The lilting trickle of a lazy river. The gentle creak of a rope swing hung from a bald cypress branch. A belly full of barbecue and the smell of flowering bluebonnets, musky ashe juniper, and sunscreen in the air. There’s nowhere on Earth quite like the rolling landscapes of my childhood: the Texas Hill Country.
Where the boundaries of the Hill Country exactly begin and end are nebulous, but the region spans roughly 31,000 square miles. It’s penned in by the Texas High Plains to the north and San Antonio to the south. Austin marks its eastern edge, and the area’s rugged topography slowly fades into scrubby high desert mountains toward the west. But most Texans follow a simple rule of thumb: If it ain’t hilly, it’s probably not the Hill Country.
This year, all eyes are turned to the region, since it falls smack-dab in the path of totality for the 2024 solar eclipse on April 8. As the moon passes between the sun and the Earth, the day will turn to night. North America saw a total eclipse in 2017, but the last time the land now known as Texas experienced one was back in 1397. Visibility will depend on two things: location (the Hill Country will get close to four and a half minutes of totality, out of an ever possible max of seven and a half) and weather (Central Texas’s annual average of 300 sunny days bodes well).
“I know what it feels like to be in the shadow of the moon in the daytime, and it’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced,” says Jeff Stone, a former NASA engineer and eclipse enthusiast based in Kerrville, a Hill Country town an hour northwest of San Antonio. “It gets you inside. Between temperature changes and the critters reacting, it’s spectacular. It’s going to be big.”
But after the darkness has passed and eclipse chasers pack up their lawn chairs, there will be plenty of reasons to stick around. To its credit, the Hill Country has no large cities, just a smattering of cute-as-a-button small towns, each with its own personality. The crown jewel is arguably Fredericksburg (population: 11,257), situated about 80 miles west of Austin. The town has deep German roots, a historic downtown with more than 150 local shops, and a booming winery scene (the Texas Hill Country American Viticultural Area is the third largest in the U.S.; organic winery Halter Ranch Texas is a new addition in 2024). Visitors should stop at Fredericksburg’s Old German Bakery and Restaurant for schnitzel and potato pancakes. Then learn about the town’s homesteading past at the Pioneer Museum. For a sweet treat, visit Das Peach Haus, which sells such items as jams, jellies, fruit cobblers, pie fillings, and fresh peaches—Fredericksburg is famous for them.
About 25 miles southwest, Kerrville will hold an eclipse festival in Louise Hays Park on April 8, with science talks, musical acts, and children’s programming planned—plus, NASA will be live streaming the celestial event from the park. Kerrville is near the headwaters of the Guadalupe River too. Take in the scenery by renting a kayak and hitting the river; keep an eye out for native fish, plants, and birds including painted buntings.
Another 25 miles south of Kerrville is the Cowboy Capital of the World—Bandera. The downtown strip looks as if it were plucked out of a spaghetti western: Gunfight reenactments take place monthly at the visitor center, and there are several dude ranches in the area, including the fifth-generation Dixie Dude Ranch. Bandera is also ideal for stargazing, since its county is part of the Hill Country Alliance Night Sky Program, which works to reduce light pollution through advocacy and changes in environmental legislation.
Due to the Edwards Aquifer (one of the most productive in the world), 12 river headwaters begin in the Hill Country. The rivers here are generally gentle and blue as can be, and the locations of prime swimming holes are furtively guarded by Texans in the know (a visitor’s best bet is to head to a state park, such as Inks Lake). And because these waters are slightly acidic, the Hill Country is studded with thousands of limestone caves. Many are open for tours, including Longhorn Cavern State Park, the “national cave of Texas.”
Most visitors in 2024 will be looking up, but if they take time to look around, they’ll find bona fide Texan beauty and culture. To quote Davy Crockett after losing his Tennessee bid for U.S. Congress in 1835, “You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas”—and the Hill Country may be as close to heaven as one can get on Earth.
Tips for planning your trip
- Required listening: Don’t miss a trip to Luckenbach, the town that Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and the boys sang about going to “get back to the basics of love” in their 1977 hit, “Luckenbach, Texas.” There’s live music every day at the town’s dance hall.
- Where to stay: Accommodations are selling out for the big day (April 8). Check traveltexas.com, visitfredericksburgtx.com, and kerrvilletexascvb.com for event and accommodation info. A standout for any time of year is Fredericksburg’s Hoffman Haus, a boutique hotel that delivers breakfast to each room at 9 a.m. in a picnic basket.
For the full list of our favorite destinations this year, read Where to Go in 2024.