Texas is huge! It is the second largest state in the United States by both area and population. And, because of that, it’s best traveled via aircraft! :)
I have to tell you… when I moved to Texas from Spain, I thought all I would see were cowboys, horses and very dry land. I have since learned that most “wild wild west movies” portrayed west Texas and Texas is actually quite different as you travel through it. According to Wikipedia, “due to its size and geologic features (such as the Balcones Fault), Texas contains diverse landscapes that resemble both the southern and southwestern parts of the country. Although Texas is popularly associated with the southwestern deserts, less than 10 percent of Texas' land area is actually desert. Most of the population centers are located in areas of former prairies, grasslands, forests, and the coastline. Traveling from east to west, one can observe terrain that ranges from oastal swamps and piney woods, to rolling plains and rugged hills, and finally the desert and mountains of the Big Bend.”
So, I hope this air trail gives you a good overview of what Texas is all about! And, for the most part, it involves easy flying: mostly flat terrain, with most elevations close to sea level, with lots of open airspace, and the metro areas have lots of airports to choose from for varying levels of comfort with airspace, traffic and ATC!
The following figures help give you a visual of the proposed route and stops.
Figure 1. Route Overview
Figure 2. First Half of the Route (south side) (see reference to locations in Figure 4)
Figure 3. Second Half of the Route (north side) (see reference to locations in Figure 4)
Figure 4. References to Locations on Previous Sectionals
Or, for easier reference, you can view the route in a screenshot of ForeFlight.
Figure 5. Route on ForeFlight
Keep in mind that the route between San Antonio and the Big Bend area can put you directly in Mexican airspace if you fly "direct." The ForeFlight route above adds Terrell County (6R6) as a waypoint to avoid it.
Also keep in mind that some of these airports may not offer fuel. Please plan accordingly! You may also want to pack a set of tie downs for your aircraft.
If you decide to do part or the entire route and use social media, we would love for you to use #TexasAirTrail as a hashtag.
Fly safe, fly often! Enjoy this Air Trail!
A few symbols have been added throughout the route to make it easy for readers to identify the facilities and activities each airport/area has at a quick glance.
Figure 6. Symbol Legend
Houston is where my husband and I live so I am sorry if I am a bit biased here.
What airport to fly into? Hmmm… you have lots of great airports to choose from. I would recommend you review the airspace and see what you feel most comfortable with. Here are some questions to ask yourself: Controlled or uncontrolled? Class D and/or Class B ok? Do you need a hangar? Is there a particular destination within Houston you have in mind? Is it close to your intended airport?
Three of the area airports have restaurants onsite:
Three other area airports have onsite museums. William P. Hobby Airport (KHOU) is home to the 1940 Air Terminal and the West Houston Airport (KIWS), is home to the Houston Wing of the Commemorative Air Force. Their museum is normally open on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of every month. Ellington Field (KEFD) also has a museum called the Texas Flying Legends Museum. In addition, Galveston’s Lone Star Flight Museum will soon be moving to Ellington Field.
Houston has a VFR corridor that runs east to west (and viceversa) over interstate I-10. It is easy to transition through it and ATC can provide you with flight following. Take a look at the Houston Terminal Area Chart for more information, especially as it relates to Class B's boundaries and altitudes. Also remember to fly south of the highway when traveling west to east and north of the highway when traveling east to west. The corridor provides great views of the city, including the Galleria and downtown.
Figure 7. Aerial View of Downtown Houston and the Medical Center over the I-10 Corridor
My other website has more things to see and do while in Houston than you probably need. Anything from outdoor theaters to restaurants to parks to museums… you name it, it’s there!
Galveston is a short and enjoyable flight from the Houston area. Scholes International at Galveston Airport (KGLS) is your only option.
While I mentioned above that Galveston’s Lone Star Flight Museum will soon be moving to Ellington Field, it is still in Galveston and you should plan a visit.
