Dozens of kayakers passed by the opening ceremony festivities on the Mission Reach. Pictured: San Antonio Nature Hounds, a local recreational meet-up for dogs and their pet humans, pass by Padre Park during the opening ceremony of the Mission Reach. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Kayakers paddle downstream along the Mission Reach. Credit: Iris Dimmick / San Antonio Report

Memorial Day weekend offers the perfect chance to get outside and soak in this region’s natural beauty, as long as you’re careful not to soak in too much sun while you’re at it.

The weekend will potentially be the hottest so far of 2018: National Weather Service forecasters are predicting temperatures will approach 100 degrees with heat indexes in the triple digits Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

Four of the City of San Antonio’s swimming pools will be open this weekend from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. These pools are at Lady Bird Johnson Park, Southside Lions Park, Heritage Park, and Woodlawn Lake Park.

The City’s remaining 20 pools will open June 16. All are free and open to the public.

If you’re feeling more adventurous, this weekend might be your best chance over the next few weeks to get out on a Texas river. Recent rains have replenished river flows, but many are still below normal. With no rain on the horizon, the time is ripe to tube or kayak.

Upper Guadalupe River – Nichols Landing to Rebecca Creek Road

Many people in the San Antonio area know this stretch of the river in Comal County for its natural beauty and relative ease of access. Still, it doesn’t get the huge crowds of tubers that clog the San Marcos and Comal rivers during the summer.

From its starting point at Nichols Landing County Park, the river is a blue-green ribbon flowing past towering cypress trees and limestone bluffs. The water is often clear enough to see catfish and bass swimming in the depths, and wading birds such as as herons often take off from the brush as you float by, especially on quieter days.

It would take all day in a tube to get from Nichols Landing to Rebecca Creek Road, so consider the alternate take-out on FM 311, 5.4 miles downriver from Nichols Landing for a roughly four-hour float.

With flows at current rates, the river is still good for kayaking, but tubers might have to get out at various points.

“You might have to scootch in a couple places if you’re taking the wrong line,” said Andrew Harris, a manager at river outfitter Guadalupe Canoe Livery on Highway 281 near Spring Branch.

Those who don’t have their own gear can rent it at the livery, which has its own pull-out spot along the river for people who use its services. Guadalupe Canoe Livery also shuttles kayakers and tubers from its location to the put-in at Nichols Landing.

Charges are $10 for bottomless tubes and $12 for tubes with a bottom, which can be used to float coolers. Kayak rentals are $25. If you have your own gear and only want to use the shuttle service, it costs $8 per tube and $15 per kayak.

One added bonus: There’s no ban on cans and plastic bottles as there is in New Braunfels, though glass and Styrofoam are not allowed. If you pack it in, be sure to pack it out with you so that this part of the river stays beautiful.

San Antonio River – Saspamco Paddling Trail

The San Antonio River is still a bit off the beaten paddle, and that’s why those who visit parts of the river south of San Antonio will find a calm oasis of relative solitude not too far from the city.

The Saspamco title comes from a hamlet nearby named for the San Antonio Sewer Pipe Manufacturing Company once based there. Today, the area is mostly farm and ranch land, with the river’s banks lined with trees.

The currently open section of the Saspamco Paddling Trail stretches 5.2 miles from the put-in at Graytown Park along County Road 125 in Wilson County to the take-out at John William Helton San Antonio River Nature Park near Floresville. At current flow rates, that’s a roughly two- to four-hour trip.

A put-in spot upstream of Graytown at Loop 1604 once doubled the length of this paddling trail, but recent floods left debris and eroded the banks at that area enough for the San Antonio River Authority to temporarily close access, said Michael Gramley, the River Authority’s parks program manager. It should be open again in June, he said. Gramley recalled recently floating the lower section of the trail with a group of teachers in open-top kayaks.

“It was awesome for just sightseeing,” he said. “Deer, foxes, all kinds of wading birds. It was really nice and very quiet down there.”

The river in that section is only suitable for hardshell kayaks and canoes, not inflatables that hidden debris could easily puncture, Gramley said. He recommended San Antonio-based Mission Adventure Tours to provide shuttles and kayak rentals for those who don’t have their own gear.

Southside Group Ride

If you’re more in the mood for a bike ride, consider this moderately paced weekly group ride that weaves its way through San Antonio’s South Side.

The group meets at 8:30 a.m. every Sunday, weather permitting, at Bike World’s shop at 835 SE Military Dr., with the ride beginning at 9 a.m. The route varies, but is usually between 13 and 16 miles, store manager Adrian De La Rosa said.

One of the most popular loops goes from Military Drive to Mission Road, then north into Southtown, he said. From there, the group will often continue north on South Alamo, get onto Broadway, make a loop around downtown and start returning south again on St. Mary’s Street.

