Lost Maples State Natural Area

By: Roy E. Heideman

Type: General Entry

Published: February 1, 1995

Lost Maples State Natural Area is located in the Hill Country approximately five miles north of Vanderpool on Ranch Road 187. The park's 2,208 acres lie in the northwestern corner of Bandera County and along the eastern edge of adjacent Real County. The park contains relict stands of bigtooth maple trees and was purchased from private landowners by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1973 and 1974 in order to preserve its unique biological and scenic resources. When purchased, it was designated a state natural area, and in 1980 the Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service made it a national natural landmark. The park, which is located along the steep, rugged upper portion of the Sabinal River watershed, is surrounded by high canyon walls that have made it a natural refuge for plants and animals for thousands of years. The most spectacular and popular scenic attraction is the autumn color of its isolated population of bigtooth maples (Acer grandidentatum). This vivid display of fall colors has drawn visitors from around the state for many years. Long before the area became a park, sightseers would crowd the narrow gravel road that wound its way along the Sabinal River Canyon to view the fall colors. This color change usually occurs in October and November. The brilliance varies each year, depending upon the weather. The park is a botanical refuge not only for the maples, but also for many other rare or threatened plant species of the Edwards Plateau. More than 350 plant species have been recorded. Species of rare birds such as the golden-cheeked warbler, black-capped vireo, and green kingfisher frequent the park, and diverse mammals are plentiful.

The area was inhabited in prehistoric times. The historic record, which began with Spanish exploration in the late seventeenth century, reveals a variety of Indian groups-Apache, Lipan Apache, and Comanche-that ranged over the land and sporadically attacked settlers until the late nineteenth century. Ranching, the mainstay of the local economy, is now supplemented by tourism and other industries. Lost Maples has been developed only enough to protect its resources and allow visitors access. It has a day-use area, twenty picnic sites, parking, and restrooms. Besides one camping area with thirty sites and a restroom with showers, the park has eight primitive camping areas accessible only by backpacking. Visitors can enjoy nature study, birdwatching, camping, picnicking, and hiking along 10½ miles of trails. Approximately 100,000 people visit the park each year.

The small town of Utopia is located on the Sabinal River fifteen miles to the south. Leakey, on the Frio River twenty miles to the west, is a popular tourist area, as is Bandera, forty miles to the east. The nearest large city is San Antonio, eighty miles to the southeast.

David H. Riskind, "Park's Sheltered Canyons Home to Bigtooth Maple," Texas Parks and Wildlife, October 1979. Gene D. Van Meter and Roy E. Heideman, "Lost Maples," Texas Parks and Wildlife, October 1979.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Roy E. Heideman, “Lost Maples State Natural Area,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 16, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/lost-maples-state-natural-area.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1995