Best places to spot changing leaves and fall foliage in and around Austin this autumn
Autumn equinox has come and gone, the weather is getting slightly more tolerable, and pumpkin spice lattes are back on the menu at Starbucks: It's officially fall. Texas may not be the first state that comes to mind when you picture an idyllic fall landscape, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be. We have five recommendations for the best spots to see the reds, oranges and yellows of autumn foliage in and around Austin.
Lost Maples State Natural Park
Every autumn, tourists flock to parts of New England, the Midwest and Canada to observe and photograph green summer leaves transformed into crisp, warm-colored fall ones. It’s a beloved activity called leaf peeping. But we’ll let you in on a secret: You don’t have to trek all that way to spot some proper fall foliage. Just three hours west of Austin, you can find orange leaves that give Boston a run for its money. Lost Maples State Natural Park is named for the thickets of Uvalde bigtooth maples that fill it, which are complemented by the reddish hues of walnut, sycamore and oak trees. The park is such a popular spot for foliage spying that their website publishes a fall foliage color report every fall, which you can check to ensure you’re heading there when the colors are bright. That usually starts in October, and you can get tickets in advance online at $6 per adult.
Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve
Looking for something a bit closer? Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve, managed by Travis County and St. Edward’s University, is the site of much of the university's field research. At the right time of year, it's also the site of a forest full of orange, red and brown hues. Wild Basin is located right off of Loop 360, making it one of the most accessible spots in Austin to spot some fall foliage. The best way to immerse yourself in the fall foliage is to traverse the preserve's 2.5 mile hike, which is free and open to the public — just make sure to make a reservation on weekends and holidays. Keep an eye out for golden-cheeked warblers, an endangered bird species that inhabits the preserve. Their yellow feathers pair great with the orange leaves.
Dinosaur Valley State Park
Nothing says fall like… dinosaurs? Drive three hours north of Austin and you’ll get to Dinosaur Valley State Park, where if you keep your eyes peeled, you may spot dinosaur tracks in the bed of the Paluxy River. If you head there this fall, you’re guaranteed to spot gorgeous red, orange and yellow leaves from oak, elm and sycamore trees. Dinosaur Valley is a popular spot for hiking, with over 20 miles of trails, as well as mountain biking, swimming, fishing and paddling. There’s also guided tours on horseback, and if you have your own equestrian friend, you can BYOH. Park entrance costs $7 per adult.
Garner State Park
If you like your foliage with a side of scenic overlooks, check out Garner State Park. Located about three hours west of Austin and 40 minutes south of Lost Maples, the changing leaves of oak, mesquite, cypress and persimmon trees at Garner are just one of the park’s many attractions. It also draws swimmers, paddle-boarders, bikers and campers. You’ll get the best view of the fall landscape by traversing along one of Garner’s trails, which total about 16 miles. A scenic overlook awaits and promises a view of the fall leaves and Frio River that won’t disappoint. Entrance to the park costs $8 per adult, but you may want to consider pitching a tent and spending the night, with campsite reservations going for around $20. It’ll give you that much more time to swoon over the colorful leaves.
McKinney Falls State Park
You don’t have to travel too far to see fall foliage in a state park in Austin. You don’t even have to leave the city limits. McKinney Falls State Park, the only state park in Austin, is a wonderful place to catch a glimpse of fall reds, oranges and yellows, delivered courtesy of bald cypress trees. Make sure to visit “Old Baldy,” a 103-foot-tall tree that’s one of the oldest bald cypress trees on public land in Texas, estimated to be more than 500 years old. You can find plenty of hiking in McKinney, some of which winds around Onion Creek, and you can reserve a campsite if you’re looking to make a weekend out of it. Entrance to the park costs $6 per adult.