As the second-largest state in the U.S., and the largest among the lower 48, Texas is huge, and many of its people are justifiably proud of their home that is rich in resources, history, culture and natural beauty.
The state has a mix of geography and topography ranging from southeast to southwest environments, and elevations as high as 8,749 feet in the mountains to the west, down to sea level at the warm beaches of its coastline.
For a rider, besides routes through the suburbs of cities such as Houston, San Antonio or Dallas, there are outlying twisty routes, plenty of long straight roads, byways that wend past interesting little towns, working farms, natural resources areas, and more.
Texans seriously play up their heritage as a place where cowboys once roamed – and in places still do. It is also a place where innumerable barrels of oil flowed from around 1900 to their peak in the early 1970s – with a large volume believed to be still remaining under the Gulf of Mexico.
The state’s uniqueness is not lost on its official bureau of tourism either, which features the motto, “Texas – It’s like a whole other country.”
Nor is this idle boasting. From 1836 to 1845, Texas literally was “a whole other country.” It was an independent republic, which wrested itself from Mexico, which in turn had received Texas in 1821 as part of its independence from Spain.
Actually, the “Lone Star State” that today flies the flag with a single star, has been part of six countries if one includes its period of self-rule, and thus is also known as the state of “Six Flags.”
It is further noteworthy that for all its strong American identity today, since 1519, Spain had governed most of what is present-day Texas for a total of around three centuries; almost twice as long as the 166 or so years since 1845 when it joined the United States.
The state was also claimed by the Confederates from 1861-1865, and the French occupied a part of its Gulf coast for slightly longer in the late 1680s, to round out the list of six flags.
But Texas’ comparison to a “whole other country” does not end with its sovereignty. With a total area of 268,581 square miles, of which 6,784 square miles is water, it out-sizes more than 150 other nations, including most of the individual countries of Europe.
To put its size into further perspective, it’s a longer distance – over 850 miles – to travel across the state either east-to-west, or from north to south, than the 700-something miles it is to either the west or east coast from its western or eastern border respectively.
There are around 5,900 towns and cities in Texas located in 254 counties. It is often divided into regions that – depending on who is doing the dividing – could include the: Panhandle Plains, North, Piney Woods, Big Bend Country, Hill Country, Prairies and Lake Country, Deep East, South and Gulf Coast.
Some of these areas tend to be more popular for motorcyclists than others. All have worthwhile roads with cool things to see however, if you know where to look.
Being south-centrally located, Texas is a good point to start a multi-state tour, or finish one, or to be a leg along the way. Nearby popular destinations include Route 66 just north around Oklahoma City, natural hot springs eastward in Arkansas, and gambling and other entertainment in New Orleans, about eight hours southeast from Dallas. Plus you have good old Mexico down south, and the beginning of the American west, through New Mexico and beyond.
And the best possible time to see Texas could be now, if acceptance of motorcycles is any indicator. Among its population of over 24 million, a peak number – over 853,000 and counting – have motorcycle licenses.
Lots of biker-friendly amenities, a lack of an effective helmet law and weather that is often conducive to year-round motorcycling has spurred unprecedented numbers of riders of iron horses in the state once traversed by cowboys on real horses.
A few great rides
Following are three routes in arguably the most popular section of Texas, the Hill Country – a vast region, stretching from just south of San Antonio to north of Austin, and as far west as Rock Springs to just east of Lockhart.
These routes come courtesy of Texan named Dan Poteete, who has spent much of his life there, and who for 28 years has had a passion for riding. His perspective is not provincial however. He also lived in Germany several years, traveled back several times, and says this region has winding stretches that rival European country roads.
Perhaps that’s why the Hill Country has several towns originally settled by German immigrants. In some, you will find Old-World style German restaurants serving Shiner Bock beer. There are also a lot of good wineries, peach and pecan orchards, natural resources areas such as a huge park called Lost Maples State Natural Area, (beautiful in the fall), in Vanderpool, and much more.
In June 2008, the New York Times, asking, “Who needs Europe?” named the Texas Hill Country number one in its “31 Places to Go This Summer.”
Being deep in the heart of Texas, the region is also liberally dotted with honky tonks, dance halls, lakes, rivers, creeks, wineries, BBQ joints and of course biker bars.
200-mile Loop – Bandera, Medina, Leaky
If coming from San Antonio take Highway 16 west to Bandera. This road is wide and sweeping with some very nice views.
