In 2021, local residents gained some new options for enjoying outdoor adventures. Eisenhower Park became the crossroads for the Salado and Leon trail systems, connecting an entire arc of greenway trails along San Antonio’s northern half. Friesenhahn Park in Northeast San Antonio also got a new paved trail. Here’s a look back at those and some of the other spots visited by The Trailist this year:

Salado Creek Greenway

Cyclists can now ride 20 uninterrupted miles of Salado Creek trail from Eisenhower Park to John James Park north of Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, the final gap left in the Salado trail. This section of the greenway offers the only outdoor rock climbing access in San Antonio, offering the lone entry point to Medicine Wall, a sport climbing area.

Riding the whole trail offers a unique perspective of our sprawling, ecologically diverse city. The trail starts amid rocky Hill Country terrain, transitions through open fields of prairie plants and mesquite and ends in the shady forest groves of Pecan Valley. Two friends and I rode the 20 miles from the Loop 1604 trailhead to the KOA Holiday campground on Gembler Road, stayed in a cabin that night, then finished the segment to Southside Lions Park the next day.

Friesenhahn Park

This park located near James Madison High School off O’Connor Road offers almost a mile of concrete trail for hiking and biking and a shorter stretch of unpaved trail.

It’s a quiet walk under shady trees, through small meadows of wildflowers and across a muddy, rocky creek bed crossing that likely swells with water during heavy rains. In some spots, thin hedges of 7-foot-tall sunflowers line both sides of the path. 

Parkgoers can stay on the trail or take a little detour onto one of the many half-trails and traces that lead off into the woods.

Huebner-Onion Natural Area

Located in Leon Valley off Bandera Road, the natural area is a mostly wooded park, except for a nearly mile-long single-track dirt trail that cuts around the perimeter. Trail runners or those seeking a quiet walk in the shade will enjoy this area.

A white-tailed doe peers out from the dense landscape of Huebner-Onion Natural Area.
A white-tailed doe peers out from the dense landscape of Huebner-Onion Natural Area. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

It was once a horse, mule and cattle pasture for the Joseph Huebner family, who built a homestead that was later associated with various ghostly legends.

The homestead itself remains fenced off to visitors, and a short stretch of paved greenway trail ends nearby. Eventually the park will link to San Antonio’s Leon Creek Greenway via its Huebner Creek artery. 

Sen. Frank L. Madla Natural Area

Madla is a 42-acre park named after the late South Side state legislator who grew up in nearby Helotes. It’s a quiet sanctuary with beautiful scenery and almost no trash in sight.

Located in Grey Forest, a 500-person community along Scenic Loop Road in Northwest Bexar County, the area features an expanse of restored prairie ensconced by relatively old-growth Hill Country forest. Bicycles aren’t allowed, and pets are only allowed on leashes; visitors need to stick to established trails. One of the park’s four main routes is the Jon Allan trail, which starts on the edge of the meadow, then plunges under the tree canopy. It then circles a hill as it climbs to the edge of a cliff looking over Helotes Canyon.

Culebra Creek Park

Combined, the Culebra Creek and Helotes Creek greenways have about 2.5 miles of trail. That includes the paved trails along both creeks and a short section of gravel inside Culebra Creek Park, which also has a network of small paths through the forest and along the creek.

About a third of this park on San Antonio’s far West Side is made up of sports fields. The two creeks come together at the end of a strange concrete runway, a 1,000-foot-long path of 40-foot-wide concrete built on a ridge that separates the two waterways. With sparse trees and an open view of the sky, it’s a good place to sit and watch the sunset during cooler months. In the summer, the concrete creates an intense heat island effect that makes it tough to linger there too long.

Panther Springs Park

This is a 300-acre park located between Blanco Road and Wilderness Oak north of Loop 1604. It has open terrain, broad views, interesting elevation changes and a network of single- and double-track dirt trails that branch off of the main trail. It’s also relatively uncrowded and dog-friendly, a combination that’s difficult to find in any North Side park.

A visitor to Panther Springs Park walks his dog on a misty March morning.
A visitor to Panther Springs Park walks his dog on a misty March morning. Credit: Brendan Gibbons / San Antonio Report

Panther Springs is similar to Stone Oak Park, which also is located in a flood plain area riddled with caves and other karst features.

Visitors looking for a quick jaunt can stick to the 3-mile concrete path that connects the parking lots at Parman Library to the parking lot at the northern trailhead off Wilderness Oak. The northern trailhead includes a 1.5-acre dog park with separate areas for large and small dogs.

Southside Lions Park East

If San Antonio has any public land that one could call “backcountry” inside Loop 410, the forest at Southside Lions Park East is probably it. The area is about 250 acres, plenty to explore on foot, but the forest is too dense and the paths too unclear to make biking much fun.

Except for a gravel access road that cuts through the center from north to south, there are no formal paths on the property, just occasional traces cut by animals, off-trail walkers and unlawful off-roaders. The central access road leads to the Salado Creek Greenway on the north end of the property, and the city is building a 3-mile connection to extend the greenway from Southside Lions to Southeast Military Drive. Eventually, the plan is to join that trail to the Mission Reach.

Hill County kayaking

In May and June, I make a habit of regularly checking Hill Country river gauges, looking to seize the opportunity following a rainfall when rivers become perfect for paddling.

In late April, the gauge for the Guadalupe River near the town of Comfort, about an hour’s drive northwest of San Antonio on Interstate 10, showed the river was running higher than it had been since May 2020. My girlfriend and I put in at Lions Park in Center Point, a town only 9 miles upriver from Comfort on State Highway 27.

The Guadalupe River flows high and muddy in April 2021 following recent rains on the river upstream of Comfort.
The Guadalupe River flows high and muddy in April 2021 following recent rains on the river upstream of Comfort. Credit: Brendan Gibbons / San Antonio Report

This part of the Guadalupe alternates from broad, wide pools with brushy banks to narrow, cypress-lined channels that become mild rapids when the river flows at around 100 cubic feet per second or more. Aside from an occasional passing truck along Highway 27, the beeping and crunching of the quarry were the only human sounds we heard on the river that weekday. We loved having the river to ourselves, shared only with the deer and ducks we encountered along its banks.

On Memorial Day, a group of us decided to paddle the Upper Llano River upstream of Junction. The Llano often has a braided channel more akin to the Pecos or the Devils rivers than the nearby Guadalupe River. It forms countless mini-channels and islands of sun-bleached limestone rocks, held together by small trees and native grasses and flowers.

Upriver from Junction, the Llano is a series of long, flat pools with short sections of shallow, fast-water riffles where it’s easy to take a wrong turn. In the shallows, the river flows clear enough to watch fish and turtles swimming along its rocky bottom. The bald cypress trees that cast shade over the Guadalupe, the Frio and the Medina rivers are absent from the Llano, replaced by sparser sycamores and pecans.

We had planned a 17-mile trip but cut it about 5 miles short by pulling out at the entrance road to South Llano River State Park

We had cool, cloudy weather on our paddle, with occasional squalls blowing through. But beware an afternoon on the Llano River during a hot day, when the sun can beat down relentlessly.

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.