Local cyclists have long mapped out 50-mile half-loops of the city, or even full circles that range 100 miles or more. Until recently, they would stitch together incomplete stretches of greenway trail with the safest road connections they could find.

But only since last October has it been possible to ride what I call the “Northern Crescent,” a 40-mile stretch of uninterrupted greenway that stretches between John James Park north of Fort Sam Houston to the Dora Jordan trail on West Military Drive.

I’m still fairly new to road cycling, and recently felt ready to join my friend Max O’Roark for our own version of a half-loop that would begin and end downtown. Our counterclockwise route spanned 62 miles and covered four different greenway trail networks — Salado Creek, Leon Creek, Apache Creek and the Mission Reach.

‘Northern Crescent’ Loop

Offers: Biking
Location:  Starting and ending at Brackenridge Park, 3700 N. St. Mary’s Street
Trail miles: 62 miles covering 4 greenway trail networks — Salado Creek, Leon Creek, Apache Creek and the Mission Reach
Restrooms: Plentiful permanent and portable toilets and potable water at multiple trailheads along the greenway trails.

We started on a sunny Sunday on Jan. 16, riding east on Mulberry Avenue through Brackenridge Park, turning left on Broadway, then right again on Funston Street to New Braunfels Road. From there, the safest route follows the boundaries of the San Antonio Country Club northward, then east again on Burr Road.

Burr is a straight climb past the country club and a winding descent along a wall of bamboo on one side and houses on the other. It ends at Harry Wurzbach Road, where we turned left and went north along a stretch with a crumbly shoulder next to Fort Sam Houston. Our way off Harry Wurzbach came at Corinne Drive, just after the Harry Wurzbach-Rittiman Road intersection. Corinne dumped us right onto the Salado Creek trail at Oakwell Trailhead Park.

The next 16 or so miles of Salado Creek greenway make up some of the most popular greenway trails in the city. After cutting through tall pecans, mulberries and cedar elms north to Lady Bird Johnson Park, the trees give way to a wide-open wetland with a boardwalk. The trail continues through open fields and a power line right-of-way next to Wurzbach Parkway.

After crossing underneath U.S. 281 and Wurzbach Parkway, we passed Walker Ranch Park, then Phil Hardberger Park, climbing through a mixed oak-juniper forest along a thin, rocky floodplain uphill toward Loop 1604. The incline steepens during the final 4 miles of Salado Creek Greenway, where the trail passes by the Medicine Wall climbing area on its way to Eisenhower Park, which straddles the divide between the Salado and Leon creek greenways.

Crossing the divide from Salado Creek to Leon Creek is like stepping over an ecological threshold. The Salado side looks more like a lush, Southeastern environment, while the Leon side feels Western — drier, rockier, more laden with cactus, yucca and sotol.

San Antonio’s Parks Department left a subtle nod to this east-west divide in the design of the signs at Eisenhower Park. The sign pointing toward Salado Creek bears the silhouette of a bluebonnet; the Leon Creek sign has a prickly pear.

This trail junction has been open since October, when local officials gathered at Eisenhower for a ceremony that even drew Spurs legend Manu Ginobili, who apparently is a familiar face on our local trail network.

In a less tumultuous year, this community’s accomplishment of stitching together this final 2 miles of trail might have gotten more public fanfare. As Max and I rode, our appreciation grew for the completion of this remarkable, traffic-free greenway system, which basically didn’t exist 20 years ago.

From Eisenhower, we continued west toward the Leon Creek side, looking for a stop with enough of a view to get a quick photo. Little by little, the trail had taken us 500 feet upward on its route from Brackenridge Park (673 feet above sea level) to the edge of Camp Bullis (1,181 feet). We followed the rolling hills along a CPS Energy power line route until reaching the hill overlooking the Rim, where we found our photo op.

Brendan Gibbons, left, and Max O’Roark stop along their ride for a photograph near La Cantera.
Brendan Gibbons, left, and Max O’Roark stop along their ride for a photograph near La Cantera. Credit: Courtesy / Brendan Gibbons

Mountain bikers have been descending the steep, rocky power line road here for years, but the newly opened connection adds a paved trail that switchbacks down the hill to reach Leon Creek. This section was by far the steepest part of our route.

