After the completion of several bridges and trail connections, the Medina River Greenway trail on the South Side is essentially complete.

On Saturday, I rode the 13-mile stretch from Highway 281 to Palo Alto Road almost entirely on this concrete trail made for pedestrians and bikes, part of San Antonio’s roughly 80-mile trail network. With the heavy heat of late summer finally gone, the autumn sun felt light on my shoulders. I rode through streams of snout butterflies on their daily meanderings and spotted monarch butterflies making a much longer pilgrimage to Mexico.

This stretch of trail starts across Highway 281 from the trailhead at the endpoint of the 4-mile extension trail connecting the Mission Reach and the Medina River, covered in an earlier Trailist. Riding south from that intersection, the trail follows Del Lago Parkway in the form of an extra-wide sidewalk, which turns left and parallels Club House Drive. It leads to the Mission Del Lago trailhead at Jim Mattox Park, also the location of the Mission Del Lago Golf Course clubhouse.

Medina River Greenway

Offers: Walking, running, biking.
Location: Mission Del Lago Trailhead (1222 Mission Grande, San Antonio, TX 78221) to Palo Alto Road Trailhead (15890 Hwy. 16, San Antonio TX 78264)
Trail miles: 14 miles
Restrooms: Restrooms and potable water at Mission Del Lago, Pleasanton Road, and Palo Alto Road trailheads.

After that, the trail takes an unexpected path directly across the golf course, then along its eastern edge. From there, it’s 1.8 miles to the Mitchell Lake trailhead, paralleling the former sludge dump-turned-bird sanctuary, then another 1.7 miles to the next trailhead at Pleasanton Road, the only road crossing for the rest of the trail.

The trail runs south along Pleasanton Road, then plunges underneath a railway bridge and into the Medina River basin near its confluence with Leon Creek. Two recently built bridges now join this area to the older 7-mile section of the Medina River Greenway that begins at Medina River Natural Area on Palo Alto Road. Right now, the trail is closed about a mile east of the Palo Alto Road trailhead for repairs.

A recently built bridge over the Medina River connects the Pleasanton Road trailhead to older sections of the trail.
A recently built bridge over the Medina River connects the Pleasanton Road trailhead to older sections of the trail. Credit: Brendan Gibbons / San Antonio Report

The only other access points between Pleasanton Road and Palo Alto Road are the twin trailheads at Applewhite Road and Old Applewhite Road. The Old Applewhite Road bridge over the Medina River is also known as the Donkey Lady bridge of local legend.

Overall, the trail offers a natural escape from the city that’s still inside of Loop 1604. It meanders from river bottoms with towering pecans to upland thickets of mesquite separated by prickly pear, grasses, and shrubs. The trail contains numerous switchbacks with steep elevations, which can wear out riders, runners, or hikers faster than they might expect.

I rode the greenway as a 26-mile out-and-back ride, which took me about two hours. The Trailist recommends that anyone planning to ride the whole thing bring plenty of water and snacks, as well as bug spray during warmer months.

After winding up one of one of the many switchbacks on my return trip, I ascended a hill and saw a coyote standing in the middle of the trail, maybe 30 feet away. Its fur looked thicky and bushy, mottled reddish and brown. Before I could pull out my phone for a photo, it slid noiselessly into the tall grass, then disappeared from view.

It felt a bit like an omen seeing this animal, a trickster character in many of the indigenous mythologies of this continent, on a full-moon Halloween. A couple years ago, I moderated a panel discussion with author Dan Flores, whose book, “Coyote America,” details the long-running campaign to eradicate coyotes from the American West, using basically every weapon at humanity’s disposal: guns, traps, poison, even explosives.

Apparently, one reason humans can’t seem to wipe the coyote from the map is because the more a group of coyotes in a certain area is threatened, the more babies they have. Their normal litter size is five or six pups, but that can get as high as 12 to 16 pups when populations drop, Flores found.

I love that. Here’s this hated (by some) animal that is still incredibly resilient and manages to not only survive but thrive in the presence of its enemies. I draw a little burst of inspiration from that knowledge every time I see a coyote. That’s especially true during such uncertain and tumultuous times, when resilience might be what we need most.

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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.