There’s no better way to explore the endless variety of landscapes in Texas than on two wheels. You can mountain-bike down steep canyon trails, pedal up to the highest point on the Texas highway system, or lose yourself in a curtain of pines. No matter where you are in Texas, there’s likely some excellent cycling to be done.
Pedal Through the Texas Wine Country
Amidst the Hill Country’s rolling grasslands and clusters of live oak, there are well over 100 wineries, distilleries, and breweries. This part of the state also happens to offer some of its most picturesque cycling—and a hearty dose of intriguing Texas history.
If you’ve got time for only one Hill Country ride, make it the 32-mile Willow City Loop, near Fredericksburg. During the spring bloom, take in vast fields of bluebonnets and other wildflowers and admire the granite dome of Enchanted Rock in the distance. For another beautiful ride, head south of Fredericksburg on Old Fred Road toward Old Tunnel State Park (home to roughly three million Mexican free-tailed bats), passing historic limestone settlements along the way. And before heading back, take a lunch break at the Alamo Springs Cafe and order the famous burger (rated among the best in Texas). For a bit of presidential history, ride Ranch Road 1 along the Pedernales River between Fredericksburg and Johnson City—President Lyndon B. Johnson’s home has been turned into a state park and national historic site, and it serves as a perfect spot for a picnic lunch.
Ride Singletrack into the Grand Canyon of Texas
Just south of Amarillo, the high plains of the Texas Panhandle drop into a colossal canyon system at Palo Duro Canyon State Park, a mountain-biking mecca complete with red-rock hoodoos and technical singletrack. The canyon’s trails draw serious mountain bikers from all over the country, but as Jeff Davis, Palo Duro’s assistant superintendent, emphasizes, it’s also “such an accessible place for a wide variety of backgrounds and ability levels.”
Beginners or families with young kids should try the Paseo del Rio trail, which connects to the famed Lighthouse Trail (the most popular in the park) leading to the iconic Lighthouse formation, a red-rock pinnacle reaching some 300 feet out of the earth. For challenging terrain, don’t miss Capitol Peak, a dedicated mountain-bike trail; Upper and Lower Comanche Trail; or the Rock Garden Trail, which climbs from the canyon floor to the rim, nearly 800 feet above. Wherever you go, be sure to bring lots of water and sun protection—temperatures at the canyon floor can reach 120 degrees in the summer.
Enjoy the spectacular night skies in the park, which has a variety of lodging options. Glamping tents are available at the bottom of the canyon, but you can also book a CCC-built cabin on the rim or reserve a standard campsite at various spots throughout the park. On the way out, treat yourself to a steak at the legendary Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo or an ice-cream float at the Palo Duro Trading Post in nearby Canyon.
Gravel-Grind Through the Pines
For a mix of gravel, dirt, and paved riding amid the country’s westernmost stand of loblolly pines, head out to Bastrop State Park, just 40 miles east of Austin. “We’re kind of an island oasis right here in central Texas,” says Jamie Creacy, the Lost Pines complex manager responsible for Bastrop and Buescher State Parks. One of the highlights of the area, says Creacy, is Park Road 1, a lightly traveled paved road between the two state parks that offers views of the surrounding landscape and may be the best way to explore the pines. But that’s just where the fun begins.
If you’re looking for a gravel grinder, take Gotier Trace Road from Bastrop State Park, then veer onto Antioch Road toward the town of Paige. You’ll pass farmland, a historic cemetery, and, of course, more pine trees along the way. If you’re visiting in June, don’t miss the annual gravel night ride, hosted by Capital City Racing, which starts at Rising Sun Vineyard in nearby McDade.
When you’re not on your bike, hike the state-park trails, fish in Lake Bastrop, or swim in the pool at Bastrop State Park. Head to downtown Bastrop’s Main Street for the lively food and bar scene, including farm-to-table fare at Store House Market & Eatery.
Ride Endless Trails Minutes from Downtown Waco
Ross Harris, owner of The Bear Mountain, a bike and outdoor store in Waco, loves his home trail system’s “punchy” character. “You’ll rail a descent and then you’re rolling right into a climb,” he says. That’s why Waco draws riders from all over the state to its web of well-marked technical trails in Cameron Park, one of the largest municipal parks in Texas. Though advanced trails like Highlander, Root Canal, and Babbler will challenge even the most skilled riders, routes like River Trail, which winds through towering pecan trees on the banks of the Brazos, are great for beginners and families. If you’re visiting in spring, don’t miss the annual Cameron Park Blowout, a Texas Mountain Bike Racing Association event hosted by The Bear Mountain.
Book a room at the Green Door Lofts, or, if you’re a Joanna and Chip Gaines fan, rent a Magnolia home near downtown and skip the commute by riding your bike along the river right into the park. Take a break from the trails and ride across the suspension bridge downtown to grab a sandwich or salad made with Texas-sourced ingredients at Revival Eastside Eatery.
Contemplate the Cosmos on This West Texas Observatory Ride
In West Texas’s Davis Mountains, the classic challenge is to ride out from the town of Fort Davis up to the top of the McDonald Observatory’s Mount Locke and back (about 30 miles round-trip). Or, if you’re feeling really ambitious, take on the full Davis Mountain scenic loop (about 75 miles), which follows Texas Highway 118 up to the observatory, then drops back down and around to Fort Davis on Texas 166. If you’d rather look forward to a dip in cold, clear springwater at the end of your ride, take Texas 17 north from Fort Davis to Balmorhea State Park (33 miles one way), a desert oasis with a massive spring-fed pool that draws swimmers from across the state.
Stay for the night at the rustic Indian Lodge, a white adobe hotel tucked away at the back of Davis Mountains State Park. You can also book a campsite at the park, or stay at the hip and funky El Cosmico in Marfa (think trendy trailer park). Whatever you do, be sure to reserve a spot at one of the star parties hosted by the observatory, where the experts will give you a glimpse of the cosmos through their very powerful telescopes.
Texas is more than a state, it’s a state of mind. From Big Bend to the Gulf Coast & everywhere in between, your next adventure awaits. No matter what experience you’re after, we can’t wait to see you soon. Plan your next Texas getaway at traveltexas.com. Let’s Texas.