Many of San Antonio’s pockets of open space lie along its ephemeral creeks, which trickle during dry times but burst out of their banks during floods. This month, I checked out one of these parks along West Elm Creek that I had never visited before.

Gold Canyon Park

Offers: Hiking, biking
Location: 18402 Corporate Woods Dr., San Antonio, TX 78259
Trail miles: 0.6 miles of paved trail, roughly 0.5 miles of dirt and mulch trails
Restrooms: Water fountain and portable toilet at trailhead 

Gold Canyon Park is a 72-acre park just north of Loop 1604 on the North Side. Bikes are allowed on the trails, but they’re better for walking, hiking and trail-running because of their short length. This park is also dog-friendly, unlike some popular North Side hiking areas such as Friedrich Wilderness Park.

Surrounded by subdivisions, the park still offers a pretty view of the small canyon cut by flowing water, with rooftops peeking out of the tree canopy on the northern side. The park lies upstream of one of the San Antonio River Authority’s flood control dams built to hold back the torrents that sometimes fill the normally dry gullies of the upper Salado Creek watershed.

The park’s entrance is just off Corporate Woods Drive, one of San Antonio’s most amusingly named thoroughfares: It makes me think of a squirrel in a tiny business suit squeaking into a miniature Bluetooth earpiece. The deer I encountered along the main loop, however, went about their business casually, grazing lazily alongside the paved trail that slopes downhill from the parking lot, looking up to stare as I passed, but not to bolt into the trees.

White-tailed deer wander through the grasses along the Gold Canyon Park trails.
White-tailed deer wander through the grasses along the Gold Canyon Park trails. Credit: Brendan Gibbons for the San Antonio Report

That paved trail, which is wheelchair accessible, extends 0.6 miles in a half-crescent around the southeastern side of the property. Then, the pavement stops and the trail becomes a mulch and dirt path, which crosses the creek bed and slopes back up to the parking lot. The ring formed by both trails is about 0.8 miles in total.

This is the extent of the official trails at Gold Canyon Park. The mulchy path, in particular, follows a pleasant stretch of woods with some notably large Ashe juniper trees. When I visited on Tuesday, spiky-leafed agarita plants were in bloom, their yellow flowers giving off a fragrant honey-like scent. Maybe I’ll come back early this summer and see if I can find some of its edible red berries.

Branching off this main loop are at least two double-track paths that cut through the dense woods that cover the park’s northern section, where the trees eventually open up to a field just south of Gold Canyon Road behind the playground at tiny Redland Park. Canyon Road. Somebody left a couch in the woods between these trails. Judging from this report from a prior visitor, it’s been there since at least 2019. 

Ancestral occupants of this small piece of land also left behind hints of their presence, though less destructively than with a rotting couch. Following my visit, I found this 2014 archaeological report by University of Texas at San Antonio’s Center for Archaeological Research. The authors had surveyed a piece of land near the entrance ahead of the City’s trail construction, hoping to assess whether the new trail threatened any significant cultural sites.

They found nothing of great significance, nothing that could tell them the time frame when indigenous people had stopped there to hunt or work their stone tools. Still, the archaeologists found evidence of their presence in stone projectile points, tools and flakes of chert left behind from crafting them.

Read more from the Trailist archives.

As someone who grew up in a part of the country that was covered by glacial ice while Paleoindians lived in what is now Central Texas, I’m always amazed at the extent of our local archaeological record. It’s incredible that local archaeologists don’t seem to blink when they find evidence of human occupation dating back thousands of years, because human materials can be found nearly everywhere around here.

I did find plenty of modern materials — plastic bottles, cans, wrappers, and bags — along the creek and the drainage outlets that channel stormwater into the park from nearby neighborhoods. The trash situation wasn’t nearly as bad as other parks downstream, though.

Overall, this park offers nearby residents a good place to get outside, however briefly. I don’t know that it’s big enough to to be worth the drive across the city, though. If I had a dog, I might return more often.

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