16 Perfect Summer Road Trips for When You Need to Escape Dallas
Get away without the trip through TSA.
With the cost of flights at record highs, flying the friendly(ish) skies may be out of the question for many Texans this summer. Sure, gas prices have skyrocketed higher than a Virgin Galactic space adventure, but for a fraction of the price of standard air travel (especially if you load your car full of friends to share the cost at the pump) you can escape Dallas-Fort Worth for a week, long weekend, or even a day trip if your PTO is limited. (Between vacations, there’s plenty to do in your own figurative backyard, too.)
In normal times, a road trip would ideally be less than four hours away, but because of our current situation, we’re including some more far-flung places where you can be sipping a cocktail by 2 pm if you’re an early bird and hit the road pre-dawn. (Seeing the sunrise over the open road should make up for the annoying alarm, hopefully.) We’ve gathered a list of places you can cool off among the pine trees, hit a casino or two, get a leg workout on a gorgeous hike, or simply drink your way through nearby wineries, breweries, and distilleries.
Summer’s only just begun, so read on for 16 places that will get you into vacation mode faster and cheaper than you ever thought possible. Better still, many of these places are easy to cluster together for a multi-destination road trip that’ll be one for the ol’ scrapbook.
Distance from Dallas: 236 miles, 4-hour drive
Forget everything you thought you knew about camping in a tent. And we mean everything. The luxury, safari-style tents at Walden Retreats outside Johnson City feature king-size beds with luxury linens, clawfoot tubs, outdoor showers, well-appointed kitchens, outdoor grills and fire pits, wood-burning stoves inside (not that you’ll need those in the summer), and views of the Texas Hill Country and Pedernales River below, which you can hike to via one very steep hill on Walden Retreats property. After you set up camp (which means dropping off your suitcase and basking in the air-conditioning for a moment), venture out to nearby Pedernales Falls State Park, one of several wineries (William Chris Vineyards is a must), Garrison Brothers Distillery (the first legal whiskey maker in Texas), and the very presidential Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, recently designated an International Dark Sky Park.
Distance from Dallas: 286 miles, 4.5-hour drive
Known for decades as a relaxing spa destination thanks to its natural hot springs, this charming Arkansas burg has so much to offer visitors you’ll need several days to experience it all. For the most traditional spa experience and to put your (lack of) modesty to the test, book a series of treatments at the circa-1912 Buckstaff Baths, one of only two original bathhouses still operating today. Grab lunch and a beer at Superior Bathhouse Brewery, the only brewery in a United States National Park and the only brewery in the world that makes its beer with thermal spring water as the main ingredient. Take a hike (or mountain bike) on one of many picturesque trails in the area. Go mining for crystals with Avant Mining on Fisher Mountain. Learn the town’s organized crime history at The Gangster Museum of America. Gamble your way through slot machines, card games, and horse races at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort. And experience the ultimate bed-and-breakfast experience at The Reserve at Hot Springs.
Distance from Dallas: 566 miles, 8.5-hour drive
Cool mountain air and an abundance of stars await in the Rocky Mountain town of Ruidoso in the southeast corner of New Mexico. After some devastating wildfires this spring, the popular destination for Texans needs tourists more than ever to help its citizens recover from the destruction. And unless you venture off the beaten path, you won’t even notice the charred landscape the fire left behind. Instead, wander up and down Sudderth Drive for shopping, dining, and drinking. Noisy Water Winery has a new in-town location in addition to its nearby Enchanted Vine outdoor spot in Alto for sampling delectable New Mexico wines, including one made with green chiles. Grab breakfast at Cornerstone Bakery Cafe, a refreshing drink on the multi-deck patio overlooking the river at Sacred Grounds Coffee and Tea House, and killer New Mexico-style Mexican food at Old Road Restaurant on Mescalero Apache land, one of our picks for the best Mexican food in the nation. Further support local by booking a cabin that suits your needs, whether you’re bringing your dog along or want to look at those night stars from the comfort of a bubbling hot tub.
Distance from Dallas: 261 miles, 4.5-hour drive
Known as one of the Christmasiest places on earth during the holiday season, Fredericksburg shouldn’t be overlooked during the hottest months of the year. The German settlement has a special place in our hearts (and livers) as one of the best regions for wineries this side of California. With more than 100 places to drink Texas wine and chat with winemakers while listening to live music and snacking on meats and cheeses, you can spend days winery-hopping and not even pop a fraction of the corks available to you. For your time sobering up in town, make sure to indulge in frozen summer treats (including boozy ones should that teetotaling thing not sound appealing) at Clear River Ice Cream, Bakery & Deli, or if you’re hungry for culinary innovation, book a table at Hill & Vine or Sage. Then wake up to a picnic basket filled with a delicious breakfast delivered right to your door at The Evers House or its sister property, The Winchester Lodge, which also boasts a sparkling pool for chilling (in every sense of the word).
