Where it is: 1 mile east of Bastrop
What you’ll do: Hike through a pine forest
Where you’ll sleep: In a charming historic cabin
What you’ll learn: Pine trees can live more than three hundred years
If there has ever been an enchanted forest in Texas, the Lost Pines Forest would be it. For proof you need only drive up to the scenic overlook in Bastrop State Park and look west over thirteen miles of magical and ancient woods, where some of the oldest trees are almost twice the age of our state.
Certainly the place casts an irresistible spell on hikers. The sandy terrain, already soft underfoot, gets extra cushioning from a thick layer of pine needles. The woods are shady, and sunlight sparkles through the treetops high above. Occasional short, steep banks break up the dunes’ swooping profile, but there are no long climbs to dread. Look for the small ponds that are home to the Houston toad, though since the rules forbid kissing the wildlife, I can’t say if these rare creatures are actually princes. One of the state’s most beautiful walks, the Lost Pines Trail, starts at the overlook and makes a 6.8-mile loop through the forest, but if that’s too much hiking for you, head out along the Scenic Overlook Trail toward the lake and the campsites, just over a mile away.
In fact, you don’t even have to set foot on the ground to enjoy this forest. Buescher State Park, Bastrop’s smaller neighbor, lies at the eastern end of the Lost Pines, and one of these parks’ chief pleasures is the trip along the connecting road. Despite some steep hills, I enjoyed cycling through the forest in the early morning while pine warblers darted from tree to tree. At Buescher, I sat by the lake and watched plovers squabble and red-winged blackbirds wheel across the sky as the sun woke up the water, before heading back to camp for what felt like a well-deserved breakfast.
The Civilian Conservation Corps, which built these parks in the thirties, sprinkled folksy structures everywhere—little shelters and water fountains—that look as though they might spout gold coins if only you say the magic words. The wood-and-stone cabins in the Pioneer Village share the same arcadian appearance, and although it is wonderful to sleep in a tent under the pines, for the genuine historic experience you should reserve one of these rustic bungalows. With AC, heating, and a kitchen, they are perfect for a weekend in the woodlands.
TRIP TO TOWN: I intended to drive into Bastrop to find sustenance, but I didn’t even have to go that far, as the Roadhouse, whose Jalapeño Cream Cheese Burger TEXAS MONTHLY named as one of the best in the state in August 2009, is opposite the Bastrop park’s entrance (2804 Texas Hwy. 21 E., roadhousebastrop.com).