide range of outdoor activities set among the pines.
You could spend days at the resort, strolling through butterfly gardens, watching longhorns in their pastures, riding horseback through the Texas Hill Country, fishing the Colorado River, or simply relaxing in a chair under a tree canopy with a good book. For golfers, the resort also has an 18-hole championship golf course with scenic views of the rolling hills of the Texas landscape.
For kids, the “Crooked River” waterpark with its pools, slides, lazy river and sandy beach is a perfect draw on even the hottest Texas day. And if you want to truly unwind on your vacation, the resort’s Spa Django offers the opportunity to relax and renew the mind, body and spirit. You can easily spend an entire day hopping between steam rooms, sauna and the heated pool in between rejuvenating massage and facial treatments. Those statuesque Lost Pines can be seen through the spa’s windows – a reminder that even the trees will travel for this one-of-a-kind destination.
Texas Tidbit: A very Happy 150th Birthday to Elgin, Texas which is celebrating its Sesquicentennial this year. Expect every Elgin event this year – including the annual Hog Eye Festival in October (yes there’s a story in that name) – to showcase the history and direction of the community. Hogeye celebrates community, family, famous Elgin Hot Guts Sausage and all things swine. It’s “time for warm hearts and hot guts!”