A late October-early November drive through the western Hill Country of Texas will take you to the land of the Lost Maple trees, a spectacular and awe-inspiring autumn spectacle of colors when conditions are just right, an area designated as one of the top ten fall foliage viewing sites in the nation by About.com.
Lost Maples State Natural Area is a dedicated 2,200-plus acre nature preserve and a mixture of rugged limestone cliffs, deep canyons, dazzling hilly countryside, full of clear spring-fed streams, and populated by the largest forest of Canadian bigtooth maple trees in the state.
It is the canyon country of the natural area and the abundant underground springs that keep the "lost" maples healthy. At one time, when Texas was much cooler, the bigtooth populated the Hill Country countryside. But with climate changes down through the years, the bigtooth now requires the fresh, cool water and the natural shade and protection offered by the hills and canyons to survive.
Designated a National Natural Landmark, the park offers picnicking, camping, fishing and wildlife observation opportunities and over 10 miles of hiking and backpacking trails to enjoy any time of year. But it is the fall season that attracts so many sightseers from across the state who anxiously await word each year that the trees are turning colors. A special telephone hotline and a foliage watch Web site have been created to keep the public informed with reports on the changing of the colors show.
To obtain the fall foliage report (available after October 1), call (800)792-1112 during business hours or (512)389-4449 any time. Or log on to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department's foliage report Web portal for daily observations.
Once inside the park you can leave your car in a common parking area and head out on several trails that each offer a variety of opportunities to observe the native wildlife of the region. You can expect to find over 200 species of birds, whitetail deer, armadillos, squirrels, skunks, raccoons, ringtails, insects, snakes and rodents. The evening skies can be filled with brown Mexican bats, and it's not at all unusual to encounter hawks, brown eagles and even falcons keeping watch from the sky above.
The Sabinal river and several small streams that run through the canyons offer limited fishing opportunities. There is an area along the river that has been dammed and a small lake formed, a good spot for swimming and fishing.
But the life of the party are the majestic maple trees that sway gently in the canyon breezes, especially when adorned in their full autumn colors.
The trail system offers several types of terrain for all skills level, from level trails that follow the largest of the canyons for a scenic route through overhanging maples and cypress, to strong climbs over a ridge that forms the cliff wall of the Sabinal canyon. There are other, hidden canyons along the later trail and well worth the walk if you're up to the exercise. Be warned, you should be in reasonably fit condition before you tackle the more difficult trails of the park.
Now that the critical period for the color change has arrived, there are updates everyday, so it becomes difficult to advise you when it is best to make the trip to this Hill Country attraction. As of this writing, here is the latest from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department:
Some subtle color changes in the Maples in the Picnic area are starting to occur. The Champion Big Tooth Maple at the head of the East Trail has started to turn. Some Maples turn early and some later, this is normal and happens every year. We have had several days of rain this past week, however only accumulated .72 of an inch. Temperatures have held in the 70's and 80's for daytime highs and the upper 50's to low 60's for the nights. It is great camping and hiking weather, so get out and enjoy. Avoid the big crowds and come during the weekdays.
Location: Approximately 4 miles north of Vanderpool on Ranch Road 187; alternatively, 35 miles west of Kerrville on Texas Highway 39 to Ranch Road 187, then 15 miles on Ranch Road 187 to the park entrance.
Hours: Open 7 days a week year-round; open 8:00am to 10:00pm except for overnight guests.
For more information: Call the Ranger Station at (210)966-3413 or State Park Reservations at (512)389-8900.
And call the Texas Parks & Wildlife information hotline at 1-800-792-1112 prior to planning your fall visit to the park; when controlled public hunts are in progress, general park access is not permitted. The hotline is available between 8:00am and 5:00pm Monday through Friday.