Once on the ground in Galveston, you can also visit the Bolivar Peninsula, the Galveston Island State Park, old mansions like Bishop's Palace (1866 Victorian castle) or Moody Mansion, walk the decks of the 1877 tall ship Elissa (second-oldest operational sailing vessel in the world), have lunch and shop on the Strand (a 36-block National Historic Landmark District that was once Texas's second busiest port), catch a sandcastle competition, walk around downtown, have fun at Pleasure Pier's amusement park rides, visit the Moody Gardens for aquariums and exhibits, visit the Ocean Star - Offshore Drilling Rig Museum, watch a show at the Grand 1894 Opera House, or just lay down on the beach. This link has a list of best beaches around.
Galveston also has a Schlitterbahn water park however it’s nothing like New Braunfels’ (read more about this later).
If you want to explore areas outside of Galveston, you can take the ferry to Crystal Beach or fly to (with prior permission because it is a private airport) the Tiki Beach Bar and Grill’s private runway.
3. Port Aransas
The Mustang Beach Airport (KRAS) is especially popular during Spring Break. La Barataria Restaurant and Bar is only 0.2 miles from KRAS inside the Island Moorings Yatch Club and Marina and they offer complementary transportation to/from the airport. Amelia's Landing is an aviation themed hotel and, if you are an adrenaline seeker, Skydive South Texas operates out of KRAS.
While the beach and other destinations are within walking (if you don’t mind walking a mile) or biking distance, the owner of Skydive South Texas can also rent you a golf cart to get around.
4. New Braunfels
New Braunfels is a fun place to visit and one of my husband’s favorite weekend getaways. There are lots of things to do, especially if you don’t mind getting wet ;) Why? The Comal and Guadalupe Rivers run through the city and New Braunfels is home to nationally known Schlitterbahn’s water park. Both of the rivers offer great kayaking and tubing. The Comal even includes a man-made chute.
Canyon Lake is north of New Braunfels and 80 miles of scenic shoreline. If you plan on visiting it, I recommend you drive the very scenic River Road to get there.
New Braunfels was founded in 1845 by a group of German farmers and craftsmen. In fact, German cuisine and bakery can still be enjoyed. In addition, the city hosts an annual Wurstfest festival every November.
Looking for something more relaxing? Golfing, camping along the Guadalupe River, or walking through Land Park are great options.
Want a little history? New Braunfels’ Main Plaza was built in 1845 and Gruene is a very historic and cute town within New Braunfels with great shops and restaurants.
If you do not mind driving a little bit, you can also visit the Natural Bridge Caverns west of New Braunfels.
For more information, visit New Braunfels’ Tourism website.
The New Braunfels Regional Airport (KBAZ) is the City’s airport.
5. San Antonio
It may be no surprise to you that San Antonio is a pretty tourist city due to its history, with the Alamo being the main attraction. But let’s not forget that the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park spotlights four Spanish colonial missions. Along with the Alamo, these missions have collectively been designated the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Texas. The Mission Trail Out & Back is about a 20 mile trail covering all four of the missions built along the San Antonio River dating back to the 1720s. The Stinson Municipal Airport is just south of the San Jose Burial Park. FMI on bike lanes, visit: http://www.sanantonio.gov/SABikes/MapsAndTrails.aspx. The B with a circle shows nearby bike rental locations.
And talking about the Stinson Municipal Airport (KSSF)... KSSF is a cute and historic airport. You’ll enjoy the original terminal. In it, you can also find the Brown Bag Sandwich Shop and the Texas Air Museum is based at KSSF as well.
Figures 8 and 9. Pictures of the Stinson Field Terminal
The Riverwalk is, of course, also very popular, especially among couples looking for a romantic night.
The Historic Market Square is a traditional Mexican shopping area boasting 100 shops over 3-blocks, with apparel, handcrafts and food galore.
For more ideas, visit San Antonio’s Tourism website.
6. Big Bend Area
For information about the Big Bend area, read my other blog titled “Combining Flight Training with Tourism – a Trip to the Big Bend Area In Texas.”
7. Kerrville, Fredericksburg, and Llano
Mooney Aircraft is manufactured at the Kerrville Municipal / Louis Schreiner Field Airport (KERV). With some advanced notice, you may be able to get a tour of the factory.
In addition to Mooney, Kerrville has antique shops, several restaurants, a few parks, art galleries and museums.