Distance from Dallas: 492 miles, 8-hour drive
Sure, New Orleans has earned its reputation as one of the largest everyday parties on the planet, but the Crescent City has also become a place where visitors can enjoy the finer things in life. If you want to go all out, few places exemplify indulgence more than the recently debuted Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans at the very edge of Canal Street, overlooking the Mississippi River. Dine at its two signature restaurants (Miss River or our personal fave, Chemin à la Mer). The Spa at Four Seasons just opened, too, and it’s exquisite. Of course, you’re going to want to spend some time in the French Quarter, too, for a yard of beer or a potent Hurricane from Pat O’Brien’s, beignets and coffee at Cafe du Monde, and some live music, maybe at classically no-frills Preservation Hall.
Distance from Dallas: 310 miles, 5 hour-drive
Take a long weekend and head for this sprawling resort. Why? A) you deserve it, and B) that’s where you’ll find comfortable, western-themed rooms, a tranquil spa, and a restaurant serving three delicious meals each day. Daily activities like skeet and trap shooting, horseback riding, cooking classes, tastings, and ATV tours keep visitors on their toes, so you’re unlikely to get bored. The property even has its own private airport, just in case you’ve got a private plane fueled and ready to go.
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 should 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 vineyard views.
Distance from Dallas: 294 miles, 4.5-hour drive
By the time you drive to the airport, arrive an hour before your flight, etc., etc., it could take you eight hours or more to reach the beaches of California. Fortunately, you can dip your toes into the surf in less than five hours by heading south to Galveston Island. Explore 32 miles of coastline, dine at scenic waterfront restaurants, and admire the (sometimes spooky) Victorian architecture. And speaking of old (but fabulous) buildings, book a stay at the “Queen of the Gulf,” the Grand Galvez, which welcomed its first guests back in 1911. Under new ownership, the hotel is being restored to its extravagant early 20th-century glory, so make sure to request one of the newly renovated rooms when booking. And between visits to the sand and sea (only steps away), set aside some time at the incredible Grand Galvez Spa. And for the freshest fish served in a welcome casual environment worthy of a beach town at BLVD Seafood, an easy-to-miss spot on the Seawall.
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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.
Distance from Dallas: 275 miles, 4.5-hour drive
While Austin draws countless weekend road trippers, it’s worth driving the extra 80 miles south to San Antonio, home to one of the top culinary scenes anywhere in the United States. And despite what you might have learned in fourth grade Texas history, the city has so much more to offer than the Alamo and River Walk—though, by all means, you should swing by both. Set up a home base at one of the top-notch hotels, including a few of our favorites: Hotel Emma, Canopy by Hilton San Antonio Riverwalk, Mokara Hotel & Spa, The Hotel Contessa, or La Mansion del Rio. If you’re a thrill-seeker and want to stay close to Six Flags Fiesta Texas—or you simply want a few days of complete and total relaxation—book a room at Seven, the adults-only floor at La Cantera Resort & Spa. And for the best of SA’s food scene, Downtown, Southtown, the Pearl, and St. Mary’s Strip offer everything from classic (and fantastic) San Antonio-style Tex-Mex to innovative fusion and chef-driven delights.
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 de-stress. And if you want to get out and explore the area—and perhaps try your luck at the casinos in Shreveport/Bossier City—the Louisiana border is just 30 miles away.
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 picture-perfect campsites nearly year-round. Discover a variety of activities at Beavers Bend State Park, located on the shores of crystal-clear Broken Bow Lake (seriously, this is one of the most gorgeous lakes in the region). From boat rentals and fishing to the 16-mile David Boren Hiking Trail, there are plenty of options to keep you busy in the fresh air while soaking up some sunshine-filled Vitamin D. Make the most of your stay with a luxury cabin rental that includes an outdoor jacuzzi for good measure.
Distance from Dallas: 200 miles, 3.5-hour drive
Explore the subterranean side of Texas in this glorious labyrinth of river-made caves in the Highland Lakes, 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 book 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 or Canyon of the Eagles.
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.
Distance from Dallas: 520 miles, 7.5-hour drive
Home to a whopping 2,000 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 the 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 dotted with safari tents, vintage trailers, teepees, and yurts. The West Texas destination is similarly stocked with a surprisingly good food scene. Try the creative tasting menus at Cochineal, fill up on brisket and spare ribs at Convenience West, then cool off with a frosty beverage at The Sentinel.