Climb a historic mountain and enjoy a picnic, a bird’s eye view of the Austin city skyline and surrounding Texas Hill Country; including Lake Austin, spectacular sunsets and sunrises, and snap some beautiful photos at one of this capital city’s premier tourist attractions.
Mount Bonnell has been a highly popular destination for sight-seeing since the 1850s and stands as one of the most visited sites in Austin. It was designated in 1969 as a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark, and in 2015 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Located just west of the downtown area at 3800 Mount Bonnell Road, the 775-feet rise above sea level is on the eastern banks of Lake Austin and includes a five-acre park at the top of a 100-step limestone staircase.
According to mountbonnell.com, the name is believed to have come from George W. Bonnell, a former commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Republic of Texas who was also a soldier in the battle for Texas independence. Bonnell, who went on to become publisher of The Texas Sentinel newspaper, reportedly visited the site in 1838 and wrote about it in his journal.
One of the many legends surrounding Mount Bonnell is a reference to it being called Antoinette’s leap, due to a young woman jumping from the peak to avoid being captured by Native Americans who had killed her fiancé. Another tale concerns a frontiersman named W.A.A “Bigfoot” Wallace crossing a narrow ledge 50 feet above the river when he came face to face with a Native American. After killing the Native American, Wallace hid in one of the caves of Mount Bonnell and stayed there for so long that his bride-to-be thought he was dead and eloped with another man.
Wallace described the site as an excellent hunting ground, and one of the best places in the country to find bear. That was then, so don’t expect to encounter bears there today.
The park is open daily from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. and there is free parking along Mount Bonnell Road. There are no public toilets available, and visitors should be aware that the stone staircase is not “stroller-friendly.”
See the Mount Bonnell website for more information.
Meanwhile, the city of Austin, an hour’s drive south of Killeen-Fort Hood on Interstate 35, has enough things to do and see to easily fill a weekend — several weekends, in fact. Among the historic attractions are the state capitol building and the famed University of Texas Tower, where a former U.S. Marine named Charles Whitman climbed to the observation deck with rifles and other weapons on Aug. 1, 1966 and opened fire on people across the campus for 96 minutes. Fourteen died and 31 were injured before Whitman was shot dead.
A couple blocks from the UT campus, at 4403 Avenue B, is the Avenue B Grocery and Market, open since 1909 and known as the longest-running store in the city. The market is known for Texas-style chili and homemade sandwiches, including the deli meats and cheese King Combo and the vegetarian Queen B, with three kinds of cheese, avocado, pickled jalapenos, mushrooms, lettuce, tomatoes and thin-sliced onions, mustard and mayo.
Other sandwiches include the Veggie Wonder, club, roast beef, ham, turkey, salami, bacon, egg salad, avocado, homemade pimento cheese and peanut butter and jelly. All come on your choice of whole wheat, white, sourdough, potato, light rye, dark rye, multi-grain, health nut, gluten free or oat nut bread.
After lunch, slide on over to the Governor’s Mansion downtown at 1010 Colorado Street. Built in 1854, this 8,920-square-foot National Historic Landmark has been the home of every Texas governor since 1856. Current Gov. Greg Abbott is the 41st governor to live in the mansion full-time. The structure is normally open for free guided tours, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, tours were postponed. Check for updates at gov.texas.gov/first-lady/tours.
Finally, for a taste of a traditional “Keep Austin Weird” side of the city, head down to South Congress Avenue for a little shopping, eating, drinking and people-watching.
Before it acquired the trendy moniker of SoCo, the South Congress shopping district was a go-to destination for retro “hippie” clothing shops, including Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds, and Electric Ladyland, where music legend Bob Dylan reportedly shopped for clothing. On the first Thursday of each month, South Congress shops stay open late and the stretch from Barton Springs Road to Elizabeth Street turns into a block party with live music and other entertainment.
Head on down this weekend to get a taste of what the always interesting state capital has to offer.