How to spend less on a Highland Lakes vacation
Everybody needs a vacation — a time to relax and reboot, experience new places, or revisit familiar ones. A tough economy can make that a bit more challenging, but with a little research, some priority setting, and an eagle eye for discounts and freebies, you can stretch your vacation budget and make the most of your time in the Highland Lakes.
Read on for how and where to save on your next Highland Lakes vacation.
Gentle hills, scenic lakes and rivers, splashes of colorful wildflowers from spring through fall, and a mild climate year-round make the Highland Lakes a perfect spot for outdoor lovers. Parks of all sizes abound. Some don’t charge entrance fees, while others offer discounts for children and seniors. Take your pick, take your time, and enjoy. You’ll have to take a few return trips see them all.
City parks don’t charge entrance fees and offer lots of recreational options in scenic spots.
At Lakeside Park in Marble Falls, you can sunbathe on a sandy beach or fish and swim in Lake Marble Falls. Grab a picnic table and barbecue pit for lakeside lunching. It's also within walking distance of downtown Marble Falls. You can also take the kids to the playground at Johnson Park or throw a game of disc golf at Westside Park. A hike-and-bike trail connects them.
Llano’s Badu Park sits on the banks of the Llano River with views of granite outcroppings, the Depression-era river bridge, and the 1893-built Llano County Courthouse in the city's downtown. Swim, hike or bike a nature trail, launch your boat (non-motorized only), shoot some hoops on the basketball court, or cast a fishing line.
The beautifully landscaped and lighted Hamilton Creek Park, a walkable few blocks west of downtown Burnet, has picnic areas, a playground, and footbridges crossing the creek.
One of the Highland Lakes' newest green spaces, Horseshoe Bay Nature Park, aims to preserve the habitat indigenous to the area. Here you’ll find a hiking trail, a bird blind, an observation deck, and a space that remains mostly in its natural state.
The Lower Colorado River Authority, whose dams form the Highland Lakes, manages almost 11,000 acres of parkland in its service area. LCRA Parks charge entrance fees, but kids 12 and younger get in free and adults 65 and older get a discount. The 10 LCRA Parks in this area vary in size and amenities offered.
Black Rock Park on Lake Buchanan, long popular with day-trippers and overnighters, has campsites and cabins for the latter and canoe and kayak rentals for all. You can even play a round of miniature golf.
You’ll find seven state parks (and a few national sites) in the Highland Lakes area, some of which rank among the most visited in Texas. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Departmentcelebrates its centennial in 2023 and will host occasional free admission days throughout the year. Entrance fees vary by park, but children 12 and younger get in free. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, featuring a giant, billion-years-old granite dome, celebrates its 45th anniversary as a state park on March 2, 2023.
The Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park gives visitors an in-depth look at the life and times of the 36th president of the United States. Highlights include his boyhood home in Johnson City and the so-called Texas White House on LBJ Ranch near Stonewall. Admission is free. Nearby, LBJ State Park and Historic Site hosts educational exhibits and the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm. It also charges no admission.
At Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery is a little gem of a park, where you can boat (bring your own), fish, hike, view wildlife from a bird blind, or sit down to a waterside picnic. Plan for an early outing; it closes at 3:30 p.m. No entrance fee.
Visit Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge for some of the most spectacular views in the Highland Lakes and wildlife, including the endangered black-capped vireo and golden-cheeked warbler. It has two trail systems: Doeskin Ranch and Warbler Vista. Both are free.
While not technically a park, the Kingsland Slab, formed by granite outcroppings beneath the Llano River, is a popular spot for swimming, sunbathing, fishing, and admiring the unusual rock formations. It’s free; just respect the rights of landowners by staying on the riverbed.
Highland Lakes history is as rich as the scenery and displayed in a diverse collection of museums. Check out the following and find even more in the What to See guide.
At the Highland Lakes Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force museum in Burnet, view a collection of World War II-era aircraft, lovingly restored and in flying condition. A few steps away from the planes, a small gallery displays memorabilia from decades past. The museum charges admission but offers discounts for children and military members. Burnet’s Fort Croghan Museum and Grounds commemorates a military outpost that was instrumental in Burnet County’s settlement. The museum features artifacts from the pioneer days. No admission charge.
The Falls on the Colorado Museum, occupying one of the oldest structures in Marble Falls, gives visitors a taste of the city’s early days with its collection of photos and relics. No admission charge.
At the Llano County Historical Museum, steeped in the history of the Old West, you’ll find a log cabin that was moved to this site and artifacts from the county's early days, including a vintage soda fountain from the drug store that once occupied this space. Free admission.
Housed in a repurposed feed mill from the 1880s, Johnson City’s Science Mill is packed with intriguing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) exhibits, including a 4D, virtual reality trip beneath the sea. Reduced admission for children and seniors.
Motorcycle enthusiasts will want to add Hill Country Motorheads in Burnet and Texas Vintage Motorcycle Museum in Johnson City to their “must visit” list. Check their websites here and here for updated admission fees and hours.
The Highland Lakes area has a lot to keep you entertained, be it first-run flicks, live theater, children’s storytimes, live music from up-and-comers to A-listers, an entertainment multiplex, and even an Old West show.
Film buffs will be happy to know that they can get discount movie tickets in the Highland Lakes. Cinergy Cinemas in Marble Falls offers $5 off admission on certain days of the week with its Elite Membership, which is free. Other deals may be available to members.
For kids and parents who need a break, the Marble Falls Public Library hosts two free storytimes a week, one for preschoolers and the other for ages 3 and younger. The Herman Brown Free Library in Burnet holds weekly free storytimes plus Baby’s 1st Storytime.
On Saturdays, get a taste of the Wild West in Burnet, where a gunfight breaks out after the Hill Country Flyer pulls into the station. The Burnet Gunfighters, a volunteer organization whose cast (all in period costume) includes a sheriff, deputies, dance hall girls, bartenders, and townspeople, put on this show that’s long been a popular draw. Nobody ends up on Boot Hill, and there’s no admission charge.
In Marble Falls, the boredom-busting Putters & Gutters entertainment complex entices locals and tourists alike with a bowling alley, a roller rink, an arcade, 18 holes of mini-golf, a go-kart track, a restaurant and bar, and live music. The center offers age-related discounts and daily lunch specials.
Also in Marble Falls, Sweet Berry Farm, a pick-your-own attraction, grows strawberries and tulips for the spring season and hosts a festival with a pumpkin patch in the fall. There's plenty of other family-fun farm activities. You only pay for what you pick or do. Parking and admission are free.
You’ll find plenty of live music and live theater in the Highland Lakes at lakeside patios, wineries, and restored movie houses. For music and theater dates, as well as other entertainment options in the Highland Lakes, browse the Highland Lakes Events Calendar.
The "hungries" never take a vacation, and whenever they hit, the Highland Lakes has you covered. Homestyle food and Texas barbecue pull in people from miles around, but you can find just about any cuisine your palate desires. Check out the options in the Eat & Drink guide.
For more Highland Lakes attractions to add to your itinerary, visit 101HighlandLakes.com, click on the guides under Highland Lakes Vacation, and start packing.
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