I don’t have children, but I imagine it’s sometimes hard to persuade them to walk along a trail for many miles. Better to sweeten the deal with a playscape of shaded natural rock where they can scramble around for hours.

That, to me, seems the perfect use of Cathedral Rock Park, a 56-acre City park on the West Side between Grissom and Culebra roads. The park features nearly 2 miles of concrete and crushed clay trails, along with an intricate web of unofficial dirt trails. The park also connects to the Leon Creek Greenway, a 20-mile linear trail network.

The rocks at Cathedral Rock Park offer a free-ranging space to explore, climb, and play hide-and-seek. Follow the paved trails downhill from the parking lot and playground and look to your left to find the rock, with its many cracks and crannies.

Cathedral Rock Park

Offers: Walking, running, biking.
Location: 8002 Grissom Rd., San Antonio, TX 78251
Trail miles: 1.8 miles of paved and pugmill trail.
Restrooms: Restrooms and potable water at Mission Del Lago, Pleasanton Road, and Palo Alto Road trailheads.

Calling it a “cathedral” might be a bit of a stretch. Still, the cracked and crumbled limestone bluff draws the eye upward as it rises from a dry creekbed to rocky outcrops roughly 30 feet high. The bluff’s overhangs, ledges, and grottos invite exploration for visitors of any age.

When my girlfriend, Jess, and I visited this week, we peered into many of these limestone nooks. The openings we saw were not nearly wide or deep enough to be called true caves, but of course I had to verify. One entrance was wide enough to lie on my belly and squirm in just deep enough to realize I was probably peering into a porcupine or skunk den. I backed my way out.

Snaking away from this bluff are many singletrack trails cut by parkgoers since the park’s opening in the mid-2000s. If you’re facing downhill, toward the south, look to your right for trails that lead you down to the rocky bed of Culebra Creek.

After some rains last week, Jess and I found muddy pools along the creek bed, interrupted by the concrete encasements of a major sewer line. The Trailist recommends looking but not touching this water because of the potential for contamination from past sewage spills and runoff from the streets nearby.

On the east bank of Culebra Creek, we noticed a pop of color that stood out from the background greens and browns. Red oaks and ash had their leaves tinged with scarlet. It reminded us a bit of Lost Maples State Natural Area, renowned in Texas for its fall colors.

Recent rains filled left ponds in Culebra Creek, which has colorful oaks and ash sprouting from its banks.
Recent rains left ponds in Culebra Creek, which has colorful oaks and ash sprouting from its banks. Credit: Brendan Gibbons / San Antonio Report

Those with a naturalist’s eye will observe at Cathedral Rock Park the confluence of several different wildlife habitats of South and Central Texas that all converge in Bexar County. These include dry mesquite uplands, oak-juniper woods, and riparian forest.

Cathedral Rock Park is too small to offer many trail miles, but it’s easy for visitors to extend the trip via a 1.2-mile paved concrete trail that connects to the Leon Creek Greenway. From the connector’s intersection with the greenway, turn left and head north toward the Leon Creek Greenway trailhead at Grissom Road. Turning right takes you south and connects to the Devil’s Den network of new mountain bike trails built by South Texas Off-Road Mountain Bikers.

Cathedral Rock Park has a portable toilet and drinking fountain, as do multiple trailheads along the Leon Creek Greenway. Still, bring plenty of water in the summer, as the park’s shady forest canopy gives way to open space where the heat can be intense during summer months.

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