San Antonio’s landscape offers some remarkable diversity, from sunny fields, to dark woods, to misty marshes. Ride or walk for long enough along the Salado Creek Greenway and you’ll see a little bit of everything.

Salado Creek Greenway-North offers 16.5 miles of concrete and asphalt trail that stretches from just north of Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston to Loop 1604, with plans to extend the trail north by mid-2020. 

After nearly 20 years of one-eighth-cent sales tax supporting the construction of these trails, San Antonio has nearly 70 miles of them, with new mileage added every year. Salado Creek-North weaves together many of the city’s best parks on the North Side, including McAllister Park and Phil Hardberger Park.

The Trailist recommends riding or walking the trail north going out and south coming back. That way, you can take advantage of the subtle downhill decline on the return trip. 

On my 35-mile ride there last week, the whole city was shrouded in fog and mist. My clothes gathered moisture as I rode and everything got pretty soggy, but it was worth the weather to have the trail largely to myself. Salado Creek Greenway-North is often crowded on weekends with pleasant weather.

My August 2018 Salado Creek Greenway trail review covered the 7.2 miles between Southside Lions Park and Jack White Park, a route that winds most of the way through the East Side. The southern trail sticks mostly to shaded forest, while the northern section has more varied scenery. 

I like to start by parking at John James Park and then riding over the bridge on Rittiman Road. The trail connection on the other side of the creek parallels Holbrook Road. If you get a whiff of raw sewage, you’re in the right place. 

Holbrook Road is a notorious choke point in the San Antonio Water System’s sewer network, with more coming down the pipe than the system is designed for in that area, especially during storms when rain infiltrates the sewer. SAWS is working on upsizing the pipe to stop the sewage leaks. 

From the start of the trail, you have shaded forest riding for about 4 miles. The crossing under Loop 10 starts to mark a change in the terrain. Be careful crossing the 410 access road, probably the most dangerous street crossing on the trail, even with the posted warning signs. 

After the crossing, the trail takes you through Los Patios, a small, mixed-use development tucked into the forest. Built in 1968, it integrates nature in a way few other such business spaces in San Antonio do.

The trail then starts to climb out of the creekside forest for the first time, ascending a steep bank. On the opposite side, you can see forested cliffs, with Saint Mary’s Hall Middle School perched at the top. 

Once you get to Lady Bird Johnson Park, the landscape changes again. The forest recedes and the concrete trail turns into a boardwalk that extends along a vast, grassy marsh that makes you question whether you’re still in San Antonio. Herons and egrets pick their way through the shallow water 

From the start of the boardwalk, you’re going to be out of the woods and exposed to the sun for about 4 miles. Make sure you have plenty of water, especially in the summer, as the heat can be relentless. 

Salado Creek Greenway Trail follows a boardwalk along a marsh on the North Side.
Salado Creek Greenway Trail follows a boardwalk along a marsh on the North Side.

At the end of the boardwalk, the trail crosses under Wetmore Road, then climbs a grassy hill looking over Wurzbach Parkway. The trail then parallels Wurzbach through open fields and mesquite woods, with long flat sections to build up some speed. I enjoy the views of McAllister Park to the north and the airport to the south, not so much the fumes from cars and trucks on Wurzbach.

The next section is remarkable for its contrast. After crossing Jones-Maltsberger Road, the trail passes through shade again as it crosses under Wurzbach and plunges back into forests of oak, pecan, and cedar elm, interrupted by shadowy crossings under major roads, including U.S. 281. 

Make sure to follow the signs and avoid getting turned off the main trail when you reach Walker Ranch Historic Landmark Park, the easiest place to accidentally veer off down a side trail. After crossing under Blanco Road, you can leave the Salado Creek trail to access the network of walking paths at Phil Hardberger Park East.  

Shortly after passing Voelcker Homestead Trailhead, the trail enters what I consider the loveliest stretch of greenway on the Salado. For about a half mile, it parallels a wooden fence separating the trail from a row of houses. Branches from cedar elms and oaks lean over the trail, forming a leafy tunnel. When I rode there last week, many of those leaves had turned red and gold, and the trail disappeared into the mist. 

A spiny softshell turtle on the Salado Creek Greenway Trail.
A spiny softshell turtle on the Salado Creek Greenway Trail.

The terrain then starts to permanently shift to the limestone bluffs and boulders, rocky soils, and mixed oak and juniper forest of the Hill Country. The Salado at this point is a shallow canyon. It floods frequently enough that structures can’t be built there, part of the reason the City is so easily able to acquire new land to continue the trail.  

For now, it terminates at the Loop 1604 trailhead. By next summer, it’ll be even longer, with the City set to complete the roughly 4 miles between 1604 and Eisenhower Park. That part of the trail will also be the access point for Medicine Wall, set to be San Antonio’s first officially sanctioned outdoor rock climbing crag when it opens in 2020. 

The City is also working on completing the connection to Salado Creek Greenway-South, which is currently split by Fort Sam Houston. All of this means that within a year or two, it could be possible to do a 50-mile ride without ever leaving the Salado Creek Greenway. 

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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.