If you want an authentic Texas experience, staying at a dude ranch in Bandera is the way to go. In close proximity to both San Antonio and Austin, this small Texas town exudes such cowboy charm that a visit will have you longing for a ten-gallon hat and horse of your own!
Bandera, Texas: Cowboy Capital of the World
Living in Austin, I often forget that my family is nestled deep in the heart of Texas. I almost never see cowboy boots or hear a Texas drawl. And, surrounded by city lights, I can’t even tell if the stars at night really are big and bright.
For a true “Texas” experience, I have to leave town in search of the wide and high prairie sky. Fortunately, Bandera–the self-proclaimed Cowboy Capital of the World–is just a short drive away. I can easily pile my little dudes in the car and head off for a weekend away at a rustic ranch. (Dude means city-dweller, so my kids qualify.)
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Downtown Bandera: On the old Texas Ranger Trail
Bandera, Texas is located 118 miles southwest of Austin, or 54 miles northwest of San Antonio. There are fewer than 1,000 residents, but the people of Bandera take their cowboy business as seriously as Austin takes live music. Much to my delight, citizens stroll down Main Street in cowboy hats and boots. Some even stop to say “howdy”.
With horses tethered outside the saloon and the Bandera Cattle Co. Gunfighters reenacting Old West gunfights in front of the courthouse, Bandera makes visitors feel as if they’ve been transported back in time, to pioneer days of the American Frontier.
A Dude Ranch for City Slickers
On a recent visit to Bandera, I dressed my boys in their cowboy best–having scooped up boots and hats at a garage sale in hopes of just such an occasion–and we spent a wonderful weekend pretending to rough it at the Flying L Guest Ranch.
The Flying L became a dude ranch in 1946, when Jack Lapham purchased it from the original Polish settlers. His dream was to create a place “where modern people can go and find themselves in the midst of yesterday.” He succeeded.
The Flying L is a 542-acre resort that boasts Hill Country views and more axis deer, white-tailed deer, and black buck antelope than you can shake a stick at. It’s a perfect getaway for city dwellers who want to play cowboy, but have no desire to sleep like one.
The Flying L’s accommodations are clean and comfortable–the recently renovated condos are particularly nice–and the amenities are seemingly endless. The only thing it does not have is wifi, which ensured that I actually relaxed for two full, work-free days.
Of course, there were also horses. My husband, 9-year-old son, and I enjoyed an hour-long trail ride across the ranch, led by our personable guide, Joe Bob, who is locally considered to be one of the few remaining “authentic cowboys.”
Under the canopy of junipers, cypress, and red oak trees, the horses trotted easily along rocky terrain. It was a beautiful way to experience the Texas Hill Country, riding atop horses that did all of the work, crossing rivers and navigating the edges of steep ravines.
Children must be at least 6 years old to join a trail ride at the Flying L, so while we were off exploring on horseback, my 3- and 5-year-olds stayed behind to enjoy pony rides of their own.
This family friendly resort has entertainment for all ages. My boys had a blast playing miniature golf, shooting rubber band guns at targets, taking a wagon ride in search of the elusive chupacabra, and roasting s’mores by campfire.
The Flying L also offers a seasonal Lone Star Lagoon Water Park, ping-pong, tennis, sand and water volleyball, basketball, playgrounds, horseshoes, shuffleboard, hiking trails, and fishing in San Julian Creek (bring your own pole). The ranch even has its very own Ghost Town, with several rustic buildings to explore, including a saloon, a bank, and a jail for naughty little brothers.
What to Know Before You Go
- Visit the Bandera County Convention and Visitors Bureau website to plan your trip. From Old West gunfights to chuck wagon meals, there is plenty of cowboy-themed entertainment on the city’s Calendar of Events.
- Check the Flying L website for seasonal specials and call 1-800-292-5134 with any questions before making your reservation online.
- Occasionally, last minute specials are offered for the Flying L on Booking.com.
- Kids 2 and under can stay and eat for free.
- For a less expensive option, consider visiting the Flying L for the day, without spending the night. You can buy a day pass for the Lone Star Lagoon Waterpark for $25 per adult and $15 per child. The waterpark is open sporadically in the spring, so be sure to check the schedule online before you visit.
- Hour-long trail rides (for ages 6 and up with a 240 pound limit) are available for $39 per rider. Trail rides must be booked at least 24 hours in advance.