Travel

12 Perfect Fall Road Trips for When You Need to Escape Dallas

From gorgeous Hill Country wineries to cavernous backcountry adventures.

Andrey Bayda/Shutterstock
Andrey Bayda/Shutterstock
Andrey Bayda/Shutterstock

We’re often reminded that everything’s bigger in Texas, but that sometimes reductive mantra does hold true when it comes to landmass. The state spans 800 miles from north to south and nearly that many from east to west, which renders a lot of drivable destinations within its borders. Tack on its nearby neighbours, and there are countless road trip opportunities for anyone with an adventurous spirit and a valid driver’s license.

These 12 drivable destinations from Dallas are some of the best options for getting out of town, taking you to severely underrated cities, thriving wine regions, and pristine national forests that let you live large or get off the grid. So queue up a good playlist, buckle your seatbelt, and keep the snacks handy-you’re going for a drive.

Enoch's Stomp Winery and Vineyard
Enoch’s Stomp Winery and Vineyard
Enoch’s Stomp Winery and Vineyard

Athens, TX

Distance from Dallas: 70 miles, 1.5-hour drive
Unlike the well-known Hill Country, East Texas wine doesn’t have reputation or abundance on its side. But the under-the-radar Piney Woods Wine Trail counts 20 delicious operations among its ranks, all situated within the region’s lush landscape. Coming from Dallas, your first stop on this non-linear trail could be Tara in Athens (which has an inn, should you want to stay the night) or Cannon Creek in Canton. Make your way east, eventually ending at Enoch’s Stomp in Harleton, a winery with a South African pedigree, for tastings and lunch amid 90 acres of panoramic vineyard views.

Desert Door
Desert Door
Desert Door

Dripping Springs, TX

Distance from Dallas: 217 miles, 3.5-hour drive
The Texas Hill Country is loaded with standout places to visit, but none are as well positioned as Dripping Springs. The town itself offers plenty of charm, good restaurants, and places to stay-from Airbnbs and cabins to a rustic camp resort-but you’re here for its proximity to dozens of wineries, breweries, and distilleries. Down clever beers at Jester King, sample an earthy sotol flight at Desert Door, and then fortify your resolve to push on with a plate of brisket at the famed Salt Lick BBQ.

Visit San Antonio
Visit San Antonio
Visit San Antonio

San Antonio, TX

Distance from Dallas: 275 miles, 4.5-hour drive
While Austin draws countless weekend roadtrippers, it’s well worth driving the extra 80 miles south to San Antonio, perhaps the Lone Star State’s most criminally underrated urban escape. And despite what you might have learned in fourth grade Texas history class, the city has so much more to offer than the Alamo and River Walk-though, by all means, you should swing through both if you’re visiting for the first time. But also check out Downtown, Southtown, the Pearl, and St. Mary’s Strip, neighbourhoods buzzing with top-notch food and drinks, from tacos and beers to innovative Asian cuisine and craft cocktails.

Lake Texoma Association
Lake Texoma Association
Lake Texoma Association

Lake Texoma, OK

Distance from Dallas: 89 miles, 1.5-hour drive
One of the largest lakes in the country created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, this massive outdoor water feature straddles Texas and Oklahoma and spans 139-square-miles of sandy beaches, fishing piers, horseback riding trails, lakefront hiking paths, and boat launches-afterall, this time of year, it’s usually better to be on the water than in it. Among the many accommodations available, you can rest your head in tiny homes, lakefront cabins, or a sprawling resort with a full-service spa.

Possum Kingdom Lake
Possum Kingdom Lake
Possum Kingdom Lake

Possum Kingdom Lake, TX

Distance from Dallas: 141 miles, 2.5-hour drive
Sadly, Possum Kingdom is not a mystical land run by marsupials, but it does have majestic vistas and cliffs jutting out of the water amid tree-lined hills. Canoeing, golfing, hiking, biking, and fishing will keep you active, if activity is what you seek. Otherwise, kick back for some unplugged relaxation time in a tent by a roaring campfire with marshmallows (and whiskey) at the ready.

Texas Parks and Wildlife
Texas Parks and Wildlife
Texas Parks and Wildlife

Caddo Lake State Park, TX

Distance from Dallas: 168 miles, 2.5-hour drive
Fun fact: Nearly all the lakes in Texas are man-made-but not this one. Caddo Lake sports a tranquil yet mysterious vibe courtesy of cypress trees covered in Spanish moss that tower over the photogenic, alligator-welcoming waterways. The historic cabins on the lake, especially the romantic two-person units, make for an ideal way to destress. And if you want to get out and explore the area-and perhaps try your luck at the casinos in Shreveport-the Louisiana border is just 30 miles away.

