Willow City Wildflower Loop
As we cruised through the Texas hill country last spring by car, we marveled at the astonishing wildflowers painting the landscape. Everywhere we turned, the land was in full bloom. I had always heard about the legendary beauty of springtime Texas from listening to one of my favorite songs by the Indigo Girls: Southland in the Springtime, but I had no idea just how beautiful it really is! It was right then that I knew we had to see the wildflowers up close (from our bicycles) and planned a bike ride for this year’s wildflower season. After perusing our options, we settled on the 21-mile Willow City Loop ride, which starts in Willow City, a 56-miles drive from the center of Austin. We packed up our lunch and our bikes and headed west. Wildflowers … here we come!
Willow City is a teeny, tiny town, and even under normal circumstances there is not much to see there, save an old schoolhouse, a volunteer fire department, a shuttered restaurant/bar (Harry’s), and Hohmann’s General Store/U.S. Post Office (which has no public restrooms). We happened to take our excursion during the Coronavirus era, so nothing at all was open except for the road, which was enough for us! But, know that all of the land along the loop is private property and there are no bathroom stops or food joints along the route. All this to say, be sure to use the bathroom before you arrive and bring plenty of water and snacks or lunch. If possible, go on a weekday to avoid the crowds of drivers.
Most of the articles about the Willow City Loop indicate that it’s actually a loop and that it is 13 miles, but in truth, the main focal point of the ride is the 13-mile stretch from the intersection of Ranch Road 1323 and Willow City Loop (road). You can park your car right in town, and then head east for a block or so, just until you reach Willow City Loop. From there you have a beautiful stretch of wildflowers, panoramic views of craggy serpentinite escarpments, outcroppings carved by Coal Creek winding its way through the land, ranches, wildflowers galore, lots of cars, the occasional cow or goat crossing the road, and one very charismatic emu that made friends with our daughter!
We stopped for lunch just about the 8-mile mark and sat in the grass, but it’s best to continue for another one to two-tenths of a mile just past Willow City Click Road, and you’ll discover beautiful flat rocks on the creek which would be the perfect picnic spot.
Although we did the full 21-mile ride all the way around – counterclockwise, we discovered that the loop comprises the scenic and beautiful Willow City Loop, followed by a 6-mile stretch on the much busier Highway 16 and then a 3-mile finish back to town along Ranch Road 1323. Well, in full disclosure, I got a flat at mile 13 right where Willow City Loop and Highway 16 intersect, only to discover that I’d left my portable bike pump behind. So my husband and daughter finished the remaining nine miles while I enjoyed photographing the wildflowers until they came to fetch me. Be sure to bring a good portable bike pump and spare innertube for such occasions.
After their review of the 6-mile Highway 16 stretch, which had much more traffic than the Willow City Loop, we decided that next time we’ll plan on a 26-mile ride, doing the gorgeous stretch from town just to Hwy. 16 out and back. That will be a perfect ride, with plenty of scenic views, hills and dales and if you time it just right in mid-April, a plethora of colorful Texas wildflowers!
Directions from Austin: Take US-290 W for about 36 miles. The road comes to a T and you will have to turn right or left here. Turn right (north) on Highway 281N/US 290 W for about 5.5 miles to Johnson City. Continue on US-281 N for another 2-3 miles. Turn left on Ranch Road 1323 and continue for 24 miles to Willow City.