Once in Bandera – “The Cowboy Capitol of the World” – be sure to visit the 11th Street Cowboy Bar. It’s a friendly place, but when you walk in, it’s deceiving because you’ll first see a small bar that was the original, but out back is a large open area with full-size bars and two stages. They have live music on the weekends.
From Bandera, head north on 16 to Medina. Turn left at Ranch Road 337 (RR 337). This takes you high into the hills and through some large ranches. Turn right at Vanderpool, and then turn left about one-and-a-half miles back onto RR 337.
You’ll then continue into the hills with lots of turns and switchbacks. This is one of the sections likened to winding roads in rural Germany. The views are fantastic, and the curves are a lot of fun, but pay attention; if you lose it, they have steep drops into the valley far below.
When you get to Leaky, head south on Highway 83, then turn left at RR 1050, and head to Utopia. At Utopia turn north on RR 187 then watch for the right turn on RR 487, which takes you back to Bandera.
From there you can hit Highway 16 back to San Antonio, or stick around to explore some of the other local roads, which are good, but not as majestic as RR 337.
To Luckenbach and Stonewall
The best way to get to Luckenbach is to take the scenic Sisterdale road.
This road takes you from Boerne and through Sisterdale, which has a nice winery to visit, called Sister Creek Vineyards.
Once past Sisterdale, you’ll come to Farm Road 1376 and turn left into Luckenbach. You’ll want to look closely for the sign, because it’s off the road and easy to miss.
In Luckenbach, you can visit the famous post office, have a cold beer, buy a Willie post card, and make friends with other bikers. If you make this trip on a weekend, there is sure to be 20 to 50 or more bikes there at any given time. And on Saturday nights there is almost always a live country band playing at the Luckenbach dance hall, if you choose to stay a while. If not, head up 1888 to Highway 290 and go west into Fredericksburg.
Fredericksburg is a nice little town of German heritage, and is a good place to take a break, have a bite to eat, or explore longer. This town, which has a population of around 11,000, sees 1.2 million visitors from around the world per year, yet retains a “down homey” feel. It is also home to the National Museum of the Pacific War, which has a world class exhibit.
Leaving Fredericksburg, head north on Ranch Road 965 (RR 965) to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, then south on Highway 16 to Eckert, and turn left on RR 1323 through Willow City to Highway 281.
This is a nice ride, and a really good road to clear your head, though there’s not a lot of roadside amenities.
Next turn south on Highway 281 to Johnson City. From Johnson City, you can visit the LBJ Ranch, formally called the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, just west of the city on Highway 290. This was the birthplace of President Johnson, and is very large and beautiful; there is a visitor center, with great displays of Texas ranch life and the life of the 36th president.
Just west of the ranch is the town of Stonewall. Stonewall has some nice wineries, such as Becker Vineyards, and if you are there at the right time, some of the best peach orchards in Texas will be loaded with sweet peaches.
New Braunfels to Canyon Lake
Starting in New Braunfels – another original German settlement – you can’t miss the River Road ride. New Braunfels is home of Gruene Hall, Texas’ oldest dance hall, and has hosted some of the biggest names in country music. Part of the dance hall scene in the film Michael with John Travolta was filmed there.
In Gruene – literally a block over from New Braunfels – there is a place called Bubba’s Big Deck that is well, a really big deck right on the river. It’s very biker friendly and a popular starting place for a day’s ride, as well as a meeting place for the end of the day. There will be a lot of good-spirited riders there, live music, and cold beer.
The ride: Head west on Highway 46. Turn right on Hueco Springs Road, then right again on River Road at the River Road Ice House – another nice cold beverage, live music stop.
This road winds along the river and crosses it at several points. There will be campers and tubers on the water along the way. The road is covered with very cool cypress trees, and is a wonderful relaxing ride with great scenery. It winds up in Sattler close to Canyon Lake. Turn right at Sattler and go to Highway 360 and turn left, this road takes you by Canyon Lake.
As for the rest of Texas
Because the state is so massive, we thought it best to give you a few great rides you won’t likely be disappointed by, rather than trying to cover the whole state and saying very little about each region.
Dan’s route beginning and ending in Bandera is close to the famous "Three Sisters", route (AKA the “Twisted Sisters”), which is named for Ranch Roads 335, 336 and 337, begins and ends in Leaky, and definitely worth doing.
As it is, there remain many more places and routes to explore in the Hill Country, as well as the entire state.
For other possibilities, you may also want to research Big Bend National Park in southern Texas along the Mexican border, the Piney Woods, the Gulf Coast, or other regions, as your curiosity leads you.
They have motorcycles for one-way or local rental available, and are experienced in helping people find their way to good times in Texas.