Texas is notoriously hot—regularly reaching temperatures in the triple digits during summer—but autumn brings relief from the relentless heat, and the welcome cool weather summons celebrations all season long. There's plenty to do during fall in the Lone Star State, from leaf peeping in the Hill Country to attending the highly anticipated, two-month-long Texas Renaissance Festival.
Although areas throughout Texas experience the characteristic changing foliage of fall, the Lost Maples State Natural Area in Texas Hill Country has perhaps the most vivid leaf coloration of them all. The nature preserve, open to the public since 1979, comprises 2,000-plus acres on the Sabinal River and attracts more than 200,000 visitors annually. Part of Lost Maples' appeal is its year-round outdoor recreational opportunities—hiking, birding, fishing, paddle sports, and mountain climbing—however, its biggest draw is the autumnal scenery. The dramatic fall foliage is attributed to the high concentration of maple trees (hence the name) within the area. While maples can be found elsewhere in Texas, they rarely exist in such quantities as this. Prime leaf peeping here is from late October through mid-November.
Located north of Fredericksburg, also in the Texas Hill Country, is one of the largest rock formations in the U.S. Enchanted Rock—a designated National Natural Landmark since 1970—is known for its distinguishable pink granite and, more so, by its signature 425-foot dome (rising 1,825 feet above sea level). It's a year-round attraction, drawing thousands of visitors annually, but the mild climate makes fall the best time to visit this unique geographical feature. The grounds offer camping, hiking trails, interpretive exhibits, and scenic picnic spots.
The State Fair of Texas has been replaced by a modified drive-thru experience in 2020 to heed social distancing. The annual three-week extravaganza would normally feature big concerts, carnival rides, and art shows, but these things have been postponed to 2021. A few beloved fair staples, however, will go on. Fairgoers will still get a chance to devour a corn dog, turkey leg, or fried jello at the Big Tex Fair Food Drive-Thru, a first-of-its-kind culinary experience taking place on select weekends throughout September and October. The highlight event—the Red River Showdown football game between the Texas Longhorns and their rival, the Oklahoma Sooners—will also be happening on October 10 in front of a socially distanced audience. Livestock market shows are scheduled as normal and creative arts contests will take place virtually.
One of the most anticipated events of the season is the Texas Renaissance Festival, taking place over nine weekends in the fall, with each weekend featuring a different theme. Highlights of the festival include the New Market Village, a 55-acre, 16th-century English town in Todd Mission, about 50 miles northwest of Houston. Magicians, acrobats, jugglers, and dancers perform on 20 stages throughout the village. Workshops feature artisans demonstrating the arts of glassblowing, weaving, pottery making, and blacksmithing, among other Renaissance pursuits. The 2020 event will take place from October 3 to November 29, kicking off with the annual Oktoberfest weekend. Guests will need to purchase tickets in advance as none will be sold at the gate.
Big Bend National Park is a playground for the outdoor enthusiast, affording endless opportunities for hiking, camping, fishing, birding, mountain biking, rafting, kayaking, nature watching (the park is home to mountain lions, a few black bears, and numerous other species), swimming, and more. Rock and fossil hunting are also popular here, although specimens should not be removed from the park. Because it's partially located in the Chihuahuan Desert, the park gets hot. But fall's pleasant weather, offering highs between 65 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit, is a cool time to visit this vast and mountainous natural wonder.
Texas has a rich German heritage, which, in October, leads to a whole lot of beer drinking. There are several Oktoberfests that occur across the state each fall, one of the biggest taking place in Fredericksburg the first week of October. The annual celebration of libations is usually held at Marktplatz (market square) and features traditional German food, drink, and music, but in 2020, the party will be held virtually.
Addison, Texas, also hosts an Oktoberfest celebration over a long weekend in September. It is said to be an authentic re-creation of the real Oktoberfest in Munich, even featuring a dachshund parade (though that part may not be derived from the real thing). The event also includes a yodeling contest, and of course, ample beer drinking, but it has been canceled in 2020.
Having kicked off the holiday season in Houston for nearly six decades, the HEB Thanksgiving Day Parade has become as much of a tradition as roast turkey and Christmas lights to Southeast Texans. It has the floats and balloons to qualify as a mini-Macy's, including a visit from the big man in the red suit himself. Although the procession has changed names over the years, this is still the largest and longest-running Thanksgiving Day parade in Texas. The festivities kick off at 9 a.m. Thanksgiving morning—November 26, 2020—in downtown Houston.
Texas is the winter home of various bird species, many of which arrive with the year's first cool weather fronts every autumn. Each region of the state has its own unique demographic: barn and tree swallows frequent the Gulf Coast through October whereas hawks can be spotted at the Smith Point Hawk Watch till mid-November. Hummingbird migration peaks in September, so keep an eye out for these quick and elusive creatures. Because Houston is positioned on the Central Flyway, it's a hotspot for the fall migration, which often lasts through November.
Every Thursday through Sunday during fall, high school, college, and professional football games become a popular source of entertainment across the Lone Star State. The biggest weekend for Texas football occurs over Thanksgiving weekend. For some traditional pigskin action, head to one of the state's most famous football stadiums: Catch the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium, Texas A&M at Kyle Field in College Station, or the University of Texas Longhorns at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin. Keep in mind that in 2020, many stadiums will be open with reduced capacity and have employed individual health and safety measures.
Taste a Bowl of Texas Chili
The annual Terlingua International Championship Chili Cookoff is held every November at Rancho CASI de los Chisos near the small town of Terlingua. It's one of the most prestigious chili cook-offs in the country, dishing up ribs, brisket, beans, black-eyed peas, and, of course, chili to its hungry attendees. What's more, the event raises approximately $1 million annually for various charities. However, the 2020 event has been canceled.