Visit McCurtain County Oklahoma
Visit McCurtain County Oklahoma
Visit McCurtain County Oklahoma

Beavers Bend State Park, OK

Distance from Dallas: 181 miles, 3-hour drive
The moment you drive into the Ouachita National Forest, you’ll feel worlds away from Dallas. Towering pines provide a dramatic landscape change, offering much-needed shade in the summer and picture-perfect campsites come fall. Beavers Bend State Park, located on the shores of crystal-clear Broken Bow Lake, has a variety of activities, from boat rentals and fishing to the 16-mile David Boren Hiking Trail. Make the most of your stay with a luxury cabin rental that includes an outdoor jacuzzi for good measure.

Longhorn Cavern State Park - Texas Parks and Wildlife
Longhorn Cavern State Park – Texas Parks and Wildlife
Longhorn Cavern State Park – Texas Parks and Wildlife

Longhorn Cavern State Park, TX

Distance from Dallas: 200 miles, 3.5-hour drive
Explore the subterranean side of Texas in this glorious labyrinth of river-made caves, with a natural thermostat set to 68-degrees year-round. Take a guided walking tour 130 feet below the surface and discover what took place in these dark spaces centuries ago while bats sleep peacefully overhead. Or tap into your inner Bear Grylls and hop on the adrenaline-pumping Wild Cave Tour, which is limited to 12 participants eager to crawl through tight spaces to see things few humans ever do. End your day with some well-deserved R&R and a hot shower in a legit log cabin at nearby Log Country Cove.

McKinney Falls State Park - Texas Parks and Wildlife
McKinney Falls State Park – Texas Parks and Wildlife
McKinney Falls State Park – Texas Parks and Wildlife

McKinney Falls State Park, TX

Distance from Dallas: 207 miles, 3.5-hour drive
Austin’s soundscape isn’t limited to bands playing in bars-there’s a natural symphony awaiting at the limestone waterfalls of free-flowing Onion Creek. Only 13 miles from the state capitol, you can make McKinney Falls an Austin-area day trip or the main reason to visit for hours of hiking, biking, and fishing. Pitch a tent at one of the park’s 81 campsites or indulge in some luxury at the secluded Sage Hill Inn & Spa-just 24 miles southwest of the park, it’s where you’ll find comfortable cottages and suites, massage treatments, and a restaurant featuring meat from local ranches.

Flickr/glg61
Flickr/glg61
Flickr/glg61

Pedernales Falls State Park, TX

Distance from Dallas: 250 miles, 4-hour drive
Channel your inner Messiah, and walk right out into the river. Don’t worry-you’ll be supported by limestone slabs while traversing the usually calm waters of the Pedernales River. Canoeing, kayaking, and tubing get you right in the thick of things to float or paddle away your worries. Nearby, saddle up with Texas Trail Rides and explore the area from a different, higher perspective. Camping options include sites with water and electricity (perfect if you’ve rented an RV for the trip) as well as secluded hike-in spots that can only be reached by foot.

US Forest Service - Ozark-St Francis National Forests
US Forest Service – Ozark-St Francis National Forests
US Forest Service – Ozark-St Francis National Forests

Ozark-St. Francis National Forests, AR

Distance from Dallas: 360 miles, 5.5-hour drive
You read that right-forests with an “s.” You’ll be rewarded for your drive here with not one, but two national forests, not to mention a variety of charmingly vintage 1930s-era cabins. Highlights include Mount Magazine, the state’s tallest mountain, which looms large over the 1.2-million-acre Ozark National Forest. There are also great places to picnic and scout for wildlife in the considerably smaller 22,600-acre St. Francis National Forest. If you’ve got the need for speed (or really bumpy rides), the stretch offers more than 1,000 miles of designated off-road trails.

El Cosmico
El Cosmico
El Cosmico

Marfa, TX

Distance from Dallas: 520 miles, 7.5-hour drive
Home to a whopping 1,800 residents, this far-flung destination has way more going on than any town its size should. The Marfa Lights are one of the world’s most interesting unexplained phenomena, and they’re a heck of a lot closer to Dallas than the Northern Lights. During the day, putt and putter around Texas’ highest golf course, or go for a weightless glider ride high above the Marfa Plateau with just you and a pilot at the helm. Thanks to its popularity among the see-and-be-seen art crowd, the area offers several unique hotels, from the modern Hotel Saint George to El Cosmico, a property that’s dotted with safari tents, vintage trailers, teepees, and yurts. The West Texas destination is similarly stocked with a surprisingly good food and drink scene. Try the creative tasting menus at Cochineal, fill up on gut-busting barbecue at Convenience West, then cool off with a Ranch Water or Margarita at The Sentinel.

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Steven Lindsey and Kevin Gray are contributors to Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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