While the landscape along US-83 is pleasant, the scenery is much more rugged and beautiful if you detour to the east, into the heart of the Texas Hill Country. East of Leakey via Hwy-337 and then Hwy-187, there’s a wonderful drive to Lost Maples State Natural Area, where miles of hiking trails take you away from the road into deep canyons carved by the Sabinal River. The “lost maples” of the name refers to a grove of big-leaf maples, which in October provide a taste of New England’s famous fall color. The rest of the year, Lost Maples is a real oasis: Texas laurels and wildflowers offer spring blooms, while juniper scent and birdsong fill the air. For the best overview, take the East Trail, a 4.6-mile loop that starts at the maple grove and climbs swiftly over a plateau before dropping down to a pond at the foot of limestone cliffs. The pond is home to snakes and black leeches, so it’s not for swimming. Camping (800/792-1112, starting at $10) is available, and a couple of nearby ranches offer characterful accommodations, like the Foxfire Cabins (830/966-2200, $130 and up, with off-season deals).
South of Lost Maples, 15 miles east of Rio Frio via Hwy-1050, the Sabinal River town of Utopia represents a legacy left by frontier circuit preachers who found this spot a heavenly place to hold camp meetings and save souls. “A Paradise—Let’s Keep it Nice,” a sign says. The Sabinal Canyon Museum (830/966-2100, Sat. 10am-4pm, Sun. 1pm-4pm) on Main Street displays local arts and crafts, including antique handmade quilts, historic photos, farm implements, arrowheads, spurs, and other artifacts that outline Bandera County history. Across from the museum, Utopia’s best place to eat is the Lost Maples Café (830/966-2221).