Helen Thompson visits Winnsboro and McKittrick Canyon.
Winnsboro Autumn Trail
You’ll have to go pretty far east or west in Texas to get brilliant fall foliage, but that’s nothing when the next-closest venue involves a trip to Maine or Vermont. Two areas in Texas are famous for fall color (three, if you count Lost Maples State Park near Vanderpool—which we aren’t since it is a small area and so heavily visited by the tour-bus crowd during October and November that viewing, not to mention parking, can be a trying experience). The other locations are more remote and big enough to offer a choice of routes for sightseeing: McKittrick Canyon in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park and the area around Winnsboro in East Texas.
In Winnsboro, the entire month of October and the first two weekends in November have been devoted to the celebration of autumn (more on that later). This year Texas has been beset by drought, but recent rains may have insured that there will be colorful foliage. It’s never predictable—last year, when there was rain, fall made a poor showing in East Texas. Our best advice is to call a week or so ahead (McKittrick Canyon—915-828-3251; Winnsboro Chamber of Commerce—903-342-3666).
Winnsboro’s lush scenery owes its splendor to the fact that there is a wide variety of deciduous trees in the area, all of which change colors at varying rates and intensities. Add to that the rich green backdrop of conifers, cypress, and ash and the effect can be breathtaking. First to change are the brilliant red sumacs, followed by creepers, muscadine, and poison ivy. Sweet gum, oak, maples, and elms add tawny gold, rust, and bright yellow to the palette.
Events in Winnsboro reflect nature’s enthusiasm during this period.
There are three tours recommended by the Autumn Trails Tour—one to the southeast, one to the south, and one to the northeast. Each are about 30 miles and takes about two hours.
McKittrick Canyon Trail
Since McKittrick Canyon is a hundred miles east of El Paso and two hundred miles due west of Midland, you could say it’s in the middle of nowhere. So, as far as viewing fall foliage you’re pretty much on your own out here. But it’s a great place to be on your own—Guadalupe Peak is here (Texas’ tallest and the tallest of any mountain east of here, too) and just south of it is El Capitan, the state’s most famous natural landmark. Carlsbad Caverns are 40 miles up the road. There are also a canyon and 80 miles of trails that wind to hidden thickets, forests and woodlands. What isn’t here are gas stations, motels, restaurants, concessionaires, and tour buses.
The most popular hike in the park is the trail into McKittrick Canyon—a 7-mile roundtrip past lavishly brilliant stands of autumn foliage: big-tooth maple, several varieties of oak, walnut, and ash, and the Texas madrone (which grows only in the Trans-Pecos and the Edwards Plateau). You’ll also find a picnic area near a cool, wet limestone overhang.
McKittrick Ridge switchback is another option for viewing the fall spectacle. You’ll hike past a shady fern-choked seep before you arrive at a stand of maples about four hundred feet above the canyon floor.
Maples, madrones, oaks, and ashes at the end of the Smith Spring hike are a colorful reward. The 2.3-mile trail courses through the foothills from the Frijole Ranch parking area and ends at a babbling brook.
Of course, the biggest and most irresistible challenge is the trek up Guadalupe Peak, a strenuous hike ever upward that will take all day. It’s a 9.3-mile roundtrip, an almost 3000-foot vertical climb with a stunning panorama that just gets more dramatic the higher you go. The view stretches all the way to New Mexico.
Other hikes to take are the Bowl, Devils Hall, the Tejas Trail (north and south), and Indian Meadows Nature Trail.
Lost Maples State Natural Area.