After passing the Rim, we picked up speed as we barreled south past the Valero, Hill Country, and Fox Park trailheads, stretches of Leon Creek we know better from the network of mountain biking trails than from the greenway.

For me, a visit to Leon Creek Greenway is never complete without getting a little lost. That happened at Bamberger Nature Park, where we took an early right on the paved trail deeper into Bamberger, rather than staying on Old Babcock Road on the east side of the creek.

After finding our way, we continued south at a steady pace, passing the extensive dirt tracks near Buddy Caulk Park, O.P. Schnabel Park, then crossing under Bandera Road in Leon Valley and progressing onto a newer stretch of pavement. Grissom Road always feels like a milestone in this area because it’s one of the few places where riders have to cross a sidewalk bridge over the creek to get back to the trail at the Grissom Trailhead.

From there, we passed the turnoff to Cathedral Rock Park, staying left to head toward the section of greenway that allows access to the Devil’s Den network of off-road trails, which only opened in 2020. Our turnoff from Leon Creek finally came at a spur that leads to the Ingram Transit Center at 3215 Northwestern Drive.

This station, operated by VIA Metropolitan Transit outside of Ingram Park Mall, is an important rest point for cyclists about to make a cross-city eastward trek on easily the most congested section of road we encountered. We snacked, refilled waters and used the center’s restrooms before riding west onto Ingram Road.

At first, the going was sketchy, with barely any road shoulder and vehicles passing too closely as we crossed under Loop 1604. I would have felt more nervous about getting hit if we didn’t have our blinking front and rear lights. This congestion continued for about 2.5 miles as we rode through a commercial strip and then a busy residential area.

The road started feeling safer again at the corner of Ingram and Benrus Boulevard, where Ingram begins a windier path that terminates in a Y at Freeman and West Broadview Drives. We took Freeman and unexpectedly found ourselves at the top of a small hill, with a closer view of downtown from the west.

After a fun coast downhill on Freeman, we turned right, went south for a block, then crossed a busy Northwest 36th Street, turning left onto Woodlawn Avenue. Then followed another busy residential area and commercial strip at the Woodlawn-Bandera Road intersection, before traffic quieted down again as we rolled toward the northern edge of Woodlawn Lake Park.

We could have taken Woodlawn all the way back to downtown, but we instead cut a zig-zagging route south through the West Side, trying to find our way onto a newly completed section of the Alazan Creek Trail and, from there, the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River. A few wrong turns took us too far southwest, and we ended up instead connecting to the Apache Creek Trail off Hamilton Avenue.

This stretch of the Apache Creek trail funneled us southward to the junction with the Alazan trail, then toward another confluence with San Pedro Creek. We followed a treeless channel of concrete and grass embankments and crossed through the shadow cast by the immense Interstate 10 overpass. The left turn onto the Mission Reach toward downtown followed only 1.5 miles later.

We had joined the Mission Reach just south of Confluence Park. Turning northward, we passed the Mission Road power plant, the outlet at Lone Star Boulevard that drains stormwater from the tunnel below downtown,  and the Blue Star Arts Complex, where the greenway trail portion of our journey ended.

We finished the last 5 miles at street level, riding along South Alamo Street into the Alamo Plaza that’s now closed to vehicles. We skirted around one of the wooden post fences blocking the street, rode past the Hipolto F. Garcia Federal Building at Houston Street, then along North Alamo Street. The concrete planter boxes that separate the street from a dedicated bike lane — an attempt to make this street more bike-friendly — still looks pretty half-hearted because of the construction signs and wooden pallets left lying in the middle of the bike lane.

North Alamo ends at Jones Avenue, where we turned left to go northward to the intersection with North St. Mary’s. We took that all the way back to Brackenridge Park, tired and amazed at all the different landscapes we had seen on our trek across the city’s northern half.

San Antonio sometimes feels like a giant collection of towns, with dozens of small but connected worlds. There’s no better way to see so many of them in one day than a long ride on our greenway trails.

This article has been updated to differentiate between Harry Wurzbach Road and Wurzbach Parkway and to correct the spelling of Corinne Drive.

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Brendan Gibbons

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