Take a drive through a surprising Hill Country display of brilliant fall color.
Text and photography by Kyle Wood
Imagine yourself on a winding Hill Country road with serene rivers and panoramic limestone canyons dotted with brilliantly colored juniper, oak, maple and cypress trees. Sound too good to be true? Think again. During October, November and often part of December, a Central Texas Hill Country circle drive comes alive with splashes of color during one of Mother Nature’s grandest moments of pure showing off.
The loop drive runs from Medina to Leakey on Ranch Road 337, from Bandera to Utopia on Ranch Road 470 and from Utopia to Garner State Park on Ranch Road 1050. Connecting these two drives are U.S. Highway 83 to the west and State Highway 16 to the east. Without a doubt, it’s the Medina-to-Leakey and Bandera-to-Utopia drives that showcase the most scenic landscape and color. Along these sometimes-steep winding roads, red and yellow splashes of color brighten the slopes and canyons, adding a spectacular display of foliage. Ranches, both big and small, can also be found along parts of this loop drive, where wildlife roam the land shadowed by picturesque limestone cliffs and gently rolling hills, casting their own unique brand of magnificence.
Also, tucked away along our route are two Texas state parks that, in good years, can offer viewers some blazing color during the fall months. Lost Maples State Natural Area, located just north of Vanderpool on Ranch Road 187, usually shines brilliantly from mid-October through mid-November. The park can get very crowded this time of year, especially on weekends. Garner State Park is located right on our route, on Ranch Road 1050 between Utopia and U. S. Highway 83. This classic state park features facilities built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s, and it can also be quite colorful in the fall months.
By late December, Mother Nature’s show is over and winter’s cool winds begin to sweep away the once-flashy brilliance of color, leaving only the trees exposed skeletal forms. So next time you are heading to Lost Maples or just decide you need a weekend trip this fall, check out this short Hill Country drive and enjoy some of Texas’ prettiest landscapes.