Adventure & Exploration At Longhorn Cavern State Park
My family has been visiting Longhorn Cavern State Park for as long as I can remember. Situated on top of a scenic hillside smack dab in the middle of the Texas Hill Country, the park and its namesake cavern are a must-see for families who love experiencing all that nature has to offer. The state park is about four-and-a-half hours from Houston, but just over an hour from Austin, where families can enjoy plenty of kid-friendly activities if you wanted to make a weekend trip to enjoy all that the area has to offer. Although exploring the stunning cavern is the main draw to the park, it is a great place to hike, picnic, and just enjoy being in the great outdoors with family.
Exploring The Trails at Longhorn Cavern State Park
Within the park grounds, the Backbone Ridge trail system features miles and miles of winding trails through the hills. Situated along the trails are picnic tables where you can stop to relax or even enjoy a picnic lunch. Along the trails, you'll find plenty of shady trees, which come in handy if you're visiting during the summer months.
It is the hill country after all, so expect to be challenged with a few areas that are sloped. Large boulders along the edges of the trails are also easy to come by if you need to sit and rest. The wooded areas throughout the trails hold plenty of gorgeous vegetation to take in including cactus, wildflowers, and gorgeous bluebonnets in the spring.
If you are exploring with young kids, you could potentially get through the majority of trails with a jogging stroller in many areas, but you are likely better off using a baby carrier if you have little ones who may not be up for as much hiking as the rest of your crew.
Several domed rooms underground in the cavern are quite large and have a unique design compared to other caverns throughout Texas.
The crown jewel of this state park is its namesake cavern. We recently enjoyed taking the cavern walking tour with our four kids, who range in age from 5 to 13. By the end of the nearly two-hour-long tour, our youngest was pretty worn out, but overall he did great navigating the terrain inside the cavern. The cavern floor can get slippery if it has recently rained and there are several spots with steep steps and inclines, so you'll want to make sure you are confident in your child's ability to handle these conditions before you head out.
Throughout the tour, we learned historical facts about the cavern, the park itself, and picked up plenty of geological tidbits from our guide. Our guide explained how the park was formed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s using just shovels, wheelbarrows, and manpower to create the manmade entrances so that visitors could eventually tour the river-formed cavern. Unlike the popular drip caverns in other parts of the state, Longhorn Cavern formed due to rushing water from flooded rivers, creating gorgeous ring-like features and waved walls.
The cavern walls are absolutely breathtaking.
One of the coolest parts of the cavern tour was when our tour guide turned out all of the lights to show us what total darkness underground looks like. Although our kids weren't scared, I can see this being frightening for some little ones, so it's something to be aware of. It is also worth mentioning that there are no restrooms in the cavern, so make sure your kids go in the gift shop before your tour.
Although the walking tour is the most popular option (and definitely the most kid-friendly) visitors looking for a bit more adventure can opt for the "Wild Cave Tour" where you'll be led through areas of the cave accessible only by crawling through tight spaces with special caving gear. The "Wild Cave Tour" is intended for ages 8 and up.
Admission to the park and trails is free, but there is a fee for cavern tours. Hours and pricing for tours can be found on the park's website.
One of the historic buildings in the park, Falkenstein Castle, provides a breathtaking 360-degree view of the surrounding hills. Climbing the narrow, winding stairs to get to the top of the castle can be a challenge, but the view looking out over miles and miles of land down toward shimmering Inks Lake is totally worth it. The sweeping views are especially gorgeous in the spring when the wildflowers bloom. Made from cobblestones, the structure itself is stunning to look at as well. It's a great spot to explore before your cavern tour to begins, or to wrap up the end of your time at the park.
Your kids won't want to miss the gemstones inside the gift shop.
Gift Shop & Snack Bar
No trip to Longhorn State park is complete without a trip to their stellar gift shop inside of the visitor's center. Kids can pick from an array of gorgeous geodes on display. T-shirts, mugs, hats, maps of the area, hiking supplies, and more can also be found in the gift shop.
If you didn't pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on the trails, you can find plenty of options available at the snack bar in the visitor's center. This self-serve cafe offers pizza, pre-packaged sandwiches and salads, as well as an array of drinks. While you can't take food or beverages into the cavern itself, there is plenty of seating both inside the visitor's center and on the covered patio behind the center to eat.
Unfortunately, overnight camping is not permitted at Longhorn State Park. However, families who wish to camp out nearby and explore the park during the day can find spectacular camping just six miles away at Inks Lake State Park. There, you can also enjoy boating, fishing, swimming, and other watersport activities if your family is looking to enjoy some fun on the water. Additional hiking and biking trails are also located throughout Inks Lake State Park, and there are several playgrounds near the campsite areas. Sites for tent camping, campsites with water and electrical hook-ups, as well as cabins are available to rent.
All in all, taking the day to enjoy Longhorn Cavern State Park in the Texas Hill Country is a must for families who love a good outdoor adventure.
Top photo: Setting out to hit the trails at Longhorn Cavern State park. All photos by the author.