hit the dirt
The 4 best autumn hikes in Central Texas
A lot of people erroneously believe that Central Texas doesn’t have much to offer in terms of a traditionally scenic autumn. While it’s true that Austin’s fall and winter temperatures could be best categorized as schizophrenic, we can still enjoy the same offerings of, say, a crisp November saunter in New England.
The following hikes represent some of my favorite in and around the Austin area. During the cooler days of autumn and winter, these sites are not only chocked full of seasonal flora but also lend a more enjoyable experience than in the summer months.
If you’ve never visited Lost Maples State Natural Area, then do yourself a favor and make the three-hour trek southwest to Vanderpool. Situated on the idyllic Sabinal River, the park boasts a unique display of Uvalde Bigtooth Maples along the popular East Trail.
Every autumn, the leaves on these trees transform from a rich green to kaleidoscopic hues of orange, red, and yellow. Huge crowds regularly flock to witness this transformation and also take in the park’s breathtaking views, rocky plateaus, and waterfalls.
Even on the Lost Maples’ busiest days, park visitors can easily escape the crowds by taking on steeper climbs to the windswept ridges surveying Can Creek and Mystic Canyons.
Up there you’ll not only find solitude, but also a seemingly “lost” stand of maples, juniper, and cacti. Before making the journey to Vanderpool, check the Lost Maples Foliage Reports, which offer bi-monthly updates on the color status of the changing leaves.
Take TX-71 West to Llano and follow signs north along Highway 16 into Colorado Bend State Park. Upon approaching the park, you’ll venture through familiar Hill Country pastorals – mesquite trees, grassy pastures, distant peaks, and winding dirt roads – that open onto quick glimpses of the Colorado River valley below.
The park is at its best after a generous autumn rainfall, which swells the Gorman Creek and subsequently feeds the picturesque 65-foot tall Gorman Falls. The waterfall can be accessed by way of the self-guided 1.5-mile Gorman Spring trail. The park’s other attractions, such as wild caves, sinkholes, and other protected portions are accessible via guided tours only.
Enchanted Rock is best known for its geological anomaly, a huge granite dome steeped in Native American mysticism and lore. The park’s most popular jaunt is the three-quarter-mile Summit Trail, which leads to the top of the dome and offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
Although the hike itself is altogether pretty short, the 800-foot climb makes it very strenuous. Even in the autumn, be sure to pack lots of water and some snacks for a quick picnic once you make it to the top.
Although Mount Bonnell is admittedly more of a tourist destination than a hike, the city-operated park certainly challenges this distinction with spectacular views of the Austin skyline and Lady Bird Lake.
Make the short 190-foot climb up a steep set of stairs and find a private lookout spot along the hill slope. These nooks are perfect for picnicking or simply taking in autumnal glow of the city from one of its highest points.