Adele is a nature enthusiast and a bookworm who lives in Colorado and has worked at the Denver Botanic Gardens.
Central Texas Wildflowers
In countless Westerns, we see one image of the Texas landscape: a dry, dusty place full of rocks and cactus. But in actuality, the central portion of this enormous state is far different. In many places, a profusion of colorful wildflowers graces the grassy plains and low hills.
One of the cheeriest and most abundant wildflowers is the bluebonnet, a member of the lupine family that has been named the official state flower.
My husband and I recently went on a trip to San Antonio and Austin and took several short forays out to photograph the wildflowers. Here are some tips we learned through experience.
2021 Note: It has been an unusual year in Texas, with a deep freeze hitting the state in February. As I advise later in this article, it is important to check with the places I mention here to see what their wildflower situation is.
Places to See Bluebonnets and More in Texas
Here are the places we went while we were in San Antonio and Austin. I thought I'd start by showing you the places we liked best. If you scroll down to the bottom of this article, you'll find more tips, and links to sites that will tell you about even more places.
- San Antonio Botanical Garden
- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
- Willow City Loop
- Wildseed Farms
1. San Antonio Botanical Garden
San Antonio Botanical Garden, located on the northeast side of the city, has a number of trails through areas that recreate the different biomes in Texas, but what I found especially lovely was a wildflower garden with bluebonnets, other wildflowers, and cactus. Professionals have designed this garden just right so that you can photograph a number of beautiful shots with a minimal amount of walking.
Pro Tip: If you are a member of a botanical garden in your area, you can often get reciprocal admissions in other cities. We were able to get in free at this garden in San Antonio as well as the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin.
2. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in the southwest portion of Austin is smaller than San Antonio’s garden and focuses on wildflowers. The reserve features several short trails lined with bluebonnets as well as other picturesque features such as arches and towers.
Pro Tip: There are only five ways to get across the river that runs through the center of the city. Time your visit so that you are not crossing that bridge during rush hour, or you’ll find yourself stuck in some pretty impressive traffic.
3. Willow City Loop
This loop is about 13 miles, liberally strewn with wildflowers and has acres and acres of open land that make it easy to take pretty pictures. You’ll find curving roads, hills, streams, trees, photogenic fences, Texas flags, and lots of bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush. Be sure to take a moment to stand near a meadow full of bluebonnets and appreciate the fragrance. On a warm day, the air is saturated with their sweet smell.
The town of Fredericksburg is nearby, a charming little tourist town known for its shops and German restaurants. If you have an interest in WWII history, be sure to leave some time to visit the National Museum of the Pacific War, a museum located there because it is the hometown of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who served as Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas.
Pro Tip: The entrance to the Willow City Loop doesn’t have a lot of choices in the way of food, gas, drink, bathrooms or cell phone service, so it is good to get well supplied before going.
4. Wildseed Farms
The 200-acre Wildseed Farms near Fredricksburg is a working wildflower farm with a rather large nursery, gift shop, and restaurant attached. It has all the hallmarks of a major roadside attraction, including tons of parking for cars and buses and numerous things you can buy.
Parking and admission are free, and visitors are welcome to walk the trails along the various fields of wildflowers. The sheer abundance leads to lots of good shots for pictures, and there is a nice barn for a backdrop.
Tips for Taking Wildflower Drives in Central Texas
Lots of wildflower enthusiasts have been posting for years, and you’ll find a number of good sites telling you the best places to find the flowers. Here are a couple I’ve found the most helpful.
1. Scout out good locations.
The San Antonio Culture Map includes lots of description, fairly complete directions, and links to the website of each place.
I liked the site Austin Curbed the best because it includes photos from most of the places and an interactive map that makes planning out a drive much easier. It also includes quite a few places that are in the city of Austin itself, so you don’t have to take a long drive to get to them.
2. Check on the wildflower blooming conditions specific to the current year.
Generally, the bluebonnets are in bloom from mid-March to mid-April, but the season can be a couple of weeks earlier or later depending on the temperature and the rainfall for that year. The Wildflower Haven forum is one of the most comprehensive ones I’ve seen.
You can also do a search and see if you can find current newspaper articles about the bluebonnet season. Most of them do updates from time to time.
3. Call ahead to state parks and other public places.
If you can find a phone number for the place you are going, call ahead and ask how the flowers are looking there. We found out the hard way why it’s good to check ahead.
I was entranced with a photo of rolling hills covered with bluebonnets at Muleshoe Bend Recreation area and decided that was the first place we’d go. We drove two hours from Austin, and when we got to the recreation area, we asked the fellow at the gate about the best places to see the flowers. He pointed to a small patch of bluebonnets by his feet. “That’s all we have in the park.” When we gave him confused looks, he explained “We had floods come through, and it washed all the flower seeds down the river.”
Fortunately, I was able to take some good photos of the ranches which were on higher ground, but it was a long way to go to find out the flower-covered hillsides were not there.
4. Get a map. Some places don’t have cell service.
After our Muleshoe bend disappointment, we traveled on to Willow City Loop, which did have the promised wildflowers (yay!), but not many other services. Our cell phones didn’t work there, but fortunately there was one woman walking along the road who could point us towards the loop.
Willow City reportedly has 384 people, but we only saw two people when we were there, so we were lucky to be able to get directions from a woman who happened to be out for a walk. If we’d had a map, I would have felt much more sure that we could find our way around.
5. Find a nearby town that has gas, water, and restrooms.
Some of these towns are really small. The only other resident we saw at Willow City was the fellow who ran the local hot dog place/shop called Harry’s. When entered, he was unloading drinks into the cooler and not much more was set up. He’d had a family emergency and was just getting things brought in for the season, so it’s possible that if we had arrived a couple of days earlier, it wouldn’t have been open.
We didn’t see any other place in the area that had food, gas, water, or restrooms, so it would be a good idea to take care of all that in a bigger town like Fredericksburg and take along your own water and snacks to drive the loop.
More Photos from Central Texas
Here are more photos I took from our travels around the area in March 2019.
© 2020 Adele Jeunette
Gay Mackey on February 23, 2020:
If Texas doesn't use your photos for calendars, tourist brochures, etc., they are missing the boat. The photos are beautiful and travel tips very helpful. Thanks for sending
Liz Westwood from UK on January 26, 2020:
This is a beautifully illustrated article. You have given very helpful guidance for finding wild flowers in this area.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 24, 2020:
I enjoyed looking at your photos very much. The flowers are lovely. I appreciated your travel tips as well.