In this edition of The Trailist, I’d like to try something a little different. Instead of telling you about a new park or trail, I want to tell you about a two-day trip some friends and I made last month that you might want to try.

San Antonio walkers, runners, and cyclists might have heard about the completion of the last 4 miles of the Salado Creek Greenway from Loop 1604 to Eisenhower Park. The new addition means there are now 20 unbroken miles of paved trail between Eisenhower and Holbrook Road, just north of JBSA-Fort Sam Houston. The trail picks up again south of Interstate 35 and continues 7 miles to its southern terminus at Southside Lions Park.

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.

A couple friends and I wondered if there was a way to ride nearly the whole trail over two days, with a night of camping in between. That’s when we remembered the San Antonio/Alamo KOA campground on Gembler Road, which has trail access on its property.

We realized we could ride the 20 miles from the Loop 1604 trailhead to the KOA, stay in a cabin that night, then finish the segment to Southside Lions Park the next day. On the weekend of Jan. 16-17, that’s what we did.

My companions on this ride were Emily Royall and Mitch Hagney. Emily and I became friends when she was data editor for the San Antonio Report, and she now works for the City on such projects as the COVID-19 data dashboard. My friendship with Mitch was bound to happen, given our common interests in the environment. Mitch runs LocalSprout Food Hub and is a leader in the Food Policy Council of San Antonio.

From left, Brendan Gibbons, Mitch Hagney, and Emily Royall take a break along the Salado Creek Greenway trail.
From left, Brendan Gibbons, Mitch Hagney, and Emily Royall take a break along the Salado Creek Greenway trail. Credit: Brendan Gibbons / San Antonio Report

We did the trip in a way that required three bikes, three vehicles, and three negative coronavirus tests. We booked a surprisingly fancy cabin at the KOA that came with all the glamping works – beds, plumbing, electricity, stove, dishes, fire pit, and propane grill. The KOA offers more basic cabins, RV sites, and tent sites for lower rates.

Check-ins started at 1 p.m. on Jan. 16, and that’s when we dropped off all our food and other overnight supplies at the cabin. We left two vehicles there, put the bikes into my Subaru Forester, and drove to the Loop 1604 trailhead, where we left my car overnight.

As we set out riding south on the pleasant downhill slope, I was unaware that I would end up with a $35 parking ticket the next day. Turns out it’s a violation to leave your car overnight at the greenway trailheads. If you try this trip, make sure to either get dropped off or find a place with legal parking near the trailhead.

The journey starts with the heavily forested 4 miles between Loop 1604 and Phil Hardberger Park. One of my favorite sections on that route passes behind the fenceline of a set of homes along a residential street called Trentwood. I like the way they arc over the trail, creating a shady tunnel.

The forest canopy breaks after the trail passes Hardberger Park, crossing under multiple major thoroughfares. It weaves through the towering concrete pillars that hold up the intersection of Wurzbach Parkway and U.S. 281.

From there, riders experience a series of sensory contrasts: the roar of traffic as the trail parallels Wurzbach; the rattle of bike tires over planks on the boardwalk over a wetland area between Wetmore Road and Lady Bird Johnson Park; then, back to the forest, but with pecan, cedar elm, and hackberry replacing the oak-juniper woods of the northern reaches.

Along Holbrook Road, we stumbled upon Victoria’s Black Swan Inn, an allegedly haunted mansion whose grounds host market days two weekends a month. We parked the bikes and ordered spiked ciders from a vendor, then spent an hour wandering the quirky grounds and talking with some of the people selling homemade bath products and horror movie DVDs. It’s definitely a place worth checking out.

The grounds of Victoria's Black Swan Inn along Holbrook Road on San Antonio's East Side.
The grounds of Victoria’s Black Swan Inn along Holbrook Road on San Antonio’s East Side. Credit: Courtesy / Emily Royall

Perhaps we should have skipped those alcoholic ciders, because we were about to hit the trickiest part of the ride. The Salado Creek trail merges into Holbrook Road, which then comes to a T intersection at Petroleum Drive, just east of Fort Sam.

Eventually, the plan is to connect the trail through Fort Sam, but the connection has faced many delays. Navigating from one side of I-35 to the other requires some treacherous riding in a high-traffic area.

From Petroleum, we rode east to the I-35 frontage road, then made a right turn. We rode a sketchy 0.7 miles along the frontage road with cars and trucks whizzing past us. Past the entrance to San Antonio Military Medical Center, we coasted downhill to a convoluted intersection of the frontage road, Binz-Engleman Road, and a small thoroughfare called Seguin Road. The trail picks up again at Jack White Park, about a mile west on Seguin Road from that intersection. If you do this, please use helmets, lights, and extreme caution.

How we cherished being back out of traffic and under the trees, which in this southern stretch of the trail were draped with Spanish moss. The setting sun turned these tree beards to gold as we rolled up to the door of our cabin at the KOA.

Finishing the ride on Jan. 17 was a breeze. We woke up late, made breakfast tacos, and I waited with the bikes as Mitch and Emily dropped off Mitch’s pickup at Southside Lions Park. They returned in Emily’s car, which we left at the KOA as we rode out on our bikes.

Mitch Hagney passes a row of houses in a shaded residential area in the northern reaches of the Salado Creek Greenway.
Mitch Hagney passes a row of houses in a shaded residential area in the northern reaches of the Salado Creek Greenway. Credit: Brendan Gibbons / San Antonio Report

The southernmost 7 miles is my favorite part of the Salado Creek Greenway for its sparse crowds, old trees, and the constant flowing of the creek. Visitors are also reminded that some people are still farming and ranching inside the bounds of Loop 410. There’s a place at Comanche Park where you can look left and see kids racing go-karts and then look right and see cattle grazing peacefully along the banks of the Salado.

It took us less than an hour to make it to Southside Lions. We loaded the bikes in Mitch’s pickup and headed north to pick up Emily’s vehicle, then mine. We felt sad to see the trip end but pleased to have so much of our Sunday afternoon left to get ready for the work week.

This entry-level adventure cycling trip left us wondering about the possibilities for other greenway trails. Can we piece together multiday trips along the Leon Creek trail or the Medina River trail? Send me an email if you have any ideas, readers.

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