For obvious reasons, this can’t be a normal Trailist column. I’m sitting here in my apartment, listening to the rain pour down for the third straight day, trying to think of ways to recommend getting outdoors during these tough and ever-changing times.

Here’s the paradox: We all have to go outside, for our own physical and mental health. We can’t get our exercise at the gym anymore. And regardless of how nice your home workout set-up might be, I believe you need that frequent dose of sunshine, greenery, wildflowers and birdsong to keep you in touch with your own humanity and relationship to the natural world.

But at the same time, we need to keep our social distance. We don’t want to risk carrying the virus into rural areas with few doctors and hospital beds. We don’t want to risk infecting park staff. We don’t want to been seen clustering together in ways that make politicians feel they have no choice but to close down the remaining parks.

It seems like San Antonio authorities have been trying to strike the tough balance of allowing people to get outside while also reducing the spread of coronavirus. Here’s how Mayor Ron Nirenberg put it in his Friday briefing:

“It’s part of our mental wellness to get outside and not be cooped up all day,” the mayor said, but added that “we have to reduce congregation and gathering as much as possible.”

Exercising outdoors is one of the exempted activities to the City’s and Bexar County’s joint stay-at-home orders. However, both entities say they will not allow camping at during Easter Weekend, when places like Brackenridge Park usually fill with families celebrating the holiday outside together.

The San Antonio River Authority decided to close its parks entirely for Easter weekend. Here’s a list of the River Authority parks that will be closed April 11 and 12:

  • Confluence Park, 310 W. Mitchell St.
  • Portions of the Mission Reach section of the San Antonio River Walk
  • Concepción Portal and adjoining green space near Concepción Park
  • Mission Parkway from SE Military to Villamain, including Espada Park, Acequia Park, and the Acequia Pavilion
  • All large pavilions along the river; these are already closed and will remain so until further notice
  • Graytown Park on the San Antonio River, 1239 County Park 125
  • John William Helton San Antonio River Nature Park, 15662 Farm-to-Market Road 775

Others have chosen to close down entirely. Mitchell Lake Audubon Center closed its trails recently after deciding last month to close its indoor spaces. Government Canyon State Natural Area west of San Antonio closed March 24. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s alert map is the best place to find up-to-date information on state public land closures.

On April 3, Big Bend National Park in West Texas joined other national parks in temporarily closing. The park also banned through traffic on park roads and trails.

Luckily for us in San Antonio, the City’s Parks and Recreation Department has only closed basketball courts, outdoor exercise equipment, playgrounds, skate parks and splash pads. It’s not easy to keep your social distance in places like this.

Most trails, parks, dog parks, and bathrooms remain open. Still, The Trailist recommends that you help keep them that way by steering clear of the parks that tend to be overcrowded. On Saturday, the Parks Department closed all trails at Friedrich Wilderness Park except for Forest Range and Water Trail.

Honestly, don’t even bother going to Friedrich and Eisenhower Park right now. With their beautiful scenery and sweeping vistas, these parks get crowded even during normal times. Since the pandemic, I’ve been getting reader tips that the trails and parking lots have been even more packed with people than usual.

On Friday, I called Connie Swann, spokeswoman for San Antonio’s Parks department, to ask which parks haven’t been crowded. She suggested residents take advantage of the City’s network of the nearly 70 miles of linear creekway trails. With such spread-out parks, it’s easy to maintain the proper distance of 6 feet from anyone trail-goers might pass on a walk or bike ride.

Here’s a list of many of those trail sites and other parks that tend not to get too crowded:

Near Downtown

Brackenridge Park
Olmos Basin Park
San Antonio River Mission Reach


O.P. Schnabel Park/Leon Creek North
Crownridge Canyon Natural Area
Tom Slick Park


McAllister Park
Salado Creek Greenway North
Comanche Lookout Park
Cibolo Creek Primitive Trail
Crescent Bend Nature Park


Southside Lions Park/Salado Creek Greenway South


Medina River Natural Area
Pearsall Park
Leon Creek Greenway South/Devil’s Den

Of course, you don’t need to drive to a park to get outdoors. As traffic has slowed, the streets are now filling with walkers, joggers, and bikers enjoying spaces that in normal times are mainly dedicated to cars.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been walking the neighborhood, often picking the orange loquats from trees growing all around my neighborhood of Monte Vista. Some of my neighbors have also let my friends and I pick citrus and herbs growing in their gardens. I love how food just seems to grow everywhere in San Antonio.

With more time on their hands, many have turned to gardening as an outlet and source of food security. Birdwatchers have also noted a surge in interest.

When I’m out walking, I like to use the iNaturalist app to identify new species of plants and animals I’m not familiar with. The image search function lets you upload a picture and suggests a species that matches what you found. Other users can then confirm whether you got it right. It’s like a real-life Pokemon GO.

Fishing seems like a great idea as well. What better way to be outside, socially distanced, while potentially harvesting food in a way that can keep you out of the coronavirus trap that is the grocery store?

But here’s a Trailist confession: I’m not much of an angler. I don’t even own a rod and tackle. Maybe when all this is over, one of y’all can show me some good fishing holes around here.

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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.