Fall camping favorites
Ride horses, hike trails, and connect with nature
By Sydni Ellis
Golden light illuminates the sky, as deep red, orange, and yellow-tinted leaves are crunched underfoot. A comforting chill fills the air, as we spot pumpkins in the grocery store and smell apple pies baking from our neighbors’ kitchens. Our boots are fastened, our plaid shirts are buttoned, and our faces are shining with the joy of autumn. This is my favorite time of year because it marks a return of jeans, warm blankets, campfires, hayrides, pumpkin patches, gathering with family, and more end-of-year comforts. But the best way to enjoy fall? Immersed in nature, surrounded by the sights of this glorious season.
Go camping with your family or friends this fall. Hike up a mountain without the intense heat of summer, or spend hours taking pictures of the fall foliage. Ride horses through storybook trails, and spend some time reflecting on the beauty of the world before the hustle and bustle of the holiday season arrives. Visit one of these four places for an enchanting getaway this season.
Connect with animals at Caprock Canyons State Park & Trailway, located in the Texas Panhandle in Quitaque. Bison roam the plains, bats hide out in the Clarity Tunnel, and fish swim in the beautiful Lake Theo. Horseback riding is offered on many trails, where you can enjoy the views on top of a majestic animal. After a day of exploring, set up for the night at one of the primitive campsites that allow horses (all horses must have a negative Coggins test). These campsites include two horse corrals, a fire ring/grill, water for horses, picnic tables, and setups for tents, trailers, and RVs.
If you don’t have your horse, no worries — other campgrounds are offered in Caprock Canyons. There are options for sites with electricity, water, restrooms, tent camping, and hike-in primitive campsites.
Get more acquainted with the colors of the season by signing up for the Canyon Walk & Talk: Colors in Nature, a free event focusing on the geology, flora, and fauna along the trails at Canyon Walk. You can also go on a Caprock Van Tour, where a ranger will guide you on a vehicle to discover more about the history and geology of the ark. Other October activities include live piano music by John Walker; Goin’ Batty, an event for kids to learn about bats; live music by Joel and Sharon Brownlee; and Caprock Campers Hall of Fall, where campers are invited to decorate their campsite for a chance to win a $50 gift card to the park store. Learn more at tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/caprock-canyons.
Lost Maples State Natural Area in Vanderpool, Texas, is known for its stunning fall foliage. When the park’s Uvalde bigtooth maples transform into enchanting hues of orange and red during autumn, it looks like something out of a painting. The gorgeous trees set against the area’s wildflowers, canyons, and Sabinal River make for amazing photo opportunities. For the best views, hike on the challenging 3.1-mile East Trail, which will lead you through bigtooth maples, bald cypresses, and sycamores along the river. As you make your way up, you’ll be greeted with pretty rock faces and scenic views that make the steep areas worth it. For an easier trail, go on the 0.4-mile Maple Trail, which showcases some of the park’s many bigtooth maples.
You can stay the night in one of 30 campsites with water and electricity, or hike to one of the primitive campsites. From there, go fishing, birdwatching, or stargazing on a clear night. Before you go, be sure to check out the park’s Fall Foliage report to double check that autumn has arrived in Lost Maples. Learn more at tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/lost-maples.
Nestled in the Sans Bois Mountains in Wilburton, Oklahoma, Robbers Cave State Park is a can’t-miss camping spot this fall. From the tops of cliffs to the lakeside, gorgeous trees covered in the colors of fall surround you like a warm hug. This is a park for adventure, where people love rappelling up the sandstone hills and cliffs, ATVing, hiking, kayaking, fishing, and riding horses in the beautiful outdoors. Other things to check out include the serene lakes: Lake Carlton, Lake Wayne Wallace, and Coon Creek. And, of course, don’t miss your chance to spot the famous outlaw cave hidden in the cliffs, which once hid Jesse James, Belle Starr, and others.
When you’re ready to rest, you can set up a tent on one of the camp facilities, or rent a room inside a lodge, cabin, lake hut, or yurt. The Belle Starr View Lodge offers amazing views of the lake and forests below, and the 26 cabins offer scenic views of the park as well. Both come with amenities to make your stay more comfortable. The yurts feature a queen bed and sofa sleeper inside the circular tent, along with a heat and air window unit, ceiling fan, mini fridge and deck overlooking the lake. The park also offers comfort stations with showers, a swimming beach, playgrounds, mini golf, a small grocery store, and a nature center, so you’ll have everything you need during your stay. travelok.com/state-parks/robbers-cave-state-park#listing-menu-tabs.
Looking to go camping and get treated to world-class amenities at the same time? Head to Mount Magazine State Park in Paris, Arkansas, home of the impressive Mount Magazine that stands at 2,753 feet. For the adventurous, Mount Magazine offers technical rock climbing and hang-gliding launch areas — what better way to soak up the amazing mountain views than soaring through the air? Or, stay grounded by hiking on one of the many trails, taking pictures at each scenic overlook, and enjoying a picnic lunch in the fresh air. Some of the upcoming October events include Amazing Spiders, where a park naturalist will help you discover wild arachnids; the guided Wayside Walk, where you can learn about the natural and historical heritage of the park; the guided Benefield Hike, a one-mile trail to see fall foliage; and Sunset Over the Valley, where you can enjoy the beautiful colors of the sky as a park interpreter points out interesting facts.
For those looking to indulge in luxury amenities during their vacation, stay at The Lodge at Mount Magazine. As the fire crackles from the huge stone fireplace, guests will feel cozy having quiet chats or curling up with a good book. This 60-room lodge offers absolutely breathtaking views of the trees down the side of the Petit Jean River Valley, all bursting with the reds, oranges, and yellows of fall. Other amenities include the Skycrest Restaurant, conference center, heated indoor swimming pool, fitness center, and a game room. A more intimate experience can be found in one of the 13 nearby cabins, which offer the same delicious views with their own private kitchens, fireplaces, and covered decks with outdoor hot tubs. Of course, regular campsites are available as well. Reserve your stay at arkansasstateparks.com/parks/mount-magazine-state-park.
Whether you prefer hiking into an exclusive campsite or relaxing in a high-end lodge, one thing remains the same: your camping experience will be filled with natural beauty, fall colors, and plenty of activities to keep you active and entertained. Going hiking in the autumn is such a unique experience —yes, even in the South! — and you don’t want to miss it!