Best Hiking in Hill Country (new record in 2020)

Texas Hill Country is full of great places to hike. I don’t know about you, but I always go hiking with my dog. We’ve visited many places in this part of Texas, including all of the state parks. Recently, we conquered 28 miles while hiking in Hill Country State Natural Area. This Texas State Park is located in Bandera, Texas – Cowboy Capital of the World. This is one amazing place in which we have traveled further than any other.

Best hiking in Hill Country State Natural Area, passing the entrance before sunset.
The entrance to Hill Country

Hill Country State Natural Area

Hill Country State Natural Area is a “must visit” for those seeking far reaching scenic views, and miles of hiking trails with elevation changes. This is definitely one of our favorite places to hike, and it is appropriately named. The Texas State Park is very popular for horse back riding and hiking. Camping and mountain biking are other potential activities.

Abbey and I, simply journeyed through the park on foot. We reached a total distance of 28 miles on two separate adventures. This is the furthest we have hiked through any park thus far – a new record! However, there are at least 40 miles worth of trails inside this 5,000 acre park. There just isn’t enough time in the day to get through all of the trails without a horse.

The trail map from Hill Country with our highlighted routes.
Hill Country State Natural Area Trail Map

First Hike at Hill Country State Natural Area

We spent our first visit hiking to each point of interest, and scenic viewpoint. Our path is outlined above in orange. We began on the south side of the park at the HQ. On this loop we saw evidence of previous ranches, prairie land and many hills, including a few in the center of the park. This route was fairly easy to hike with some minor changes in elevation. Hiking in Hill Country can be easy, or challenging depending on the path you choose.

Scenic Overlook Trail

After returning to the HQ, we drove a short distance north to the only other parking lot in the park. The parking area is fairly close to the Scenic Overlook Trail, which is probably the most popular spot to hike. Park staff suggest hitting this trail for good reason. On the trail map it is the first point of interest.

One of the views from Scenic Overlook Trail. Several hills can be seen in the distance.
Scenic Overlook Trail is one of the best in Hill Country

It’s a challenging hike to the top, but rewards hikers with the best views in Texas Hill Country. Amazing sights are in all directions. There were too many hills to count so I kept track of the horseback riders on the trails instead. Three horseback riders stuck out like a sore thumb on the east side of the park. Scenic Overlook Trail is short and it’s near the center of the park. There are several trails leading to (at least) three different locations from this point.

Vista Ridge and Cougar Canyon

We made our way north toward the other viewpoints after hiking around the Scenic Overlook Trail. Evidence of old ranches was obvious once again in the form of a house painted green, and a dilapidated barn. There are a few trails to the north with challenging inclines. Every one seems to have a unique view of the surrounding hills. Vista Ridge and Cougar Canyon are two of these trails, but Madrone and Creek Bottom are fun to hike in their own way.

The best trails are out there in the hills

Vista Ridge Trail is more than two miles long, and this challenging trail has some great views. The scenic viewpoint marked on the trail map overlooks Ice Cream Hill. Cougar Canyon Overlook Trail is slightly shorter, but no less challenging. It overlooks Cougar Canyon to the west, and a couple of primitive camping areas to the northeast. The scenic viewpoint marked on the trail map is atop the steep incline to the north.

Our first hike lasted about six hours as we hiked 14 miles through the hills. We stopped at each point of interest marked on the trail map, and climbed more than 100 floors worth of elevation. Abbey conquered these trails like a champ in Texas Hill Country, but we did not stop there.

Ice Cream Hill behind Abbey on the dog friendly trail.
The dog friendly trail in front of Ice Cream Hill

Second Hike at Hill Country State Natural Area

Our second visit began at the HQ just like the first. However, this time our route went from west to east, for the most part. We hiked around the challenging Ice Cream Hill, to the prairies and woods in the east. Ice Cream Hill may take its name because of its shape in comparison to the other hills. It also could be the way water runoff trails appear like vanilla ice cream drizzling downhill. Either way, it’s a fun and challenging hike around this piece of dessert.

A Dessert Oasis

A small pond is impossible to miss in front of Ice Cream Hill. We took a moment to get a good look at the oasis before heading to Wilderness Trail. We followed Wilderness Trail all the way back to the HQ. The trail is more of a road to a primitive camping area, but along the way I noticed people enjoying the Scenic Overlook Trail. We passed several people headed toward the camp who were also hiking with their dog.

Abbey, on the dog friendly trail in front of a pond which is in front of Ice Cream Hill.
Ice Cream Hill

The Hungry Longhorn

From the HQ we continued eastward around the prairie. We saw goats and cattle at a nearby ranch, including a deprived-looking longhorn. From the Wildlife Trail we continued around the outer edge of the park through a more wooded area. Many trails inside the park are unshaded, but these are different. If you need more shade among the hills, the southeastern trails will serve you well. Wildlife scurried in the woods, most of which looked like deer, but were difficult to see.

A longhorn eats just beyond the trail from this Texas State Park in Hill Country.
A longhorn in Hill Country

The trails to the east are much more level because they do not run over hills. We made better time on our second visit due to these trails. Our duration was shorter by nearly an hour. However, we hiked another 14 miles. Our elevation gain was much lower, but our experience was not. Hill Country State Natural Area is one of the best places in Hill Country to hike. Hill Country has amazing sights and challenging, but dog friendly trails.

Hiking Texas Hill Country is Amazing

Hiking 28 miles through Hill Country is quite an adventure. We are not done hiking, or breaking records. We will return to this Texas State Park, as well as others in the future.

Hill Country State Natural Area is near two more popular state parks based upon daily visits. Hill Country, along with Lost Maples and Garner State Park, make up a trio of spectacular parks about two hours west of San Antonio. These are the places where you can find the best hiking in Hill Country.

I’m a certified personal trainer in San Antonio. After adopting Abbey, I created Places for Pups to help you get outside, exercise with your dog and have fun doing it. We have mastered hiking in Texas Hill Country. Though we emerge from the woods unharmed, we are not responsible for you or your pets. You are solely responsible for trying exercises, or places discussed on this site. Grab the best hiking gear and go dog friendly.  I wish you good fortune on the trails to come.

David Earley


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