The El Camino Real De Los Tejas National Historic Trail is Texas’s Royal Road, also known as Old San Antonio Road, King’s Highway, and a trail contributing to the development and settlement of Texas stretching from Mexico City and Laredo at the Rio Grande to Natchitoches, Louisiana. Some parts of the interior route determined a network of passages by Native American relations, weather, and rugged terrain linking towns, forts, settlements, and missions in early Texas.
Let’s explore the historic trail, then and now, from Laredo to Natchitoches and points in between, with places to stay and eat.
Tomas Sanchez founded the San Agustin de Laredo Historic District in 1755, the oldest area of Laredo. Named after a town in Spain, heads of households received Spanish land grants around a central plaza featuring the San Agustin Cathedral. Laredo was a chosen crossing point at the Rio Grande by Native Americans and settlers along what developed as the El Camino Real De Los Tejas. Walk the famous Streets of Laredo today and discover the charming city’s historical heritage, alluring murals and art scene, decadent dining, and import shops on San Bernardo.
Oddly enough, one of the largest annual celebrations is the 44-day-long Washington’s Birthday Celebration, the nation’s oldest and largest celebration honoring our country’s first president — Laredo style. The Texas-sized festival by the oldest border town lasts from January 21–February 27, uniting Laredo and Nuevo Laredo in Mexico for 124 years in a genial blend of culture, language, and food.
Pro Tip: The historic Four Diamond Award-Winning La Posada Hotel in the heart of downtown Laredo is the “Official Hotel of Washington’s Birthday Celebration” and home to the WBC Museum. Enjoy Latin dining at Zaragoza Grill and a great steak at the hotel’s Tack Room.
2. San Antonio
The San Antonio River was named in 1691 when Spanish explorers and missionaries came upon the river on the feast day of St. Anthony. The city, founded in 1718, became a significant stop along the El Camino Real then and now because of its legacies, multi-cultural traditions, and attractions. The San Antonio Missions, the Alamo, San Jose, Concepcion, San Juan, and Espada were Catholic outposts. Four of the five remain active parishes as part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. The Alamo’s fifth mission is a shrine to Texas liberty and “Remember the Alamo.”
3. New Braunfels
The Caminos served as military roads connecting a string of forts marking New Spain’s northern frontier and ultimately becoming an avenue of immigration for new settlers coming to Texas. New Braunfels was a Comal River crossing established in 1845 by German immigrants led by Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels. Old World Town still boasts the German traditions and culture famous for sausages, sauerkraut, and bread.
The New Braunfels Farmers Market is open downtown every Saturday for local farmers, ranchers, growers, and artisans. Have lunch at Krause’s Café & Biergarten, a historic restaurant that opened in 1938 with a menu reflecting the city’s German heritage and South Texas flavors with over 100 beers on tap. Eat Italian at 188 South, featuring bold recipes like veal chop parmesan or the chef’s seafood feature. The kitchen boasts a hydroponic grow wall, sourcing all the restaurant’s spices and herbs.
4. San Marcos
San Marcos was a temporary site of two Spanish missions relocated from East Texas because of conflicts between the French and Native Americans. Later, pioneers settled near the mammoth springs along the cold San Marcos River.
Visit historical exhibits at the Hays County Courthouse on the square and stroll Kissing Alley, a hidden gem with large and small murals, twinkling lights, and a bulls-eye view of the courthouse. Eat lunch at Root Cellar Café and get an ice cream cone at Rhea’s Ice Cream. Shop the vintage clothing stores, antique shops, and boutiques on the square. Duck into Sean Patrick’s Irish Pub for a cold brew.
Bastrop was renamed one of Texas’s oldest settlements to honor Felipe Enrique Neri, Baron de Bastrop, a self-named Dutch nobleman. Bastrop is one of the oldest towns in Texas, a strategic Colorado River crossing along the El Camino Real in the early days.
The Bastrop County Historical Society Museum occupies the John Cornelson House built around 1850, housing documents and artifacts noting the history of Stephen F. Austin’s western colony on the El Camino Real.
