If you jump off the interstate about halfway between Dallas and Texarkana and travel less than 20 minutes south to Winnsboro, you’ll discover fall colors worthy of a scenic New England drive, lakes with some of the best fishing in Texas, and a quiet neighborly town that comes alive each October when it hosts the Autumn Trails event.
“Winnsboro, Texas is a historic town where the pines meet the oaks, filled with beautiful lakes, and amazing spring and fall colors,” says the Winnsboro online guide.
Fall Colors Highlight Four Seasons of Scenic Activities
For 62 straight years visitors have come from Texas, and other states, to enjoy the Autumn Trails event, which at one time boasted a state-record 12,000+ riders, and still draws throngs to a multitude of events ranging from a rodeo to chili cookoff to classic car show to livestock and dairy show.
Autumn Trails started in 1958 to highlight the area’s fall colors and the bucolic scenery is still a big draw to Winnsboro, which has a year-round population of just over 3,000.
“Contrary to popular belief, Texas does have lovely fall foliage, but you’ll have to wait until later in the year to see it. When fall does arrive — usually in late October — it’s a beaut, and East Texas is where you’ll see rich autumn colors of yellow, orange, red, brown, and green from maple, oak, dogwood, and many other trees,” says Travel Awaits.
While Winnsboro shines in the fall, there are four seasons worth a charm to find including:
- Finding the dogwoods in bloom in the spring
- Camping, boating, and world-class fishing in the summer
- Autumn Trails event in the fall
- Cutting down your own old-fashioned Christmas tree at a tree farm in the Piney Woods area in the winter
Winnsboro Retains Its Small-Town Charm at the Crossroads
Winnsboro has retained its small-town charm where folks grow up together and live and work together for a lifetime.
The town, just under four square miles, sits at the crossroads of Texas highways 11 and 37 (Main and Broadway in town), and the population has not budged in the past 50 years with 3,064 people at the 1970 census and an estimated 3,299 in 2019.
Winnsboro, which sits three-quarters in Wood County and one-quarter in Franklin County, has always been at a crossroads for those traveling the Texas byways.
“The land on which the town is located was first surveyed by Gray B. King in 1835, and carved from the State of Coahuila and Texas, then a state under the Mexican government. The location sits astride the boundary between the Louisiana Territory and Old Mexico and equidistant from Dallas, Shreveport, and Texarkana,” says the town’s official history.
The first settlers were John E. Winn and W.R. McMillian, who purchased 351 acres in the Gray B. King tract, and opened a post office in 1855, along with a mercantile business (called the Cheap Cash Store!), in what was then called Crossroads.
The name was soon changed to “Winnsborough” or “Wynnsborough” -- depending on whom you talked to -- in honor of Winn. That spelling remained until 1893 when the name was shortened to its present-day moniker.
The railroad (with the East Line and Red River Railroad arriving in 1876) helped the town grow and develop into an area shipping center.
“In 1904 the Texas Southern Railroad built through the town, and by 1914 the flourishing community had four banks, two potteries, a public library, a cottonseed mill, two weekly newspapers, the Wide Awake and the Wortham Messenger, and a population of 2,300,” says the Texas State Historical Association.
Autumn Trails Helps Winnsboro Bounce Back
The Great Depression and falling cotton prices in the early 1930s forced many local businesses to close.
The area made a comeback after World War II, attracting tourists and travelers with events such as Autumn Trails, which started in 1958.
“The festival began when a few friends gathered on a cool, crisp October morning in 1958 to enjoy the beautiful fall foliage in the area on horseback. What started that Sunday morning 64 years ago can only be described as legendary,” says the event organizers.
The former editor of The Winnsboro News, Howard Rosser, started the family-friendly festival along with Gerald Post and Grayford Jones after Rosser and his wife, Kathy, returned from an out-of-state trip to view fall colors and found that their neck of the woods was just as spectacular and wanted a way to show that off.
Over the next few years, the festival grew into a month-long celebration that included a queen’s coronation, a trail ride, and the largest antique car rally in the Southwest. Today the event starts at the end of September and runs into the start of November and includes everything from:
- Little Miss Autumn and Miss Autumn Trails pageants
- Youth and Mule rodeos
- Trail ride welcome parade
- Jeep rally
- Arts & craft show
- Trades day and swap meet
- Antique car parade and classic car show
- Cake & pie baking contest
- Chili cookoff
- Pet contest (including best dressed and best talent!)
- Model A Club BBQ and tour
- Livestock & Dairy show
- Cowboy poetry, music, and art
- Beard and mustache contest (judging in 4 categories!)
- Texas 42 dominoes tournament
- Christmas in the Park concludes the event and includes a beef stew lunch and vendors for early shopping
World-Class Fishing in the Woods Around Winnsboro
While looking at fall colors is a fine pastime, there are those who enjoy casting a line in the water and the Winnsboro area features world-class fishing with the town in between (just about 25 minutes in either direction) Lake Bob Sandlin to the east and Lake Fork to the west.
Closer to town is Lake Winnsboro. Here is a closer look for anglers at all three:
- Lake Winnsboro: Located 5 miles southwest of Winnsboro, this lake is 806 surface acres with an average depth of 23 feet. The shoreline is ringed with native emergent vegetation such as maidencane and cutgrass. There are public campgrounds and boat ramps available.
- Lake Fork: This reservoir is one of the premier bass fishing lakes in Texas, if not the world, as it currently holds records for 34 out of the top 50 (and 15 of the top 20) largemouth bass caught in the state. Lake Fork is 15 miles from Winnsboro on the Sabine River. There are 27,690 acres of water and 315 miles of shoreline.
- Lake Bob Sandlin: Another great spot to fish with options to try your luck from the shore pier, or boat on the 9,000-acre lake. There is also a stocked Trout Pond and Brim Pond. The state park offers massive trees, tall grasses, and a great mix of plants and animals. There are 3+ miles of bike and foot trails plus 75 campsites with water and electricity.