Texas isn’t exactly known for having seasons (unless you count summer and not-summer), but the fall colors can be spectacular if your family knows where to go. Start with Texas State Parks, which are typically safe, well-maintained and always free for kids 12 and younger to enter.
And thanks to the pandemic, 2020 has been a high-volume year for camping, so if you want to camp, don’t wait to make reservations.
When to go: When fall foliage peaks every year depends on temperatures and rainfall, but you can expect the leaves to start changing in mid-to-late October and peak in early to mid-November.
Where to go: Most parks in the Hill Country and the Pineywoods are good in the fall, but here are six of our favorite Texas State Parks for seeing fall colors.
Where: 5–6 hours southwest of DFW
What to know: When it comes to natural beauty in Texas, Garner is high on the list. Unfortunately, that means campsites fill up months in advance, even in a non-pandemic year. If you can’t find any spots this year, make plans to snag a site by the Frio River next fall (or look for lodging outside the park in Concan or Uvalde).
There’s more than one way to goggle at the scenery—families will still be on the water in tubes and kayaks if the weather’s nice and the water’s high enough. Though kayak rentals continue inside the park, tube rentals are on pause (but you can bring your own); nearby outfitters like Happy Hollow and Andy’s on River Road are still offering tubes, kayaks and shuttle rides.
On land, there are miles and miles of trails, including the flat Blinn River Trail that’s good for young kids, and the steep Old Baldy Trail, best for big kids who are up for a challenge—and totally worth it for the spectacular views at the top.
Where: 5.5 hours southwest of DFW
What to know: Check the fall foliage reports to get a better idea of when to book your trip to Lost Maples. As the name suggests, the bigtooth maples are the star performers every autumn, along with oaks, sycamores and cypress. The short Maple Trail provides kid-friendly access to the trees in question, or take on part of the East Trail for even more views of the fall foliage along the Sabinal River.
Like nearby Garner State Park, Lost Maples is a popular spot in the fall, so you may need to look for a vacation rental nearby and reserve day use passes for the park online.
Where: 3.5–4 hours southwest of DFW
What to know: With the right amount of rain, Pedernales Falls becomes an autumnal paradise for hikers and kayakers. The half-mile Twin Falls Nature Trail is easy for kids and leads to a tree-shaded natural spring, while the Pedernales Falls trail system offers vistas of the park’s namesake feature and the surrounding fall foliage.
Campsites are filling up, but you can also stay in Austin or one of the nearby Hill Country enclaves (like Wimberley or Dripping Springs) and book day use passes for the park.
Where: 2 hours east of DFW
What to know: This large park is usually bustling with families soaking in the lake views, hiking miles of trails and camping under the tall pines. Hike the easy Lakeshore Trail to see changing sweetgums, oaks and hickories; on crisp fall mornings, their leaves are reflected in the lake. (You can get a different view from the water by renting a canoe, kayak or paddleboat from the park store.) The Whispering Pines Trail, which leads to a hidden pool, is also good for a colorful walk in the woods, while the Blackjack Trail offers a tour of autumn foliage on the prairie. If campsites are full, there are plenty of places to stay in Tyler.
Where: 2.5 hours northeast of DFW
What to know: For a brief camping trip, Daingerfield is ideal. The small park in the middle of the East Texas Pineywoods has a no-wake lake for boating, fishing and swimming. (Boat rentals are on hold due to COVID, but you can bring your own.)
There are two hiking trails: an easy one around the lake that’s good for adventurers of all ages, and a more challenging trail that climbs in elevation. Both give you views of the stunning autumn leaves reflected in the water—even among all the pines, there are plenty of deciduous trees strutting their stuff.
Where: 2.5–3 hours east of DFW
What to know: The state park is actually located on a swampy offshoot of Caddo Lake, and the bayou’s signature bald cypress trees turn fiery orange in the fall—get the best views at the Saw Mill Pond fishing pier (bring your tacklebox). On the Caddo Forest Trail, you’ll find deciduous trees changing color too.
While canoe rentals have been halted due to COVID, you can BYOB or rent from a private company operating on the main lake, where you’ll find more of those coppery cypress trees. If campsites have filled, consider booking a room in Jefferson, a quaint, pre-Civil War town full of historical architecture.
Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.