Stay at the Reserve at Greenleaf and enjoy luxury glamping in a yurt with a private bathroom and shower 2 miles east of Bastrop in the Lost Pines.
Pro Tip: See my article about 13 Fantastic Things To Do In Beautiful Bastrop.
The Brazos River was another major river crossing along the El Camino Real at Bryan, but it wasn’t until the 1820s that pioneers settled the area. The railroad came in 1867 and secured Bryan as a commercial and agricultural center for sugarcane and cotton.
Historic downtown Bryan offers First Friday, a family-friendly event with the farmers market, live music, art, local shopping, and tasty dining.
Messina Hof Winery and Resort, since 1977, has earned the title “Most Awarded Winery in Texas.” Enjoy wine tastings, tours, special releases, harvest festivals, and themed dinners.
Brazos Valley African American Museum tells a compelling story of triumph and struggle with an impressive collection of African American artifacts.
Stay at the Milton Parker Home B&B at Bryan, a family-friendly luxury mansion on four acres of live oaks. Five blocks from downtown and 5 miles from Texas A&M University, the complimentary home-cooked breakfast is lovely!
Named for David Crockett, the famous Alamo hero who camped at the nearby spring on his way to San Antonio, Crockett is on the old El Camino Real Trail near the crossing of the Trinity River. Crockett, the Houston County seat by June 12, 1837, became a regional trade center when trains came through in 1872.
See the restored three-story Victorian Downes-Aldrich House and explore quaint shops around the courthouse square. Learn about blues legend Lightnin’ Hopkins and visit the Houston County Museum housed in the historic railroad depot.
The Camino Real passed through the Mission Tejas State Park at Mission San Francisco de Los Tejas, the first Spanish mission in a village of Caddo people in the Tejas territory in 1690. See the log home-stagecoach inn, similar to many along El Camino Real.
You can see the historic swells of the Camino Real that passed near Caddo Mounds State Historic Site, the ceremonial village of the Hasinai Caddo people constructed more than 1,200 years ago near Alto. Today, three earthen mounds rise from the Piney Woods landscape representing the burial, temple, and ceremonial mounds.
Named for the Caddo people called Nacogdoche, Spain established three missions here in 1716. Nacogdoches became the primary eastern gateway to Texas. The reconstructed Old Stone Fort, originally built in 1779, stands on the Stephen F. Austin University campus.
Get ready for the spring azaleas at the Garden Capital of Texas: the 8-acre Ruby M. Mize Azalea Garden, Texas’s most extensive azalea garden.
Stay at the 19th century Hardeman House Bed & Breakfast in downtown Nacogdoches, just blocks from the historic Main Street with boutique shops galore. The breakfast is a highlight and worthy of a return stay. See unique bed and breakfasts and lodgings here.
9. San Augustine
San Augustine, known as “The Cradle of Texas,” is one of Texas’s most historic towns. Sam Houston was elected commander of the Texian forces here. Davy Crockett stayed here while on his journey to the Alamo, and Texas’s first governor J. Pinckney Henderson lived here.
Mission Dolores Visitors Center, commemorating a historic Spanish mission founded in 1716, features life among the Ais people and the missionaries, plus the territorial challenges between France and Spain. The Log Cabin is home to the San Augustine Chamber of Commerce and the tourism center. Evidence of swells or old road markings exists here.
The Columns Bed and Breakfast, circa 1902, boasts six bedrooms fully furnished with antiques, thoughtful amenities, and includes a delicious country breakfast.
The Blount House, formerly belonging to Colonel S. W. Blount, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, is marked by a 1936 gray granite centennial monument.
10. Natchitoches, Louisiana
Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site, named for a French patron saint, commemorates the French garrison and outpost, initially constructed to prevent Spanish forces in Texas from advancing across the border of French Louisiane.
The National Historic Landmark District, a 33-block area, serves as a shopping, dining, and bed and breakfast mecca. Find three state historic sites, museums, and Creole plantations rich in community culture, history, and recreation along the beautiful Cane River.