Red and orange leaves set the normal vegetation ablaze. The vibrant hues of the maples cannot be seen anywhere in the southern United States but here. These “lost maples” attract nature enthusiasts from around the world to hike the trails crisscrossing the Texas Hill Country. Lost Maples State Natural Area is home to rare maple trees usually only found in the northern United States and Canada.
“The park is gorgeous,” UT biology alumnus Lane Smith said. “Definitely one of the prettiest in this area of Texas. We went in October, right as the maple leaves were starting to change their colors to brilliant hues of orange and red. We took trails on the perimeter of the park, but some of the best trails are right at the beginning.”
These serene 2,174.2 acres offer an escape from city life. Visitors can expect to see some distinct Texas wildlife like the species of endangered birds, the golden-cheek warbler and the black-capped vireo, who call the park home. Fishing is allowed in the numerous ponds, and primitive camping sites can be found throughout the park.
Though the park is three hours from the Austin, travelers can stop in distinctly Texas towns like Fredericksburg and Bandera along the way. Lost Maples is also only 30 minutes from Garner State Park and the Frio River. Garner draws on the best of Texas culture and history with Saturday night summer dances to the tubing the Frio River.
“Lost Maples is a great showcase of Texas geography and flora,” Smith said. “As far as culture, the trip to Lost Maples is full of it.”
Walking into the visitor center at Lost Maples, a single room filled with hiking memorabilia, the small-town feel is overwhelming. The rangers make small talk about the local rodeo, and visitors ask questions about the best swimming holes. During the slower parts of the year, the trails are largely unoccupied, and the park offers a serene retreat for locals. But come October, the maples begin to change.
Jennifer Manis, Lost Maples assistant office manager, said in the fall visitors must book a year in advance, a month in advance during spring and only a week in advance during the off-season. According to Manis, at the end of October and beginning of November, nearly 1,500 guests visit the park daily, but UT RecSports Adventure Trips offer students the chance to visit Lost Maples when the park is at capacity.
Smith first discovered the park on a trip organized by UT RecSports. Each fall, the RecSports Adventure Trips program braves the swarms of tourists and treks to Lost Maples to see the trees. These trips offer students an affordable opportunity to explore Texas.
Because of Austin’s proximity to parks like Lost Maples, these excursions stay inexpensive. Next fall, RecSports plans to offer Guide School Outdoor Leadership and Training Program for students hoping to become trip guides.
“Well, honestly, our geography has everything to do with the trips we offer,” Chris Burnett, senior assistant director of RecSports outdoor recreation and community outreach, said. “Travel expenses are the most expensive cost for a trip, so the majority of our day and weekend trips are between one to five hour drive, with some of our extended trips in Big Bend and Grand Canyon taking one to two days to drive.”
While Lost Maples may be too far for an overnight getaway, it provides enough trails and sights for a weekend in the country. Whether traveling with the RecSports Program or venturing out alone, the park’s proximity to Hill Country havens allows visitors to make the most of a long trip.