“It’s a nice, scenic loop,” he said. “For the most part, it’s all bike lane.”

The group always stops at a coffee shop a little more than halfway through for a pick-me-up. The riders usually return to the shop around 11 a.m., he said.

The ride typically proceeds at a steady 10 miles per hour, De La Rosa said. He suggested the ride as an opportunity to learn to ride roads in a group, rather than having to cope with traffic on your own.

“Nobody gets left behind,” he said. “If someone gets a flat, we’ll all stop. It’s kind of cool because it turns into a real-world-scenario flat repair clinic.”

That said, riders should bring their own flat repair kits, spare tubes, pumps, and tools, he said.

Flat Rock Ranch

If you’ve never had a chance to try one of Central Texas’ premier mountain bike trail systems, Memorial Day weekend might be a good time to give it a shot, as long as you’re willing to brave the heat.

Flat Rock Ranch is a 1,300-acre private property on Flat Rock Creek Road north of Comfort. Owners Jimmy and Terri Dreiss have turned it into a mountain bike mecca, with 28 miles of rugged singletrack trails that include hill climbs, flowy downhill sections, and wide-open views.

“We get  riders that’ll ride various lengths,” Jimmy Dreiss said. “Some will ride nine miles and they’re done. Some will ride the lower loop, which is 15 miles. Some of them ride the entire 28, and then there’s those few that will ride it twice.”

Dreiss and his family members keep the trails clear of hanging branches, and they’ll often hold work days or hire equipment operators to expand the trail network or repair sections that have become eroded.

Riders can access the property sunrise through sunset seven days a week. Fees are $10 per person per day, except during free group rides on Wednesday evenings.

You can also camp at the property – it’s $15 to camp after 6 p.m. and ride the next day. You can also get a weekend pass to camp Friday and Saturday and ride Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for $30.

Although hiking is not allowed at the ranch, trail running is. There’s also no swimming, fishing, or hunting. Because the Dreisses run cattle and goats on the ranch, dogs are not allowed, Dreiss said.

“We’ve got kid goats, and a lot of dogs like to chase little animals,” he said.

Sen. Frank L. Madla Jr. Natural Area

If hiking is more your speed, this weekend could be your chance to get outside the city and see a lesser-known park that offers a peaceful setting on the edge of the Hill Country.

Madla Natural Area is a 42-acre park on Menchaca Road north of Helotes owned by the small community of Grey Forest. The park is only five years old, having first opened to the public in March 2013.

Once the boyhood farm of State Sen. Frank Madla, a longtime member of the Texas House and Senate, the park was originally settled in the mid-1800s by an iron craftsman named John Conrad Beckmann and his wife, Regina, according to the City of Grey Forest’s website.

The park offers only about two miles of trail, but the route takes hikers through a mix of Ashe juniper and oak forest and open meadows. The blend of habitat makes it a favorite of birders, especially those who don’t want to walk too far.

After your walk, consider taking a drive through the quirky community and along nearby Scenic Loop Road. You can also enjoy a meal at the historic Grey Moss Inn, a 75-year-old restaurant that’s Grey Forest’s only business.

Government Canyon State Natural Area

If you’re itching for a longer hike without a long drive this weekend, Government Canyon State Natural Area is the place to do it, as long as you pace yourself and bring plenty of water.

Most visitors to Government Canyon, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department property west of San Antonio, simply hike the main Joe Johnston Route to visit its well-known dinosaur tracks, roughly a six-mile round trip.

But for the best views in the park, consider the Far Reaches Trail, a steady climb that gains roughly 300 feet in elevation. At the top, it rewards you with views of the city that are clear enough to see the Tower of the Americas far to the southeast.

After that, you can take a left onto the Sendero Balcones trail that moves from hill to hill along an elevated area, which makes for a roughly six-mile hike. Or you can dip down into Wildcat Canyon, which adds another half mile or so.

If instead you continue north on Sendero Balcones, you can skirt along the southern edge of the section of the park closed off in the summer to protect nesting habitat for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler. Turn left on Little Windmill trail, and you’ll pass an old windmill and a pit toilet before meeting a junction with the Joe Johnston Route.

Take a left to head south on Joe Johnston, and you’ll get to see the historic Zizelmann House, a remnant of the area’s ranching days.

Between the house and the dinosaur tracks is a mysterious section of trail where Spanish moss dangles from live oak limbs. There, an interpretive sign informs you of Native American rock middens found nearby.

If you continue hiking south, you’ll pass the dinosaur tracks and likely encounter more people along the trail. The entire Far Reaches-Little Windmill-Joe Johnston Loop is just under nine miles, so bring three liters of water per person and some snacks.

Have fun out there this weekend, and remember: There’s no such thing as too much water and sunscreen.

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is the San Antonio Report's environment and energy reporter.