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Creating the perfect summer day for you and the kiddos isn’t an easy feat in the most normal of times – and these times are anything but normal. That’s why happyly has partnered with Free Fun in Austin to offer readers a bevy of curated activities for an active family day. It’s our mission to inspire fun and safe summer outings so you can spend less time planning and more time playing.
Go underground, explore parkitecture, see another state park, and eat pie!
Here’s how to plan the perfect day trip to Longhorn Cavern!
Longhorn Cavern State Park
Summer may be coming to an end – at least, that’s what a typical August would lead you to believe – so this week, we’re taking the family adventure up a notch to the National Cave of Texas! Less than an hour and a half from the heart of Austin sits a beautiful Hill Country park and underground wonder known as Longhorn Cavern State Park. At a lovely, and near-constant, 68 degrees, this subterranean escapade is also a great way to escape summer’s most brutal temperatures.
Dating back to the 1930s, when the park was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the park features an amazing cavern created by an ancient river – the caverns were discovered by Anglo settlers in the 1870s. Rumor has it that during the thirties, the spot was home to an underground nightclub (literally) that featured bands and radio broadcasts!
Guests can choose between two tour options, but the Cavern Walking Tour is by far the most popular. The 90 minute, 1.1 mile round trip tour, takes visitors 130 feet below ground and follows the path of the now-departed river. Throughout the adventure, guides will share stories of the cavern’s history and walk you through some bewildering underground rooms. If you’re claustrophobic, be warned, some areas do drop as below four and a half feet tall. Though the trailhead begins (and ends) with 52 stone steps, this tour is accessible to most little ones eight and over.
The Wild Caves Tour, on the other hand, is physically demanding, but offers the same age requirements: Kids must be eight or older to take the wild tour and guests under 18 must be accompanied by an adult. This one will make you wiggle and crawl your way through the lower level of the caverns for a glimpse at what it was like before lights and pathways. The tour, which only happens one day a week, lasts two to three hours. Upon completion, participants receive a “Wild Cave Tour Finisher” t-shirt – you’ll need it, because your clothes will be wet and covered in dirt.
Know before you go:
The park is open, but due to COVID-19, the walking tours are limited to 20 people per tour. We recommend booking yours online to secure your preferred time and spot. Face masks must be worn during the cavern tours and inside the park’s visitor center.
Because the cavern is considered a fragile environment, the public can only enter with a paid, guided tour. Through August 16, the Cavern Walking Tour departs every day on the hour and half hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. See site for updated fall hours, but last year the walking tour’s last departure on weekdays was an hour earlier at 3 p.m. The Wild Cave Tour happens year-long on Saturdays only, departing at 9:30 a.m. Because the caverns and buildings are historic, neither tour is wheelchair accessible, nor is much of the park.
We know this excursion isn’t free – the wild tour costs $65 per person, and the walking tour ranges from $14 to $18 – but this natural wonder is worth the price and with the park’s other offerings, it’s a great excuse for a day trip and picnic lunch.
Longhorn Cavern State Park
Location: 6211 Park Road 4 South, Burnet
Hours: Through August 16, 2020: the park is open daily 9 a.m. through 6 p.m.; Fall/ Winter Hours: Weekdays 9 a.m. through 5 p.m.; weekends and holidays 9 a.m. through 6 p.m.
Price: Cavern Walking Tour – Adults – $18, Children (4-11) – $14, kids three and under are free. Wild Cave Tour – $65 per person; the park is free to enter and hike through.
Refuel at the Park’s Snack Bar
Located on park grounds you’ll find a cute, self-serving snack bar with pizza and slushies alongside other, more snackable, options.
Don’t leave yet, the park has so much more to offer:
Aside from the caverns, the park features a handful of historic CCC buildings including an Observation Tower that offers breathtaking views of Hill Country. (Fun fact, these buildings are considered “Parkitecture” – referring to an early and middle 20th century-style of architecture utilized by the United States National Park Service to design buildings to better mesh with the natural environment.)
Up for more walking? Consider exploring the Backbone Ridge trail system, which passes through Longhorn Cavern State Park and connects to Inks Lake.
Pop On Over to Inks Lake
If you’re not up to the hike to and from, Inks Lake State Park is just a ten minute drive from the caverns and offers visitors a wonderful place to swim and hike the day away. The park features nine miles of trails, including the family-friendly Pecan Flats (3.3 miles). Paddle boats, canoes, kayaks, life vests, and paddles are all available to rent here too.
This park is not only a great spot to spend an afternoon on the water, but a beloved camping locale for Austinites looking to retreat from city life for a couple days. Over 200 campsites are available, but reservations fill up fast. Water lovers should note that even scuba diving is allowed in certain areas of the lake, and there’s a no-wake zone to support paddlers too. Reservations for entry – even day use – are currently required.
Here’s everything you need to know about the park’s swimming hole.
Inks Lake State Park
Location: 3630 Park Road 4 West, Burnet
Hours: 8 a.m. through 10 p.m.
Price: Adult (Day Use) – $6; kids 12 and under are free
Stop for Blue Bonnet Cafe’s World-Famous Pie
Before you return to Austin, you must stop at Blue Bonnet Cafe for its world-famous pie. Located in Marble Falls, 20 minutes from the caverns and 28 minutes from Inks Lake, sits a little local spot that’s been serving down-home cooking and decadent pies since 1929. The spot is open with limited hours for socially distanced dine-in and take out. Pies can even be ordered ahead of time. Now, all you have to do is decide between apple, chocolate cream, lemon meringue, cherry, peach… the list goes on.
Blue Bonnet Cafe
Location: 211 US-281, Marble Falls
Hours: Thursday through Saturday, 7 a.m. through 7 p.m.; Sunday, 7 a.m. through 1:45 p.m.; Monday through Wednesday, 7 a.m. through 3 p.m.
- Low-heeled shoes with rubber soles are recommended for the cavern tours
- Water and snacks
- A picnic lunch if you want to skip the snack bar pizza
- Sunscreen and bug spray
- For those interested in the Wild Cave Tour: a helmet (bicycle helmet is OK), a headlamp with extra batteries, soft knee pads, closed-toed shoes [Wear long sleeves and pants that you don’t mind staining, with elbow pads, gloves, and bring a change of clothes for after the tour]
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If you have ideas for our next installment in our Family Fun Day Austin Series, we welcome them at [email protected]. Enjoying our content? Please download the free happyly app for fast access to all of our blog content, favorite activities, and expertly designed curated days, both locally and in many communities and travel destinations across the country.