The Gillespie County Airport (T82) in Fredericksburg is a place to go for everybody and not just pilots. The popular Hangar Hotel and Conference Center and Airport Diner are often visited by non-pilots. I found two articles that talk about Fredericksburg and these beautiful facilities:
Figure 10. T82's Hangar Hotel and Airport Diner
But, in addition to the airport facilities, Fredericksburg also offers wineries. Fredericksburg’s Wine Road 290 is in the heart of Texas wine country. Fifteen different wineries can be found along U.S. Highway 290 although you may feel like you’re in Central Italy or the Rhone Valley in France.
Llano is the last of the small towns that I’m highlighting in the “Texas Hill Country” but you could visit plenty more. The Llano Municipal Airport (KAQO) has become a familiar event host for different fly-ins and Short Takeoffs and Landing (STOL) competitions in recent years. The secondary grass runway and ample parking space is part of the reason why. Cooper’s Old Time Bar-B-Que brings a good portion of the rest of the visitors.
Figure 11. 2016's STOL competition in Llano
Update (8/22/2016): The Texas STOL Roundup competition is being moved from Llano to Hondo (KHDO) started on September 30, 2016.
The Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is worth hiking between Fredericksburg and Llano. And, if you fly between Fredericksburg and Llano, don’t forget to look for it from the air as well. When I’ve been there, I’ve seen a number of drones/UAS flying around so keep an eye for them.
Figure 12. Picture of Enchanted Rock
Austin is the Capital of Texas. The Capitol building (http://www.tspb.texas.gov/) is a must visit.
Figure 13. The Texas Capitol
In addition, here are some other awesome things you can do while in Austin:
- Scuba dive or rent a boat to cruise around Lake Travis. If you are looking for a restaurant with really good views, you can try the Oasis (http://oasis-austin.com/).
- Barton Springs Pool (http://www.austintexas.gov/department/barton-springs-pool) is a natural pool (one of my favorite spots in town!) in Zilker Park near downtown Austin.
- If you are looking for walking or biking trails, the Butler Trail (http://www.thetrailfoundation.org/explore/about-the-butler-trail/) is a good start. You can rent bikes from Austin B-Cycle (https://austin.bcycle.com/).
- Another good place for hiking is Mount Bonnell (http://austinparks.org/parks/Mount%20Bonnell/), which provides great views of the city and surrounding water features.
- Rowing is also an option in Austin, on the Colorado River.
- Just prior to sunset, you can watch Mexican bats fly from under the Congress Ave bridge (http://www.viator.com/Austin-attractions/Congress-Avenue-Bridge-Bats-tours-tickets/d5021-a7723?pref=204) as they leave to grab a meal!
- Austin is home to the University of Texas (http://www.utexas.edu/).
- Castle Hill provides good views of downtown and has a Graffiti Park (https://www.facebook.com/CastleHillATX). Keep Austin weird!
If you do not mind leaving Austin a little bit... the Hamilton Pool Preserve (https://parks.traviscountytx.gov/find-a-park/hamilton-pool) is worth visiting but remember to reserve your spot beforehand, especially during the summer months.
Austin Executive Airport (KEDC) and Austin Bergstorm International Airport (KAUS) are the closest airports to town; however, I would not ignore Lakeway Airpark (3R9) and Spicewood Airport (88R) as they are great little airports to fly into, especially if you're looking for a more scenic and challenging approach and runway ;) Read their restrictions prior to going though.
Baylor University has made quite a few facility improvements lately, to include their football stadium.
Magnolia Market is owned by the popular couple (Chip and Joanna Gaines) on HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” home improvement TV show.
Waco offers a number of outdoor activities, its downtown is designated as a cultural district, and a number of museums are available as well.
Waco has three airports for you to choose from: Waco Regional Airport (KACT), TSTC Waco Airport (KCNW) where Texas State Technical College's aviation program is based out of, and McGregor Executive Airport (KPWG).
