Fall Foliage: Texas Style

by Paris Permenter & John Bigley


Are you starting to dream about the feel of a cool autumn breeze? To hear the crackle of leaves beneath your feet? To smell the smoke of an evening campfire?

Imagine those autumnal pleasures and destinations like Vermont and New Hampshire come to mind...but Texas? The Lone Star State greets the changing of the seasons, though, with its own color and festivals that give a Texas-size welcome to fall. Small towns throughout the state put the finishing touches on harvest festival plans, and bed and breakfasts get ready for a peak tourism season, and hotlines are making preparations to field questions for just where to spot the best fall foliage.

And just where do you find the best fall colors? Unlike its northern neighbors, however, Texas doesn't have vast displays of color but rather pockets of autumnal glory throughout the region. "There are a lot of jewels here and there," points out Howard Rosser, executive director of the East Texas Tourism Association, an agency that promotes the area that boasts the lion's share of Texas' fall foliage.

West of Austin, the Hill Country puts on a show of color thanks to the bigtooth maples, sumacs, sycamores, chinaberries, and cottonwoods. These trees begin to blush with fall's first flush as the days start to grow shorter and the nights a little cooler. Farther west, the Guadalupe Mountains are home to the magnificent McKittrick Canyon, where walnut, ash, oak, and the Texas madrone color the landscape.

But the largest displays of fall foliage are found in East Texas, thanks to brilliant dogwoods, beech, blackgum, hickory and other hardwoods. Here you can spend a weekend camping among a cushion of pine needles, enjoying small town festivals that celebrate the changing season, and cruising the countryside to see color displays that leaf peekers have reported to area hotlines. Because Texas' displays are compact, the hotlines are especially important for locating the best foliage.

One of the longest running hotlines is operated by the East Texas Tourism Association. "We've been doing this for 30 years," says Rosser, who got the idea on a trip to New England. "We invite people in the region to call in and report on the leaves. You have to have an update to find the best color, you just can't go out driving."

But don't pick up the phone just yet. "People start wishing for cooler weather," says Rosser. "But start calling about the end of October. Usually the color peaks from around the 11th to the 18th of November."

And don't always look to the weather to guess whether the upcoing months will mean a colorful fall or not. As Rosser says, "You just can't outguess Mother Nature."


Village Creek State Park, Lumberton
Location: 10 miles north of Beaumont
Located in a town named Lumberton, it's no surprise that this park is heavily forested. This section of the Big Thicket is filled with cypress swamps as well as river birch, mayhaw, and yaupon trees.

Mission Tejas State Historical Park, Grapeland
Located: 22 miles northeast of Crockett
Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) this mission is a representation of the Mission San Francisco de los Tejas, the first Spanish mission in Texas. The park is located on the north end of the Davy Crockett National Forest and has nice hiking and nature trails to take visitors deep into the piney woods.

Martin Dies, Jr. State Park, Jasper
Perched at the edge of the Big Thicket National Preserve, this park boasts the fall beauty of beech trees which turn a golden yellow as well as the ruby red of blackgum trees. Get away from the usual four-wheeled leaf peeking with a guided canoe trip down the Angelina or Neches River. Naturalists guide the tours on the third Saturday of every month.

Martin Creek Lake State Park, Tatum
Location: southeast of Longview
Martin Creek is dotted with hardwood trees that emblazon the forest with color, especially during the first two weeks of November. The fall colors are tempered with the verdant greens of the loblolly and short-leaf pine trees.

Lake Bob Sandlin State Park, Pittsburg
Location: 12 miles southwest of Mt. Pleasant
Hickory, dogwood, redbud, oaks and maple trees provide a good fall show in this park.

Winnsboro is ground zero for leaf lovers and would be many traveler's choice if they could only make one fall excursion. Winnsboro is home of Autumn Trails, scheduled for every weekend in October. This fall festival celebrates the beautiful autumnal colors that surround Winnsboro. Travelers will find several suggested routes for spotting the best displays; other diversions include a country fair, rodeo, chili cookoff, barn dance, antique auto show, historic home tours, trade day, parade, and more.

