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Smelling the “Lost Pines” at Bastrop State Park

As part of our journey to visit eight local state parks, we recently spent a morning east of Austin, in Bastrop’s loblolly pine forest.

A closeup of loblolly pine trees, with blue sky in the background.

Bastrop State Park’s stand of loblolly pine trees is the westernmost stand of this species in the US.

Photo by ATXtoday

Turn onto State Highway 71 and drive just a few dozen miles east of Austin, and the landscape changes. When the trees get taller and you see your first loblolly pine, you’re almost there.

As part of our mission to commemorate 100 years of Texas State Parks, we recently spent a morning in Bastrop State Park. Here’s what we saw.

History

This thicket of pines and hardwood trees has sheltered travelers for centuries, even acting as a stop on the El Camino Real de los Tejas, a 1600s-era roadway between Mexico and Texas.

Residents of Bastrop — considered to be the third-oldest settlement in Texas — used these trees to support local building booms during the 1800s.

When the state acquired this land in the 1930s, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps and architect Arthur Fehr built the park structures. Their work eventually earned the park National Historic Landmark status, making Bastrop State Park one of just seven parks of its kind to have the recognition.

In 2011, a devastating wildfire burned through 32,000 acres in the Bastrop area, destroying 1,600+ homes and affecting 96% of the state park. Researchers predict full forest recovery is more than a generation away, but visitors can already see signs of new growth and fresh life among the trees.

Overlooking fields of pine trees stands a reddish stone structure on top of a hill.

The structures at Bastrop State Park were designed to incorporate local materials and blend in with the landscape.

Photo by ATXtoday

What to see

First, look up.

If it seems odd to see pine trees in Central Texas, that’s because it is: these loblolly pines are known as the ”Lost Pines” of Texas, because they’re isolated as the species’ westernmost stand in the country.

According to pollen records, these pines have been growing in the Bastrop area for 18,000+ years. So, we suggest you listen to reader Steve K.: “Take a deep breath. Smell the pines.”

A loblolly pine stands lone and tall, with a blackened trunk and undergrowth beneath it.

A devastating wildfire hit 96% of Bastrop State Park in 2011, but visitors can already see new undergrowth bringing fresh life to the park.

Photo by ATXtoday

What to do

With 6,600 acres to explore, there’s plenty to do at Bastrop State Park, including:

  • Camping, starting at $15 per night
  • Hiking and biking
  • Swimming
  • Fishing

Make a reservation to visit.