December 21, 2018 | By Paula Disbrowe
Located in the heart of Texas, just off I-35 between Waco and Austin, Bell County is far enough from hipster joints and the urban hustle to provide a dose of small-town Texas—but close enough for a weekend getaway. For barbecue enthusiasts, Belton’s stellar smoked meat purveyors provide reason enough to exit the interstate. But the area’s appeal goes well beyond brisket: There is camping, fishing, and boating on Lake Belton; hiking in state parks; craft beer, and a free-spirited creative community; and plenty of shopping in nearby Salado. It’s a diverse community where the camouflage population of Fort Hood intermingles with co-eds.
Early on, Belton’s location on Nolan Creek fueled its growth. In the 1870s, most businesses were devoted to cotton and the numerous cattle drives on the Chisholm Trail. After a fire destroyed Belton’s business district in 1879, locals rallied to build the town’s first cottonseed oil mill (and more gins to follow). The best way to appreciate the area’s charms and understand its rich history is to spend a weekend soaking it all up.