Are you looking for a fresh list of the best places to travel by car this Spring Break? Try going West.
If you’ve lived in Texas long enough, you know Spring Break is not the time to point your family car toward the coast – especially if you’re trying to social distance. This year is a great opportunity to try any number of new outdoor adventures that your family will be sure to remember.
RELATED READING :: 10 Texas Destinations Over Spring Break
These westward bound vacation ideas are listed nearest to farthest from Austin, so you can drive as long as you’d like (or not) – and in Texas, we know that’s saying something.
Pick one idea or just keep driving to hit them all. Ready?
In about the time it would take you to get to the Texas coast, you can drive four hours west of Austin to find a system of limestone caves internationally recognized for their beauty called the Sonora Caverns.
If you ever tagged along on one of your children’s school field trips (or went on one yourself as a Texas kid) and were impressed by the more local Natural Bridge Caverns or Inner Space Caverns, you will be amazed by these caves. The formations are much closer, more intricate and more extensive.
My family visited Sonora as part of a longer road trip a few Spring Breaks ago. Here are considerations about this adventure, from one road-trippin’ mom to another.
There is more walking and stairs on this cave tour than others. And because caves can be both humid and chilly, dress in layers and wear tennis shoes.
While three months pregnant with twins, I toured Sonora Caverns with my 2.5, 10 and 13 year-olds, and though the 2.5 year-old did tire out, we did just fine. There is plenty of fudge in the gift shop to help perk you up when you emerge.
You are allowed to take photographs of the formations, and this kept my 13 year-old son engaged throughout, so bring cameras for older kids.
Sonora, Texas, is a very small town, so you may find fine dining and grocery options are limited. Pack provisions to be on the safe side. There is decent lodging nearby, and camping available near the caves themselves.
Six hour West of Austin (or another two plus from Sonora), is what could be described as the largest, all-age sandbox you’ve ever seen – 3,840 acres of natural sand dunes called the Monahan Sandhills.
Monahan Sandhills is part of the Texas State Park system and boasts not only the dunes but also a unique wildlife habitat, camping and a Junior Ranger program. You can even bring your horse to ride, if you have one.
My family stopped in Monahans for a half-day adventure during Spring Break. Here is what we know.
Though you could enjoy the sandhills if you arrived empty handed, bring sand toys and whatever your Texas-version of sled is. You do need sunscreen and should wear clothing you can easily beat the sand out of. Shoes could be optional. You are allowed to bring food into the park, and should, but there was a small park gift shop if you came unprepared.
Our family did not stay in Monahans, but the park does sit between three West Texas towns for more dining, shopping and entertainment options.
Here’s one you may have heard of. Eight hours from Austin (roughly two from Monahans), is the Davis Mountains, dark sky territory and the McDonald Observatory.
The McDonald Observatory is not only a place of ongoing astronomical research, but also of public education and outreach. There are both daytime and night time opportunities for families. On-site, the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center hosts star parties and public tours.
We made reservations for a Star Party at the Observatory over Spring Break. Finding lodging nearby was more difficult, so we ended up staying near Balmorhea, which has a beautiful natural spring.
Known for being dark, the hilly drive to the Observatory is stunning in the late afternoon sunlight. We left for our Star Party early, to stop in for ice cream in quaint Fort Davis and to have dinner at a roadside picnic table halfway up the mountain. We spent the remaining time before our event at the hands-on exhibit in the Observatory.
The Star Party could be late for littles. But there are daytime tours that would be equally interesting, and since the whole area is dark sky protected, you could still star-gaze on your own.
Before You Go
Wherever you point your car this Spring Break, be sure to call ahead to make reservations and confirm COVID guidelines. Many destinations that you could usually just show up at are now requiring online booking.
Additionally, all of the ideas on this list are off the beaten path. Consider packing picnic-friendly food, keep a wary eye on your gas tank and set off with a sense of adventure.
Where are the best places your family has traveled by car over Spring Break? Share in the comments. We’d love to know!