Summer is finally in the rear view mirror, fall seemed to last about two days, and now cold fronts have blown in from the north. And that means fall colors in Texas are on the way. In early October, I spent a week in Colorado shooting the changing leaves in the Rockies, covering 1700 miles over 7 days and enjoying the amazing display of color across the state. While Texas can’t match Colorado’s Autumn colors and the sheer coverage of changing leaves, the Lone Star State can still offer some pretty stunning areas to take in the red maples and oak and the orange cypress.
Around this time of year – October and November – I’m often asked where the best fall colors can be found. A few years ago, I added an online gallery dedicated to fall colors in Texas. And in this short blog, I’d like to share a few of my favorite places in no particular order.
Located off Highway 187 near Vanderpool, Lost Maples State Natural Area is arguably the most popular location for fall colors in the Hill Country. And that means it is the most crowded, as well. In good years when the rain and temperatures cooperate, maples and oak turn red and orange during the early part of November. Paths through colorful leaves and overhanging branches lead through small groves of the Uvalde Bigtooth Maple trees.
Along the East Trail in Lost Maples State Park, you’ll enjoy views like this in mid November. This day was perfect – calm, temperatures in the 50s, and very few people (it was a weekday). In this area of the Texas Hill Country, you’ll find lots to do besides photograph the beautiful Autumn colors. Towns like Leakey, Vanderpool, and Medina, as well as Garner State Park, offer places to explore, have lunch and enjoy the country life.
The Sabinal River winds through the park, as well, presenting a few opportunities to see and photograph colorful scenes with a peaceful stream flowing through the area. But be warned… this place is packed on the weekends with locals and tourists who drive hours to take in the beauty. So plan ahead, book an entrance ticket early, or better yet – arrive early on a weekday. When you finish hiking, there are even a few good wineries in the area!
Garner State Park
Just 28 miles southwest of Lost Maples near the town of Concan sits Garner State Park – home to the clear Frio River and Old Baldy. In the fall, cypress and oak along the Frio turn red, gold, and orange in a beautiful display of fall color. Here is one image taken while standing in the Frio on a cold late afternoon that shows the river with the Autumn trees lining the banks. This image also appeared on the cover of Texas Highways Magazine in October, 2019.
* This image from Garner State Park appeared on the cover of Texas Highways Magazine in the October 2019 edition.*
On a serene evening deep in the Texas Hill Country, fall colors of red and gold shine in the evening sun along the Frio River in Garner State Park. Standing in knee deep water to capture this image, and with Mount Baldy in the background, I had to pause at the beauty and mirror-like reflections of this amazing scene.
Photographic opportunities abound in this area. Walks along the river provide various angles full of pristine water and colorful cypress trees. A short hike up Old Baldy, the highest point in the park, affords views overlooking the river valley and the summit makes a nice place for a snack or picnic. But like Lost Maples to the north, the parking lots usually fill up by late morning on weekends. When I shoot here, I bring my wide-angle lenses and I arrive early on a weekday.
After Garner State Park, heck out some of the surrounding drives and towns. The loop from Vanderpool and Lost Maples west to Leakey, south to Garner State Park, west to Utopia, and back north to Vanderpool makes from some amazing views. Try some of the side roads, as well, exploring the smaller streams and creeks that run in the area. Hidden gems are just around the corner.
Located about an hour north of Van Horn and seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the Guadalupe Mountains rise out of the Chihuahuan Desert, reaching their highest point at the summit of Guadalupe Peak (also the highest point in Texas). The mountain range is the fossilized remnant of the Capitan Reef and is now composed of almost entirely of Limestone. But hidden in one of its canyons is an ancient stand of bigtooth maple. A hike into McKittrick Canyon in early October reveals secrets of this lost grove of trees, and the trail can often be ablaze in the red fall colors of the changing leaves. The image below was taken a few years ago along the McKittrick Canyon trail and was used by Texas Highways Magazine.
Following the trail through McKittrick Canyon, there are places of dense maple trees. At one point, you are nearly surrounded by the beautiful leaves, and in Autumn the forest can turn orange and red with some of the most beautiful fall colors in Texas. The main hike is around 4 miles each way, but you can continue up to ‘the Notch,” a climb of about 1500 vertical feet over another mile or so at which point you can look down into a canyon on each side of you. The hike up is a grunt, but the views are incredible. You can look back down and see the colorful maples as they follow the path of the river.
The hike trail will take you as far as you want to go. I usually enjoy climbing to the top of McKittrick Ridge to a point called “the Notch” – a high point in the trail that offers views of the valley in both directions. This trail is a day-use only area, so plan accordingly. I try to hit the trail as soon as the gates open and enjoy a morning and afternoon exploring the area in all its colorful beauty.
Pedernales Falls State Park
I probably know the land that borders the Pedernales River better than any other place in Texas. This little park is close to my home, and I enjoy my early morning walks here when all is quiet and serene. In the fall – usually mid-November at the earliest in this park – the cypress along the clear, cool waters of the Pedernales River turn orange and dark red.
The Texas Hill Country comes alive with autumn colors each November. Here, the cypress lean in and cover the Pedernales River on a cool fall morning, their gnarled roots wandering their way down into the water.
Exploring both upstream and downstream leads to small cascades and cypress-lined portions of the water. This park does become crowded on the weekends, but when exploring at sunrise or sunset I’ll often find myself alone.
If planning to visit this area in the late fall, check their calendar. The last several years, the park has been closed during peak color times for planned hunts, something that has left me frustrated at missing out on such colorful opportunities. I believe the hunt-closure for 2019 is not until December (thank goodness), but check before heading out.
Other places in Texas offer fall colors as well, and some can be quite amazing. I’d love to hear from folks out there about their experiences in fall at Caddo Lake, Daingerfield State Park in east Texas, and other locations where the colors have been eye-catching.
In the meantime, it is time for me to head out to the hill country and start scouting. I plan on starting my trek for Texas fall colors in just a few days and am ready to go!
Safe Travels, Texas!
Images from Texas