The Natural World on Display at Lost Maples

We have been blessed with a wealth of beautiful scenery in the Hill Country. But during autumn, Lost Maples State Natural Area wears the crown. Her reign begins soon after the first cold fronts sweep down from Canada and the hillsides begin to change from vibrant green to rich shades of orange, gold and scarlet.

More than 50,000 visitors stream into this area to wander among the leaves and take in the view. There are lots of things to do, and you can choose to “rough it” in the outdoors or get cozy in one of the charming nearby bed and breakfasts. A few days spent among the maples can refresh those made weary by a long, hot summer, and get you in the right frame of mind for the winter holidays.

A Magnificent Sight at Lost Maples

Central Texans love to get outside and go. We run, golf, row, workout and play every kind of sport. But, every once in a while, it’s good to take some time to just stop and look around, taking in the wonder of our landscape.

There are few better places to get lost in the beauty of nature than Lost Maples State Natural Area. Each autumn, the natural limestone canyons are laced with brilliant reds, oranges and golds as the “lost maples” lose the chlorophyll in their leaves and the rich colors emerge. This is a sight more commonly associated with the hills of New England, prompting Texans to wonder if these trees were somehow unable to find their way home. But they’re not really “lost” — these trees came to this area during the last ice age, when colder temperatures allowed groves of bigtooth maple to become established. As the climate warmed, only those areas protected by the cool, shady canyon walls were hospitable enough for this species.

These beautiful, colorful maples bring more than 50,000 folks to the park during just a few weeks in autumn. For photographers, this is a prime opportunity for creating frame-worthy landscapes or just taking snapshots of the kids against a vibrant background. Eleven miles of trails lead hikers from overlook to overlook, each with a different, awe-inspiring view. This is also a great place to backpack and camp, so those who want to revel in their surroundings can make a weekend of it. But be sure to call ahead, as the 30 campsites can be reserved months in advance.

After taking in the big picture, look closer — you may find that there’s much more to Lost Maples just beneath the panorama. Bird watchers find this area to be a slice of feathered paradise, with more than 200 species residing in or migrating through the park. Two of them, the black-capped vireo and golden-cheeked warbler, are endangered, and they’re warmly welcomed when they arrive to nest here each spring. The avian visitors add their own splashes of color to the landscape. You may see green kingfishers, lazuli, indigo and painted buntings, black-crested titmouse, ruby-throated and black-chinned hummingbirds, clay-colored and white-crowned sparrows, and blue grosbeak. A number of mammals make their home here too: bobcats, grey foxes, white-tailed deer and javelina. And there are plenty of native plants adding their own touches to the picture, including a variety of oaks, basswood, pecan, black willow, green ash and sycamore. Peer beneath the surface of the water and you’ll spy Guadalupe bass, rainbow trout and sunfish.

So take a day, or a weekend, to visit Lost Maples. There are few better places in Central Texas to see Lady Nature display her finest.

Nature’s Paradise is Just a Few Miles from Utopia

Just 17 miles from Lost Maples is a little place called Utopia. Though not quite the idealized land dreamed of by Thomas More, it’s still a great place to spend an afternoon or a weekend.

  • Main Street Utopia is a French antique shop where you might just find that special piece you’ve been keeping an eye out for.
  • Stop by Heaven’s Landing or Utopia Souvenirs for gifts or flowers, or just sit a spell and grab an ice cream.
  • The place to eat is the Lost Maples Cafe, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You know it’s good — it was used as a movie set!
  • That movie was Seven Days in Utopia, a film version of the book Golf's Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia. If you want to play a round on this inspirational course, stop by Utopia Golf and see why Dr. David Cook felt compelled to write a book about it.
  • The Hill Country Nature Center is a great place to start your trip to Lost Maples — they can teach you everything you want to know about all the flying, crawling and swimming critters that make Utopia their home.
  • If you decide to rent a cabin or pitch a tent in the area, you may want to stop by the Utopia General Store to pick up plenty of supplies.
  • There’s plenty of good hunting in this area. You can get your gun serviced or pick up a new one at the Utopia Plating and Gun Works, then head on out to the Bug Scuffle Ranch or go for the big game at Little Creek Exotics.
  • If you’ve got a taste for the open road, stop by the Lone Star Motorcycle Museum in Vanderpool, just a few miles away. This one-of-a-kind museum houses a century’s worth of cycles, and is a must-see for folks who are wild about their hogs.
  • One of the most interesting natural wonders occurs each night when 10 to 12 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge to feed. The bats migrate south for the winter, but if you happen to be in the area from March through September, stop by Frio Bat Flight in Utopia for a guided tour of this awesome spectacle.