Named for the nearby intersection of the north and south forks of the Llano River, Junction is a laid-back town that entertains travelers as a worthy destination itself or as a welcome stopover on a trip across Texas.
One of the area’s jewels is South Llano River State Park, which offers RV camping and a walk-in tent campground that helps create a car-free experience of camping as it was meant to be. Swim, fish or tube on the river for an afternoon, but much of the river bottom is closed from October through March to protect roosting turkeys. That limits river access for swimming to a bridge area near the park entrance, but canoes and kayaks are permitted on the water during the turkey roosting season.
If you decide on canoeing or kayaking, local outfitter South Llano River Canoes & Kayaks rents boats and will transport you 6.2 miles upriver to start the three- to four-hour adventure that ends at the company headquarters about a mile south of the park. Along the way, cast for perch and bass, navigate the occasional mild rapid, or just drift along beneath the overhead canopy of oaks and pecans.
Fall and winter offer ideal weather for a short stroll or a longer hike, and more than 20 miles of trails meander through the park and the adjacent 2,630-acre wildlife management area. Most of the trails also are open to mountain biking. For a more sedate experience of the park’s natural beauty, sit in one of the comfy bird blinds overlooking wildlife watering and feeding stations.
Birds frequent these sites most of the day, although morning and evening consistently offer the best viewing. Expect to see flycatchers, swallows, wrens, warblers, hawks and hummingbirds. Laminated photos and guidebooks in the blinds will help you identify the birds you see.
At nearby Fort McKavett, you’ll find evidence of the chain of military posts built in the mid-1800s to protect the much-traveled road between San Antonio and El Paso. The military withdrew from Fort McKavett in 1883, but many structures survived. Peruse the visitors center’s account of the fort’s history and then amble through a self-guided walking tour of the restored buildings and ruins surrounding the spacious parade ground. A well-marked trail leads you the short distance into a wooded valley where springs feed the headwaters of the San Saba River (also a great kayaking destination).
Plan a 50-minute trip south from Junction to Devil’s Sinkhole State Natural Area, the site of what is believed to be Texas’ largest single-chamber cave. Best known for morning and evening bat tours May to October, Devil’s Sinkhole is worth a day tour anytime. Tours take place Wednesday through Sunday and include panoramic views of the surrounding Hill Country, guided hikes, two bird blinds for spotting golden-cheeked warblers and black-capped vireos, and the overlook above the 360-foot sinkhole.
Upwards of 3 million Mexican free-tailed bats arrive here in spring from their winter home in Mexico. It takes nearly an hour for all of these flying mammals to spiral up out of the cave each night on their way to gobble a collective 30 tons of insects. Tours begin at the Rocksprings Visitors Center and make the 16-mile drive to the site by car convoy. Make reservations.
Back in Junction, consider Cooper’s BBQ just north of Interstate 10 on North Main Street for lunch or dinner. Cooper’s serves smoked pork chops, ribs, turkey, chicken and brisket, all prepared daily in outdoor pits. Picnic tables under the sprawling oak tree out back invite you to feast on the meat, sides, homemade sauces and cobbler outside. Another proven dining option is Isaack’s Restaurant on Main Street, open since 1950 and serving breakfast all day along with seafood, chicken-fried steak, catfish and steaks.
Noncampers can consider Schuster Ranch, which has two cabins overlooking a wooded creek, perfect for birding, stargazing or relaxing around the fire pit. Or chill out at spacious Cool River Cabin on the peaceful grounds of Native American Seed Company just a short walk from the river.
Melissa Gaskill is an Austin writer who specializes in nature topics.