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Leakey: Hill Country Charmer on the Cool, Clear Frio River

March 1, 2024 Texas History, Member Spotlight

The small town of Leakey may have more acres (358) than residents (333) but this Hill Country charmer earns its nickname of the “Swiss Alps of Texas” with stunning deep canyon views and a pristine location along the cool, clear Frio River.

“Leakey is an extremely gorgeous location with amazing Hill Country Views,” reports

While it’s not the Matterhorn, the Leakey area has elevations ranging from 1,500 to 2,400 feet – quite the altitude changes for those on weekend trips from Houston (50 feet above sea level average elevation) or closer by Austin (500 feet) and San Antonio (650 feet).

The Drive to Leakey is Just the Start of the Scenic Fun

Just under three hours from Austin and under two hours from San Antonio, the Leakey area offers fishing, hunting, swimming, tubing, boating, camping, horseback riding, bird watching, cycling, scenic driving, star gazing, and more.

“Leakey is a great place to visit in the summer when it’s hot enough to enjoy floating the Frio River,” advises Amanda Waltman in “Take a Road Trip to Leakey, Texas”. “You will appreciate the view that Leakey provides year-round.”

The drive to Leakey is a big bonus.

“The drive to Leakey, Texas is one of the prettiest Texas Hill Country drives that you can take, not to mention one of the most fun,” writes Waltman.

A lot of Texans like to make the trip to Leakey on two wheels as the town is on the popular Twisted Sisters 100-mile loop – with the circuit passing through Leakey from two directions.

Ride Texas calls the loop “without a doubt, among the best, most challenging motorcycle roads in the state. The route follows canyons and climbs jagged, steep hills; the roads offer many tight, twisty curves with sheer drop-offs alongside and not much in the way of guardrails. In one 15-mile section, there are approximately 65 curves!”

Frio River: Whitewater Rapids and Relaxed Swimming Holes

The county seat of Real County, Leakey is situated at the junction of U.S. Highway 83, RM 336, RM 337, and FM 1120 – as well as the Frio River which offers everything from whitewater rapids to relaxed swimming holes.

Frio River Cabins describes the idyllic river setting as “The Frio River originates in northern Real County and fed by springs and streams, tumbles over limestone rock to create waterfalls, rapids, and pools on its way to Concan in Uvalde County. Along the banks are boulders, bluffs, and grassy spots shaded by pecans, live oaks, sycamores, and giant, centuries-old, cypress trees.”

The Frio River is spring-fed with the area boasting more than 1,000 springs. The Frio owes its name to these cool springs with Frio the Spanish word for cold.

Leaky namesake, John Leakey, and his wife Nancy set up camp along the Frio River in 1856 – the first settlers to live in the area.

Leakey History: Fresh Water, Plenty of Wildlife Drew Settlers

John Leakey first came to Texas in 1847 and moved around before settling in the Frio Canyon.

“In 1856 John and Nancy Leakey, along with a few others, decided to set up camp and start a shingle business,” says the Texas Hill Country Small Town Research Project. “The Leakey family (which included eight children) made their home on the banks of the Frio River. They had fresh water, plenty of wildlife, and the native Cypress and Cedar trees in the area provided lumber to build their homes.”

The area was originally called Floral, but the name was changed to Leakey in 1883, the same year that Edwards County was incorporated. Bullhead was named the county seat, but it was moved to Leakey in 1884.

Just seven years later, however, the county seat was moved again, this time to Rocksprings.

Leakey, however, was named the county seat of Real when that county was formed in 1913 – carved out of parts of Edwards, Bandera, and Kerr counties.

“Early in the twentieth century people started raising angora goats for their wool. This was a mainstay in the local economy until about 1910. There are still a few ranches in town raising goats, though not as many as there once were,” said the research project.

Leakey did not incorporate as a city until 1951 as residents sought improvements to infrastructure such as roads and water supply. Leakey was also “dry” since prohibition until a vote in 2005 made sales of alcohol possible.

Weekend Getaway to Leakey

Leakey makes its living off tourism and hunting. Many organizations have camp locations in the area such as the Alto Frio Baptist Encampment and HEB Founding Camp – both near Leakey on the Frio.

There are plenty of great places to visit on a weekend getaway, starting with the Hill Country architecture of the Real County Courthouse, with its native limestone.

You can also check out the largest Live Oak tree in Texas, located seven miles south of Leakey on Highway 1120 in Rio Frio.

A weekend getaway could include:

  • Real County Historical Museum: Displays authentic furnishings, tools, and personal items used by the early settlers of this unique ranching and farming valley.

  • Lone Star Motorcycle Museum: Check out a collection of machines from all around the world dating from the 1910s to modern.

  • Garner State Park: Swim and Hike (16 miles of trails!) in this popular state park with almost 3 miles of Frio River frontage on 1,774 scenic Hill Country acres. Screen shelters, cabins, and campsites offer overnight stays. And don’t miss the summer Saturday evening jukebox dance at the park’s concession, a tradition that dates to the 1940s.

  • Lost Maples State Natural Area: One of the top spots in Texas to catch fall colors but offers spectacular views year-round with wildflowers, and steep canyon walls along the Sabinal River. The area is named for its special stand of Uvalde bigtooth maple trees.

  • Devil’s Sinkhole State Natural Area: Watch some 3 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge in a swirling mass from Devil’s Sinkhole in search of food on warm nights. The 1,860-acre site also includes nature walks and birding tours.

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