Fall foliage in McKittrick Canyon at Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

Fall color in McKittrick Canyon at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Photo by Richard Reynolds.

Tired of being cooped up in the house and looking for a safe diversion during these pandemic times? The fall foliage season is upon us, providing colorful scenery in every region of Texas. Depending on where you travel, the peak months range from October through December and even into January.

According to Jason Singhurst, botanist and plant ecologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, far West Texas has large colonies of rosy-purple flower spikes of bull grass, also known as El Toro, that can be found along the mountain slope grasslands at Davis Mountain State Park, on the slopes of Chisos Mountains at Big Bend National Park, and in the Guadalupe Mountain National Park. The latter park’s website notes fall color is coming slightly earlier this year because of cold weather in September. Carpooling is urged because of limited parking at the popular McKittrick Canyon.

“Hiking in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park and especially up McKittrick Canyon trail is a great way to take in all of red and orange tones of bigtooth maple, yellow to rich bronze chinquapin oak,” says Singhurst in an email. “Keep an eye out for the bright orange red madrone berries among the maple and oaks.”

Palo Duro Canyon in the Panhandle is a premium spot to enjoy the bright yellow leaves of the giant Eastern cottonwoods that line the Prairie Dog Fork of the Red River, adds Singhurst.

The Cross Timbers region just west of Fort Worth boasts ancient post oak and blackjack oak forests with leaves whose colors range from orange to golden brown. Cross timber forests can be enjoyed at Mineral Wells State Park.

Fall color at Lost Maples State Natural Area. Photo by Kevin B. Stillman.

Driving through the Hill Country is a great way to observe the deep red and orange leaves of the bigtooth maple and Lacey oak trees, especially at Lost Maples State Natural Area in Vanderpool, about 95 miles northwest of San Antonio. The park’s website notes all of the weekends for day visits and camping in October are sold out. The park is open weekdays, but visitors are urged to obtain reservations, since both day use entrance and camping reservations are going fast.

East Texas provides plenty of opportunities for fall foliage lovers, with its heavily wooded areas. State parks in Daingerfield, Atlanta, and Caddo Lake are filled with red maple, sugar maple and sweetgum trees all providing a dizzying array of colors, generally beginning the latter part of October. An added treat can be found at the Ruby Mize Azalea Garden, just south of Stephen F. Austin State University’s campus in Nacogdoches. More than 230 specimens of Japanese maples are planted throughout the 11-acre site. David Creech, director of SFA Gardens, notes the best time to see the Japanese maples in fall color is the end of November and early December. There is no admission charge, and reservations are not required.

Finally, fall foliage in the Lower Rio Grande Valley usually doesn’t arrive until December and goes into January. Singhurst recommends the trails along old Rio Grade delta river channels, at Resaca De La Palma State Park, Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, and the Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary as great places to observe the golden-yellow fall color of cedar elm and sugarberry, and the yellowish to orange-red color of anacua.

Reservations are highly recommended at all state parks. They can be made at tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks.

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