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Where to find the best leaf peeping in Texas

Trees in their autumn glory line the banks of the Frio River. | Photo by Hundley Photography/stock.adobe.com Trees in their autumn glory line the banks of the Frio River. | Photo by Hundley Photography/stock.adobe.com

If you’re looking to go leaf peeping in Texas, Uvalde and Bandera counties are the places to see the red, orange, and golden hues that arrive in October and early November.

Nature’s dramatic color parade comes alive in Lost Maples State Natural Area near Vanderpool, straddling Bandera and Real counties. Ushered by cold fronts that usually arrive in late October, a stand of Uvalde bigtooth maple trees pops with color, drawing tens of thousands of visitors each fall. (The trees’ ancestors survived the Ice Age thanks to the shelter of the Sabinal Canyon.) Note: Day-use reservations are strongly recommended; read on for more details.

But there’s even more to see and do in the breathtaking Hill Country River Region, located about two hours west of San Antonio.

Where to stay

Garner State Park in Uvalde County is one of the best leaf-peeping spots in Texas. | Photo by Paul Tipton/stock.adobe.com

Garner State Park in Uvalde County is one of the best leaf-peeping spots in Texas. | Photo by Paul Tipton/stock.adobe.com

Many Texans love to camp in the fall, snagging reservations at Lost Maples or Garner State Park in neighboring Uvalde County. Note that campsites can fill quickly up to five months in advance, especially during fall folliage season.

Check into the Hippies and Cowboys tiny home, one of six lodging options at The Inn Between. | Photo courtesy Visit Uvalde County

Check into the Hippies and Cowboys tiny home, one of six lodging options at The Inn Between. | Photo courtesy Visit Uvalde County

For alternative overnight options, check out funky accommodations like The Inn Between (theinnbetweentx.com), an eclectic collection of cottages and tiny homes about 3.6 miles from the Frio River.

Or get up close and personal with the leaves at Treehouse Utopia (treehouseutopia.com), where guests can sleep in treehouses (kids under 18 aren’t allowed).

If you’re with young ones, check out Rimkus River Retreat (rimkusriverretreat.com), which offers four different lodging options, including an old red caboose retrofitted as a sleeper car with a bunk bed, queen-size bed, bathroom, and kitchenette.

Or check out Neal’s Lodges (nealslodges.com) on the Frio River, which offers river tubing and, during the summer, has a giant waterslide that drops riders into the river.

What to see and do

Float down the river in an inner tube or kayak at the Frio River at Garner State Park. | Photo courtesy Visit Uvalde County

Float down the river in an inner tube or kayak at the Frio River at Garner State Park. | Photo courtesy Visit Uvalde County

A hike through one of the state parks and natural areas is a glorious way to spend a fall day. Dip your toes in the refreshing Frio River at Garner State Park or challenge yourself to a steep hike from the valley floor at Lost Maples State Natural Area to a 2,200-foot summit for spectacular views. On a warm day, kayaking and tubing on the Nueces or Frio rivers is sublime.

Old Baldy provides spectacular views of Garner State Park. | Photo courtesy Visit Uvalde County/Chase A.. Fountain

Old Baldy provides spectacular views of Garner State Park. | Photo courtesy Visit Uvalde County/Chase A.. Fountain

To visit either Lost Maples or Garner state parks, make your Save the Day entrance-permit reservation as soon as possible on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website. Day-pass reservations can be made up to 30 days in advance, and weekends and holidays fill up more quickly than weekday visits, so plan your stay accordingly. If you’re trying to time your visit to coincide with peak fall color, you’ll want to keep an eye on the fall-foliage reports, which are updated weekly by park staff.

Neal’s hosts a slate of live music and other events throughout the year, and will offer haunted hayrides in October. Book your tickets on their website.

After being canceled due to COVID-19 in 2020, the Fall Festival on the Frio, hosted by Andy’s on River Road, is scheduled to return this year on November 13, with food and crafts vendors, live music, and a pumpkin patch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Quaint shops and boutiques line downtown Bandera, also known as the Cowboy Capital of the World. | Photo by David A Eastley / Alamy Stock Photo

Quaint shops and boutiques line downtown Bandera, also known as the Cowboy Capital of the World. | Photo by David A Eastley / Alamy Stock Photo

Downtown Bandera is within about an hour’s drive of the state parks. Known as the Cowboy Capital of the World, Bandera is home to several dude and guest ranches where you can stay overnight and go trail riding. The city’s downtown has a variety of boutiques offering Western wear, jewelry, and souvenirs.

Where to eat

Enjoy pizza and a refreshing glass of beer at the Hippies, Gypsies and Hops in Concan. | Photo courtesy Visit Uvalde County

Enjoy pizza and a refreshing glass of beer at the Hippies, Gypsies and Hops in Concan. | Photo courtesy Visit Uvalde County

A Frio riverside collection of super-casual restaurants, Hippie Chic’s River Shack recently expanded with an additional sister restaurant called Hippies, Gypsies and Hops, serving wood-fired pizzas, beer, and cocktails.

Aviation fans should head to Garner Field Airport to watch planes take off and land while enjoying a hamburger with pilots over at Hanger 6 Air Café. Feeling a bit fancy?

Make reservations for The Laurel Tree, where you can enjoy an intimate, French-inspired fixed-price lunch or dinner for up to six people (Saturdays only by reservation) in a private treehouse dining room nestled in a 450-year-old oak tree.

Cynthia J. Drake is a freelance travel writer based in Austin who writes for Texas Monthly and Texas Highways.

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AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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