The engine's howl steadily builds as the Robinson R44 helicopter's blades churn with increasing velocity. Passengers look out of bubble windows and see grass whipping beneath. In a moment, the turf disappears, fading from view as the chopper lifts higher into the sky. So begins an aerial adventure led by experienced pilots Steve Van Buren and John Holler, who venture into the airways above Austin, San Antonio, the hill country, and central Texas. The air-conditioned copters—equipped with four-way communication that allows guides to maintain contact with passengers—glide through the firmament, as pilots obey all stop-sign-shaped clouds on their way to eye-catching views of sites such as historic Gruene. Crews also bring helicopters to clients for party rentals and assist landowners with predator control and game surveys.
A buoyant fleet of inflatable rafts and tubes drifts lazily down two sprawling rivers populated with exciting rapids and falls. During 1.5- to 5-hour treks, guests can traverse the Comal or Guadalupe River in an inner tube, relax with a partner in a two-seater raft, or host a regulation poker game with friends inside a raft that holds up to six. Trip durations and age cutoffs may change on a daily basis depending on current river flow.
Run by Texas State University, The Meadows Center introduces visitors to the lush diversity of the San Marcos Springs and intricate system of waterways. Glass-bottomed boats set out for guided tours of Spring Lake, gazing at the aquatic life and University midterm papers below. Above the springs that bubble up from the bottom, soft shell turtles and bluegill sunfish swim in the clear waters and songbirds survey the sky. Eight endangered species populate the lake, including beetles, two species of salamander, and soft-shell turtles. On land, visitors can explore gardens of native Texan plants or a hall of nature exhibit.
On sweltering summer days, the San Marcos River becomes a cooling respite for hundreds of tubers thanks to Don's Fish Camp. The shop rents tubes with coolers and sells supplies such as sunscreen and waterproof cameras for tubers to take onto the water. When not floating with a brew in hand, tubers can barbecue and picnic along the banks flush with trees and shrubbery.
The rec area accommodates those who aren’t ready to go home at the end of day by allowing guests to pitch a tent and camp under the stars to the sound of rushing water and largemouth bass that just won't shut up. To give these visitors a scenic place to tube and party, Don's team cleans up the riverbanks daily and requests guests bring no glass or styrofoam on the premises.
As a San Antonio native, Shelly Reynolds has been exploring the city all her life. Luckily, she doesn't miss out on a global perspective: While sharing her lifetime of knowledge through Historic Texas Tours, she and her staff get to meet and befriend travelers from all over the world. The company's tours focus as much on forming new friendships as discovering the local sights as they expose visitors and locals alike to area wineries, restaurants, and landmarks at the direction of friendly guides. Food tours unearth local eateries with a tour itinerary that varies often to reward visitors who go on repeat trips, and journeys into the Texas Hill Country offer complex tastes of locally made wines. Mission Trail tours explore edifices that date back to the 1700s, including the oldest unrestored stone church in the United States and a used-horse dealership.
Texas hills unfurl before Wimberley Valley Winery, gently guiding guests to the winery’s stock of wines. Since 1983, the winery’s resident winemaker has created a range of classic varietal wines in addition to offering wines from around the world. While the winemakers weave their magic in the cellar, the remainder of the winery’s staff entertains customers in the elegant tasting room. Here, an expansive stone fireplace steals the attention from sunny yellow walls, and granite counters hide bottle after bottle of wines waiting to be sampled. While tasters sink into cushy leather couches, the staff explains the flavor profiles of wine types and divulge tips for pairing wine with the right food or crazy straws.