Thousands of travelers visit San Antonio each year to see the Riverwalk, shop at major department stores and fascinating boutiques, attend sports events, fiestas, and theater performances, as well as indulge in a variety of international cuisine at some of the best restaurants in the U.S. Others want to get away from the city and the crowds of tourists to explore the vibrant colors of autumn in the Texas Hill Country. Lost Maples State Park is a popular choice, especially in October and November, for residents who welcome the end of another hot summer and a change of season, and for the many visitors who want to spend a few days in one of the loveliest areas in the state. Nature enthusiasts travel from across the U.S. to view the spectacular red, orange, and gold of the foliage in Lost Maples, the only place in the southern states where these rare bigtooth maple trees can be found.
Day One – We leave San Antonio Friday morning and take TX-16 west to Bandera and Medina, then RR 337 to Vanderpool on one of the many scenic drives through the Texas Hill Country. The air is definitely cooler as we follow the winding road through the rugged terrain marked by steep canyons and limestone cliffs and reach the higher altitude of over 2,100′. We can visit some of the other small towns in the scenic loop from Vanderpool, which is located about 5 miles from the entrance to Lost Maples. Be sure and get a map of the towns and farm roads in the surrounding area. We made reservations in advance at The Lodges located between Vanderpool and Leakey in an area called the “Swiss Alps of Texas.” Our fully equipped cottage is quite nice with a kitchenette, fireplace, central a/h, and our own private balcony. After settling in, we return to town to buy a few necessities we’ll need during our stay at Lost Maples.
There’s time this afternoon to visit The Lone Star Motorcycle Museum, which houses an interesting collection of vintage motorcycles from 1910 to the present. Hours: Fri, Sat, & Sun – 10am-5pm. Entrance fee: Adults, $6.00, Children under 15, Free. The Ace Café in the museum is a good place for a light lunch before heading back to The Lodges. Relax outdoors in the quiet of early evening and savor the aroma of mesquite from the outdoor grill while the sun sets over the Sabinal River and the Texas Hill Country.
The Lodges: Linens & outdoor BBQ grill provided. TV, but no reception, so bring your own DVD or VCR player.
Rates: $145/night, $175/night for the smaller, more intimate accommodations for couples in Solomon’s Den, ideal for honeymoons or anniversaries.
Day Two – We awake to the sounds of nature and the early morning calls of the birds, have breakfast, and we’re off to spend the day exploring the park. It might be a good idea to pack a picnic lunch and plenty of water to take along. There is a lot to see and do in the 2,000+ acres of Lost Maples Park from more than 11 miles of hiking trails and bird watching to picnicking by the lakes or beside the river. Bring your camera for some great shots of your surroundings, the amazing views, the rock formations, and the variety of plants, birds, and wildlife in the park. It’s cool, comfortable weather for hiking in the park on the well-marked trails; some are steeper than others. The East Trail is much more challenging, going up and down, but you’ll have some great views of autumn colors on the canyon walls above Monkey Rock. The Maple Trail is shorter and easier to hike with good views of the trees, lakes, and hills.
We spend most of the day in the park, so we’re ready to “kick back,” as we say in Texas and head back to our cottage before going out for a leisurely dinner in a nearby town. It’s about 15 miles from Lost Maples on Hwy 187 to Utopia, which inspired the movie “Seven Days in May” with Robert Duvall. From here it’s another 2½ miles to the Laurel Café. This delightful restaurant surrounded by oak trees and herb and vegetable gardens has a definite European appeal. The ambiance of candlelight and flowers enhances the superb gourmet cuisine featuring fresh ingredients prepared by renowned French chef Laurel Waters.
Open only on Saturdays. Prices: $39/five courses include everything but the wine, since this is a “dry” district. We bring our own. Reservations: 830-966-5444
Day Three – This morning we stop for delicious, inexpensive breakfast tacos at the Lost Maples Café on our way to another Texas historic landmark, Enchanted Rock State Park, located about two hours from Vanderpool. According to the legend of the Tonkawa Indians, mysterious sounds and lights are said to come from the Enchanted Rock. This huge dome of pink granite rises over 400′ above ground, a marvel in itself and the second largest batholith of this type in the U.S. Vegetation and weather pits of endangered plants and pools of fairy shrimp cover small areas of the surface of the rock. If you’re into rock climbing, you’ll need to check at the park headquarters for climbing guides. Hours: 8:30am-4:30pm. Entrance Fee – Adults, $7, Children under 12, Free.
We’ve spent most of the morning taking pictures, hiking on and around the Rock, and have worked up an appetite for brunch or lunch, depending on the time. The town of Tarpley is in the general area, and we stop at Mac and Ernie’s restaurant, which has been featured on the Travel Channel and in Southern Living magazine.. Excellent food and downhome atmosphere. Hours: Fri & Sat, 11am-9pm. Sun-11am-2pm. Reasonable prices. It’s a short drive back to Vanderpool and the Lodges where we’ll unwind and enjoy the evening.
Day Four – Today, we’ll go back on TX -16 and drive about 30 miles to Bandera, known as the “Cowboy Capital of the World,” for a step back in time reminiscent of the Old West. From old hitching posts downtown, trail rides, and rodeos to dude ranches and lively country music, this picturesque small town is a favorite of visitors and locals alike. There’s a lot of history in Bandera from the days of the Apache and Comanche Indians and Conquistadors, along with an interesting mix of Mexican, Polish, and Western cultures. A walk through town is the best way to check out some of the Texas landmarks from the late 1800’s including the old jail, general store, St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, and the Silver Dollar “honkytonk,” in business since 1901. Country western music is a big part of Texas and Bandera’s Cabaret dance hall has featured many famous country western stars such as Jim Reeves, Bob Wills, and Willie Nelson.
Have lunch at Busbee’s for some of the best BBQ in Texas. Hours: Wed-Mon, 10:30-8pm. Closed Tues. After lunch, spend a few hours browzing the shops and boutiques for Western wear, antiques, gifts, and Southwestern items and souvenirs.
After a busy, fun day in Bandera, we are looking forward to a quiet evening at the cottage with a cold beer and the BBQ we brought back for supper.
Day Five – We are eager to spend a few more hours in the park before loading up the car and returning to San Antonio. After lunch at the Lost Maples Café, we head back on a different route, FM187 north from Lost Maples to Texas 39 east to Kerrville and I-10. We have had an amazing road trip, bringing back the memorabilia and beautiful photos of the Texas hill country we’ll share with those at home.
Entrance Fee, Lost Maples State Park:: Adults – $6, Children under 12 – Free. Visitor Center.
Sharon L Slayton