Willow City Loop (55 miles)
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The queen cycling attraction in Gillespie County. Pretty at all times, the spectacle of the Willow City Loop peaks during wildflower season in mid/late spring when it glows in a blaze of natural glory.
Its storied beauty, however, breeds popularity. During wildflower season especially, motorized tourists litter "The Loop" on weekends with cars and trucks . Also, landowners along the route appear less than thrilled that their land doubles as a tourist attraction. Most do not appreciate trespassing of any kind, and they will let you know it. That said, stick to the roads, be mindful of motorists, and you should have a great visit.
One more thing, be aware of one certain glitch on your ride: The Willow City Ledge. This climb at the end of the loop starts out steeply at first, then stretches out longer than most ascents in the immediate area. Although cyclists presumably travel to the Hill Country to ride up and down hills, those with questionable climbing capabilities should bring liberal gearing for this one.
This route begins at the Marktplatz in downtown Fredericksburg, Texas. Find this main town square located on the North side of Main Street (also HWY 290/HWY 87) at the intersection of S. TX16. (North of this intersection, S. TX16 becomes N. Adams St.)
When groups meet here, generally they form up at the facility's northeast corner, where W. Austin St. intersects N. Adams St., which is not too far from the restrooms and off busy Main St. (Infrequently these restrooms may be closed for festival setup; find alternatives two blocks southeast at Fredericksburg's Visitor's Center).
To begin, depart the Marktplatz heading east on Austin St. to TX16. Turn left and roll through town on the wide shoulder. (You can also head straight up N. Adams St., but prepare yourself for a rash of stop signs all the way to Lower Crabapple). Be mindful of the dense traffic while preparing to turn left off of TX16 onto Lower Crabapple.
The early stages of Lower Crabapple may be somewhat convoluted for the uninitiated. Though the road isn't always well marked, staying on course should not present too much of a challenge. Just stay on the same road, whether it bends right or left. Roadsigns confirming that you are on course should not be far in coming; at least until you leave town, when navigation becomes much more straightforward.
Soon after leaving the FBG suburbs, cyclists face the Fredericksburg Foothills. The road here presents an abrupt climb that will certainly accellerate your warm-up. The summit yields to a pleasant descent, but stay near the brakes on the way down because traffic entering the road may appear quickly, and a few pesky dogs sometimes cause trouble here too.
After the descent enjoy the scenery and a few minor undulations before facing Mt. Crabapple. Challenging due to its steep grade; you may or may not be comforted to know the grade slackens long before you reach the top. At the very top, be sure to look back at the picturesque view to the south. This climb puts one on a sustained plateau that slowly falls away and then becomes a steep descent. Be alert here for wandering livestock, especially if you enjoy high-speed descents. Now look forward to more peaceful winding road for a while. Exercise caution into the left hand turn and through the water crossing (don't overcook it!). The rising bend to the right that follows this water crossing signals that Eckert Road will come up within a mile or so.
Turn right on Eckert and enjoy the Hill Country scenery. After about two miles the road turns up into Eckert Hill. Though not too difficult, it climbs for a material distance; anyway, the scenery tends to mitigate the pain of climbing.
Eckert terminates into TX16. If the store is open, you can replenish fuel and water supplies here, but be prepared to go off course by a short distance. To do this, make a right (go south) on TX16 and a quick left on FM1323 to the store which doesn't open prior to 10 a.m.
Back on route; head north on TX16. The wide shoulder makes the fast traffic bearable. After some mild climbing look forward to a fabulous, long, swooping descent. It isn't technical, although the passing traffic can detract from the easy high-speed bliss. This descent offers a long rest with great visual relief as well.
Soon after reaching the bottom of this hill you will see the green sign signaling the Willow City Loop. Turn right onto The Loop and enjoy more great scenery and a gently rolling road. Not-entirely-well-integrated cattle gaurds dot the route here and there, as do a few twisting descents, so don't zone out completely. The ease and beauty carries on for some distance, at least until the Willow City Ledge bursts into view.
The most fierce stage of this climb is on its lower slopes, and fierce it is. Ride well within yourself, however, because the long series of rolling humps that work their way to the ultimate summit will continue to challenge. (Rumor has it that spectacular scenery abounds on this climb, but few cyclists see it because of the suffering.) As the tendency is to treat the entire distance, all the way to Willow City, as one long climb; pausing to regard the view is not typically part of the program. After rolling up and down, this climb has something of an asymptotic finish. That is, although the slope continues to flatten, it does so over a long distance. It dies out over a series of right and lefthanders that eventually spill into the small town.
Once in Willow City, give thanks that the worst climbing is behind you. A stop sign demarcates the center of the town. Turn right and about ½ block later look to your right for the general store. Then, to get back on route, return to that stop sign intersection (go east) and turn right (south) on RR1323.
Exiting Willow City, the route soon intercepts Herber-Schaefer Rd. Turn right on this road (watch the cattleguard in the turn!) and enjoy some mostly flat riding and nice scenery. The dogs at the sheep ranch do not typically bother cyclists (unless, presumably, the cyclists bother the sheep).
Turn right on RR1631 and prepare for the two upcoming climbing sections worth noting. The first mostly short and not too difficult series of climbs known as Sawtooth 1631 leads to the descent to Palo Alto Creek, which signals the second longish, steady climb, known as Palo Alto Slope, back to FBG.
At the intersection of RR1631 and US290 turn right and ride to Elk St. Traffic can be busy along here but cyclists benefit from a wide shoulder, even over the bridge, so you should have no problems if you ride single file. Make a right on Elk St., a left on Austin St. and cruise to the Marktplatz.