Refer to http://wacoheartoftexas.com/ for more things to see and do.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park opened on July 4, 1934 and contains acres of scenic land. The Canyon is 120 miles long, as much as 20 miles wide, and has a maximum depth of more than 800 feet. Its elevation at the rim is 3,500 feet above sea level. Palo Duron Canyon is often claimed to be the largest canyon in the United States behind the Grand Canyon. The canyon was formed by water erosion from the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River. The water deepens the canyon by moving sediment downstream. Early Spanish Explorers are believed to have discovered the area and dubbed the canyon “Palo Duro” which is Spanish for “hard wood” in reference to the abundant mesquite and juniper trees.
Just west of Amarillo, you can find the colorful Cadillac Ranch.
For other things to do and see in Amarillo, visit http://www.visitamarillo.com/.
Tradewind Airport (TDW) and River Falls Airport (H81) are the closest airports to Palo Duro.
11. Dallas and Fort Worth (DFW)
Like Houston, the DFW area has a lot of airports to choose from. Here is a sample of them and the reasons that make them unique:
And, similar to the Bennetts Airport and AirBnb setup… the Kezer Air Ranch Airport (61TE) (http://www.kezerairranch.com/), although a bit further from the DFW area, will soon have four small tiny house cabins available for rent. January 1, 2017 is the target date for grand opening. Keep in mind this is a private use airport so prior permission to landing is required.
Like any big metro area, the DFW area has everything you can think of. Here are some ideas:
- Coyote Drive-in Theater right by downtown Fort Worth: http://coyotedrive-in.com/fortworth/
- There are three Hyena's Comedy Club locations (Dallas, Ft Worth and Plano): http://www.hyenascomedynightclub.com/
- Ft Worth Stockyards National Historic District with traditional cowboy things, restaurants and shops: http://www.fortworthstockyards.org/
- Another "cowboy" type place is Billy Bob's, the largest honky tonk: http://billybobstexas.com/
- The 6th Floor Museum at Delay Plaza in Dallas where President JFK was shot: http://www.jfk.org/
- The George W. Bush Library and Museum is housed inside the George W. Bush Presidential Center, located on the campus of Southern Methodist University.
- Both downtowns (Ft Worth and Dallas) are worth a walk
For more touristic things to do and see, visit this (https://www.fortworth.com/) for Ft Worth and this (http://www.visitdallas.com/) for Dallas.
12. College Station
Texas A&M University is the oldest public university in Texas offering almost 400 different degrees.
The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Texas A&M University is dedicated to preserving and remembering George H.W. Bush, 41st President of the United States.
The Easterwood Field Airport (KCLL) can be pretty busy on (Texas A&M) game days.
Brenham Municipal Airport’s (11R) popular Southern Flyer Diner is always busy but especially on weekends. They are mostly known for their Bluebell Ice-cream floats, milkshakes, and malts. Houstonia Magazine recently wrote an article about this restaurant. The airport is particularly pretty during spring when the wild flowers are blooming, including the famous Texas flower - the bluebonnet.
Figure 14. Wild Flowers Blooming at 11R
People used to be able to take tours (http://bluebell.com/the_little_creamery/visiting_blue_bell/VisitBB_Brenham.html) of the Blue Bell Ice cream Factory but those have been suspended for now.
Have Additional Time and Coming From or Going To the East/Northeast?
The AOPA Central Southwest Regional Page covering NM, TX, LA, OK, AR, KS, MO, NE and IA has a blog on “friendly airports and helipads” with a list of those that have an on-site restaurant, aviation museum, camping, and/or aircraft viewing area, etc that you may consider stopping at on your way to/from the route.
Sources for Additional Information
For more tourism information, visit https://www.tourtexas.com/.
Not sure how exactly you are going to get around once on the ground at some of these locations? Looking for ways to bring a bike or canoe with you? Take a look at this blog I recently published for some ideas.
Want a reward for completing the #TexasAirTour? You can buy yourself this cool looking T-shirt.
BLOGS ON THIS PAGE
- That Old Frio River
- The Texas Air Trail - Visiting the Lone Star State!
- Combining Flight Training with Tourism... a Trip to the Big Bend Area in Texas
- Ox Hunting Ranch in the Texas Hill Country
- The $100 Hamburger Run: A Plane Ride With the Works