By James Waterson
Clear blue skies, bright sunshine, and delightful weather all mark the arrival of spring here in the Lone Star State. If the season inspires you to go on a road trip, find your way to Abilene. It’s here that the stars of Country music shine at their brightest, the remains of a frontier fort await to be explored, and you can feed a giraffe by hand. Located just 150 miles west of Fort Worth, the “Storybook Capital of America” is an easy-to-reach town ideal for affordable spring getaways. Read on to see why.
Experience Abilene’s Epic Festivals
Hear some of the best Country musicians do their thing, taste award-winning wines from Texas and beyond, and celebrate your inner geek. Not only can you do it all in Abilene this spring, none of these experiences will put a dent in your wallet. Catch artists like Kris Kristofferson, Mark Powell, and Midland at the Outlaws & Legends Music Festival (late March), a two-day hoedown held at the Back Porch of Texas. General admission tickets start at $45 and are good for both days, meaning you get to see as many as 13 performances by some of the best acts around.
For palate-pleasing wine tastings and food pairings, check out the Buffalo Gap Wine and Food Summit (mid-April). Rub elbows with winemakers and master sommeliers at the daily tastings and chef-created meals at Perini Ranch. Want to show off your best cosplay outfit? Head to the Abilene Public Library for Lib-Con, an annual gathering for gamers and comic fans. Try your luck in the cosplay and art contests, check out the workshops, make some new friends in the escape rooms, and more. There’s plenty to do, but the best part? Admission is free. It doesn’t get much more affordable than that, in our books.
Treat Yourself to a Luxurious Stay
If you’re going to travel, you should stay somewhere one of a kind. That’s exactly what you’ll get if you stay at any of the Sayles Ranch Guesthouses. These one- to four-bedroom houses along Sayles Street (which is within a historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places) are furnished with charming décor representing different eras and styles. Stays at any of these houses are downright luxurious, but bringing friends you can split the bill with makes it more affordable.
Of course, Abilene is also home to many hotels that suit just about any price range. Whether you’re looking to truly get away or for a starting point for discovering the Key City, you’ll find plenty of great options here.
Celebrate Spring at the Abilene Zoo
Hand-feed giraffes, watch lounging lions, and listen to singing parrots while soaking up the delightfully warm sunshine of spring at the Abilene Zoo. Home to more than 1,000 animals from around the world, the zoo gives you the chance to see creatures large and small, from a king cobra and a camel to a black rhinoceros and a white tiger. Stroll along tree-shaded pathways that wind through the 16-acre zoo and come face to face with some of the animals on one of the behind-the-scenes VIP tours. Follow that up with some time paddling your very own swan boat on Nelson Lake, a ride on the kid-friendly Safari Express Train, or some interactive fun at the Fort Imagination playground.
When you need a break from the sun, cool off at the Nelson Park Splash Pad (open April 16). If you’re traveling with your best furry friend, take them over to the Camp Barkeley dog park. With one acre for small dogs and two for larger ones, the dog park offers plenty of space to play. With so much to see and do, you can spend all day at the Abilene Zoo. With admission topping out at $8 for adults, it’s also a thrifty way to enjoy a spring afternoon in West Texas.
Tour Texas Tip: Make sure to say “howdy” to the baby howler monkey and baby zebra, two of the zoo’s newest additions.
Embark on a Birding Adventure
Spring’s arrival means it’s time to grab your binoculars or your long-lens camera and head to Abilene, the center of the Big Country Loop of the Texas Parks & Wildlife’s Great Texas Wildlife Trails. The season brings with it the arrival of migrating songbirds and butterflies, and there’s no shortage of places to see them near town.
Visit Lake Fort Phantom Hill to see songbirds and butterflies like the variegated fritillary and red admiral that are attracted to the area’s colorful wildflowers. Abilene State Park is the place to go to see black-chinned, ruby-throated, and rufous hummingbirds, while you might catch a glimpse of an American goldfinch at Will Hair Park. Explore the trails at Lake Kirby Nature Park for even more birdwatching, all while learning a thing or two about the local flora and fauna.
Birdwatching in Abilene isn’t just an opportunity to cross some birds off your bucket list; it’s also a great way to soak up the sun and get outdoors. Bring your hiking shoes and get ready to come across something you haven’t seen before.
Explore the Ruins of Fort Phantom Hill
Standing over a remote grassy plain, the brick chimneys of Fort Phantom Hill aren’t just a ghostly sight; they’re a living piece of history. It was here, in 1851, that the U.S. Army established the fort to protect the Texas frontier as it moved west. Walk around the grounds (admission is free) and you’ll see three of the fort’s original stone buildings, more than a dozen chimneys, and the fort’s original foundations. Take a moment to savor the peace and quiet and you’ll get a sense of what life was like for those stationed at the fort. Follow your visit up with a trip to Frontier Texas!, the regional information center of the Texas Forts Trail and the place to go for a deeper dive into Abilene’s frontier history.
Whether you’re exploring the Abilene Zoo or experiencing one of the Key City’s fabulous festivals, spring is a great time to visit Abilene. Plan your visit here.
About the Author: James Waterson is the head writer and content specialist for Tour Texas. When he isn’t writing about the many great places in the state of Texas, he’s planning his next epic adventure in the Lone Star State.