Texas State Railroad State Historical Park, Rusk
There may be no better (or more popular) way to view the fall foliage than aboard this rolling state park. Chug through piney woods and blazing hardwood forests on this East Texas historic train. You may board in either Rusk or Palestine at one of the historic depots then take the 1 1/2 hour ride. The train stops to give travelers time for lunch and a hike then returns back down the line for another look at nature's display. The entire ride takes four hours. Be sure to get reservations for this very popular outing.

This East Texas town is one of the easiest for Austinites to reach on US 79 northeast out of Round Rock. Over 1600 historic landmarks dot this community which swells with visitors during the spring's redbud and dogwood season. In the fall, the dogwoods turn a deep red. One of the best places to view the colors is at Davey Dogwood Park where 200 acres are dotted with dogwoods as well as gentle streams.


Cleburne State Park, Cleburne
Location: southwest of Fort Worth
You can really get into the fall spirit at this North Texas park, thanks to guided hay rides during November through the fall foliage. Rangers point out the oak, elm, cottonwood, sycamore, ash, sumac, redbud and mesquite trees that flame with color.


Caprock Canyons State Park, Quitaque
Location: 100 miles southeast of Amarillo
The third Saturday of October means the annual fall foliage tour at this state park and in Quitaque. Scheduled events include tours along Caprock Canyons Trailway, an antique tractor show, flea markets, historic home tours, and more. One of the best options is the Canyon Rampling, the chance to ride in an open-air vehicle with a ranger for a guided view of the park and a look at the fall color provided by cottonwoods, hackberries, and other native trees. Call the park directly for a schedule of Canyon Ramblings.


McKittrick Canyon
Location: 100 miles east of El Paso
Think of the Guadalupe Mountains and you may picture cacti and other desert vegetation but McKittrick Canyon flames up with autumnal color thanks to bigtooth maple, walnut, ash, oak, and the Texas madrone. Several hikes offer varying degrees of difficulty but are rewarded with plenty of color, serenity, and the chance to enjoy natural beauty. Fall color here isn't accompanied by fall festivals or lines of cars, just peace and quiet and the opportunity to reflect on the changing seasons.


Lost Maples State Natural Area, Vanderpool
Location: 86 miles northwest of San Antonio
The maples, located so far from other specimens of the beautiful tree, may seem lost but there's no doubt that the park itself has been found. This state park is one of the most heavily visited sites in Texas during October and November when the bigtooth maples provide some of the best color in Texas. Weekend visits during this time can be very crowded and note that the parking here is limited to only 250 cars. The best time to visit is during mid-week when you can enjoy a walk into the park without crowds.

RR 1050
Location: Utopia to US 83
West of Utopia, RR 1050 winds its way through the Hill Country, crossing the Frio River before eventually intersecting with US 83 north of Concan. During late fall, the drive is dotted with blazing sumacs, sycamores, chinaberries, and cottonwoods.

Devil's Backbone Scenic Drive
Location: Wimberley to Blanco
This stretch of RR 32, better known as the Devil's Backbone, stretches from the intersection of RR 12 south of Wimberley all the way west to near Blanco. For over 20 miles, this drive snakes along a ridge that offers some of the best fall views of the Hill Country.

RR 337
Location: Camp Wood to Leakey
This scenic drive from Camp Wood to Leakey (pronounced LA-key) is often termed the most scenic drive in Texas and is an excellent spot for fall color. The road climbs to some of the highest elevations in the Hill Country at over 2,300 feet and roadside lookouts offer great vistas of reds, greens, and golds.


East Texas:
Hotline: 903-757-4444
Printed report: Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope (with two stamps) to East Texas Tourism Association, Box 1592, Longview, TX 75606.
Internet: www.etta.com

Texas Travel Information Center
Information: 800/452-9292

State Parks:
Texas Parks and Wildlife
Hotline: 800-792-1112, option 3 then option 1

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