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San Antonio's (Not So) Secret Gardens: The Best Places to Get Your Wilderness Fix

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Just because you’ve only just moved onto campus doesn’t mean that cabin fever isn’t already setting in. And while a lazy float in a tube down the Comal really can’t be beat, we realize that’s not everybody’s speed. Believe it or not, San Antonio has a plethora of green spaces, sometimes hidden in plain sight, with amenities for hiking, biking, kayaking and more!

City Parks & Greenways

If you want to hop on the bike or go for a jog, but hate the monotony of city streets, you don’t have to worry – there are plenty of parks throughout the city (Brackenridge, Olmos Basin, McAllister, Eisenhower, and Hardberger, to name a few). But if you’re craving a less-typical park experience, we may have something a bit more up your alley…

Friedrich Wilderness Park (21395 Milsa Dr.) is a protected wilderness area that’s internationally known for bird-watching as it’s the nesting site of two endangered bird species: the Black-capped Vireo and the Golden-cheeked Warbler. The park features around 10 miles of hiking trails, on which you can spot terrestrial orchids, and its steep hills will give you a great workout. There’s a catch, though – to protect the rare wildlife you can peep here, only pedestrian traffic is permitted (no bikes, skateboards, hovercraft, etc. are allowed), and you need to leave Fido at home.

In addition to its many parks, one of San Antonio’s best kept secrets is its greenways, which make up approximately 65 miles of paved trails that wind throughout the city. Trailheads with parking can be found at various locations in the city (even downtown!), so there’s guaranteed to be a convenient entry point near your home base. A large percentage of the trails are wooded, so it doesn’t even feel like you’re in the middle of the city as you trek along them, with the added bonus that a lot of the greenways run along waterways. In particular, the Leon Creek and Salado Creek Greenways each have miles of uninterrupted trails, with plans to further interconnect them in the future. Trailheads have restrooms and water fountains, and the greenways connect to parks throughout the city so that you can access more open spaces.

For trail maps, amenities, and other deets about local parks, check out sanantonio.gov/ParksandRec

A Taste of History

San Antonio is known internationally for the Alamo, of course, but what many people don’t realize is that it is one of five historic Spanish Colonial Missions that were established along the San Antonio River in the 18th century. The Mission Reach trail winds along the river and takes visitors past Mission Concepción, Mission San José, Mission San Juan Capistrano, and Mission Espada. Mission Reach features eight miles of paved trails, and if trekking on land isn’t doing it for you, there are kayak chutes along this stretch of the river so you can take in the historic sights as you paddle.

Just north of Mission Concepción is the recently finished Confluence Park (310 W. Mitchell St.), which serves as a gateway to the Mission Reach. The park was designed with ecology in mind – the entire park is energy neutral, and features a concrete pavilion with a swooping geometric design that collects rainwater. Confluence also has a SWell Cycle bike-share hub, so if you lack a pair of wheels you can easily rent some for your trail ride.

Riverside Retreats

If you want to go even more on the wild side, there’s some great options in town for that, too.

The Medina River Natural Area (15890 TX-16) spans over 500 acres on the south side of San Antonio, in which you can get lost in a seemingly untouched riparian landscape while remaining inside Loop 1604. The Medina River is wooded, with bald cypress trees dotting its banks, and while swimming and boating aren’t permitted, there’s several spots where you can cast your lines and see what bites. The park also has seven miles of trails, a rentable group camping area, and connects to the Medina River Greenway.

Now, this isn’t technically in San Antonio, but it’s worth a mention. A short drive north into Spring Branch takes you to Guadalupe River State Park (3350 Park Road 31, Spring Branch, TX), which you can visit for the day, or rent a campsite and stay a few nights. In addition to camping, the park has amenities for picnics, as well as trails for hiking, mountain biking or even horseback riding. The park features 13 miles of trails, but if you just want to get some lovely views, the short Barred Owl Trail (less than half a mile!) leads to a scenic overlook of the river. Speaking of which – the Guadalupe winds leisurely through the park, and you can swim, tube, canoe and fish to your heart’s content.

Word to the wise: Guadalupe River State Park has a small entrance fee (only $7), and campsite rentals are $15-24 nightly.

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