Day Trip: Lost Maples State Natural Area
Living in Texas, it never ceases to amaze me how the terrain can change so dramatically. If you drive from the Gulf northwest, through Austin and across the Hill Country, you experience beach to marsh to flat farmland to rocky prairie to hilly land dotted with scrubs to hills bordering on small mountains.
For more photographs of Lost Maples, see our Lost Maples slideshow by clicking here.
The western edge of the Central Texas Hill Country is one of the most beautiful areas in the country, and Lost Maples State Natural Area might just be its crown jewel.
Lost Maples is located about 5 miles north of Vanderpool, a small town on the Sabinal River, about three hours southwest of Austin. The area spans about 2,000 acres across Bandera and Real counties and has been open to the public since the late 70s, a few years after it was acquired from private land owners.
About 200,000 people visit the park each year, according to the park’s website. I would venture to guess that the majority of these visitors come in the fall months, between October and November, when the Uvalde Bigtooth Maples, Red Oaks, Lacy Oaks, Sycamores and Cypress trees that grow in abundance in the park and surrounding areas change colors. In New England, these visitors would be called “leaf peepers” (make sure to drop that “r”).
The Bearded One and I made our autumnal pilgrimage, along with thousands of others, the third weekend in November, when there was still quite a bit of color left to be seen. We hiked seven miles through these beautiful trees, their leaves strewn through the dry creek beds like golden water. It was one of my favorite hikes in recent memory.
The park has about 13 miles of great hiking trails that range from wheelchair accessible to extremely difficult, but the most commonly used trail seems to be the .8-mile Lost Maples trail, which takes walkers along the Sabinal River. When we visited, we did most of the West Trail, most of the East Trail and the Lost Maples trail.
Although we overheard park rangers telling visitors that the tree spotting was best on the Lost Maples trail, that’s certainly not what we found. However, because of the long distance and high degree of difficulty of some of the other trails, perhaps rangers try to steer people toward the flat, short ones to avoid injuries and damage to the environment. Who knows … it didn’t stop one guy we saw trying to push a baby stroller up an 80-degree angled trail. The baby was crying.
In addition to the hiking, Lost Maples offers car and RV camp sites, although they’re so on top of each other that unless you’re with a family or really like being blinded by flashlights (what's with all that gear, anyway?) and listening to other people all night, I wouldn’t recommend them. Instead, the park offers dozens of hike-in sites ranging from easy-to-get-to to extremely difficult. Next time we go, we’ll be sure to go in the middle of the week and probably shoot for a night or two of camping.
My absolute favorite part of the hike was the West Trail. Although it is extremely difficult, with steep elevation changes and rocky, sliding ground, the trail is so worth the effort. For the most part, we had the trail completely to ourselves, giving us the opportunity to linger in the most beautiful places, where the dry leaves rustled in the wind and the winding creek bed kept reaching up toward the sky.
The most beautiful area of all is a part of the trail that goes through Mystic Canyon. We visited during the tail end of the Monarch butterfly migration through Central Texas and were able to see these beautiful little creatures everywhere. I felt like I was on a movie set and that surely, at any moment, we would stumble onto a meeting of fairies or elves.
About 200,000 people visit Lost Maples each year, according to the park’s website. I would venture to guess that the majority of these visitors come in the fall months, between October and November, when the Uvalde Bigtooth Maples, Red Oaks, Lacy Oaks, Sycamores and Cypress trees that grow in abundance in the park and surrounding areas change colors. Read the full story here.