Conquer Hills & Caves at Dog Friendly Garner State Park

Garner State Park is an extremely popular Texas State Park about two hours west of San Antonio. The park contains several hills, and borders the Frio River. There are many things to do among the hills, but our activity of choice was hiking with our dog, Abbey.

View of Old Baldy at Garner State Park.
Old Baldy and the Frio River from Bridges Trail

The Most Popular State Park May Also Be the Best

Garner State Park is the most popular state park in Texas, based on attendance. After hiking at least four hills, crawling into two caves, and seeing this section of Texas Hill Country from 1850 feet, the reasons for it’s popularity became very clear. In fact, this park makes a case for the best park in Texas!

How to Get to Garner State Park in Concan

Address: 234 RR 1050, Concan, TX 78838

Fees: $8 without a Texas State Parks Pass

Garner State Park is between US-83 and the Frio River in Concan, Texas. The park is open from 8am – 10pm everyday, and is dog friendly. If you plan on visiting during the weekend, I suggest making a reservation on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

Heading up Old Baldy Trail.
Old Baldy Trailhead at Garner State Park

Our first visit came during winter between Christmas and New Years. Many people were setting up camps despite the cooler weather, and several groups were hiking on the most challenging trails. Some amenities at this state park are very distinctive.

Garner State Park Amenities

  • Dog friendly
  • Fun and scenic hiking trails
  • Unique points of interest including caves, summits and cairns
  • 37 screened shelters, 17 cabins, one group camp and more than 300 campsites
  • Jukebox dance (summer only)
  • Playground
  • Mini-golf
  • Boathouse
  • Cowboy theatre

There are nearly 20 hiking trails at Garner State Park, but most are short. The distance of the trails may not wear you out, but the elevation changes might. Several trails on the south side of the park wind through the hills. Each will provide some challenges and scenic views. The total potential distance is 16 miles. Expect to hike all day if you plan to hit every trail in the park.

Pro tip – Begin your hike with Old Baldy Trail. This trail provides a journey to the highest point (1850 feet) inside the park. Climbing up the rocks may be difficult for some. Our girl hiked up there like a champ. We also saw other dogs, and people of various ages, including kids. The peak appeared to be the most popular spot at Garner State Park.

A good view of Frio River at Garner State Park.
Frio River from Old Baldy Trail

Hiking Gear You May Need

The dog friendly hiking trails are incredibly rocky on the south side of the park. Several trails lead up, or downhill depending on your direction. Other trails lead around the sides of hills with steep edges. Many rocks are unstable and act as tripping hazards. I nearly slipped three times due to sliding rocks. Wearing hiking shoes on these trails is the best option.

Bring water with you, especially during warmer months. The trails may be short, but the significant changes in elevation will increase your heart rate and thirst. Wear enough clothing to protect you from sunburn and plant-life. Some trees and thorny bushes may reach out and grab you on the trails.

Abbey wears her Ruffwear gear atop Old Baldy.
Abbey enjoys the view from Old Baldy Trail

You may need special gear if you are hiking with your dog. We saw more dogs at Garner State Park than any other so far. Our girl wore a Ruffwear Singletrak Pack which holds two bottles of water.

We also used a Roamer Leash which wraps around the waist, making it hands free. This was extremely useful for two reasons – I could navigate the terrain without one hand holding the leash, and I could take photos, or view the map.

If you plan on doing more than a simple out-and-back hike, you will need the trail map. Many of the trails between US-83 and the Frio River wind through the hills and intersect on the south side. All nine points of interest are on this side of the park.

However, they are not in alphabetical, or numerical order. Plan your route accordingly. You will not need the map on the north side of the park because there are only two separate loops to hike.

Texas Hill Country can be seen for miles from the top of Old Baldy.
The view north from Old Baldy

Old Baldy Trail at Garner State Park

We began our five hour hike with Old Baldy Trail after parking in the Pecan Grove Camping Area. The plan was to hike up to the peak, gather the views of Texas Hill Country, and loop around the south side of the park. This route allowed us to hit every point of interest on the map, with the exception of Shady Oak.

Old Baldy Trail is only half a mile, but it is very steep and rocky. The views of the hills surrounding the park from Old Baldy Trail are amazing. Many people were simply enjoying the views along the trail, and at the peak. From the top of Old Baldy there is a 360 degree view of the area.

We could see the snake-like Frio River flowing for miles. In the future, we may return to Garner State Park for camping. We will use that opportunity to spend more time atop Old Baldy. We did not spend much time on the peak during this visit because there was much more to see.

Another amazing view of Hill Country from Garner State Park.
The view east from Old Baldy

Foshee Trail

From the plethora of views on Old Baldy Trail we headed west via Foshee. This trail is fairly easy to navigate and will bring you to four other trails. Foshee Trail has some rocks to climb and more scenic views, but not as many as Old Baldy. Some trees border the trail on both sides as it guides you west through the hills.

Take the short nature trail next to the headquarters to learn about the various trees inside Garner State Park. We saw only a few travelers on Foshee, and they were headed for Old Baldy. From this trail you can clearly see Old Baldy at several points.

A view of Old Baldy from the hill to the west.
Old Baldy from the western hills

Old CCC Trail

The first trail you encounter while heading north on Foshee is the Old CCC Trail. This trail leads through the woods at a fairly steady elevation, and dead ends near another peak. There is a view of the hills to the northwest, but it’s not possible to access the peak.

The purpose of the trail is unclear, and we didn’t see another soul on it. If you want a secluded spot inside Garner State Park, the Old CCC Trail will meet that need. The fifth point of interest, the Old Rock Fence, is also in this area.

The Old CCC Trail at Garner State Park.
Hiking Old CCC Trail

Wilks Trail

After heading back to and along the Foshee Trail, we quickly arrived at a four way intersection. We chose Wilks Trail which winds down the hill and along the south side of Elm Creek. This trail is fairly easy to hike, but it has many small unstable rocks.

The distance to the next intersection is less than a quarter mile. However, Wilks Trail feels like it winds around for a mile. Instead of continuing along this trail, we followed Bell Trail to Donovan Trail. This path is a fun hike which curves around the outside of two adjoining hills at a moderate elevation.

The view from Wilks Trail in Texas Hill Country.
Wilks Trail is rocky and snake-like

Donovan Trail

We headed down our third hill by following the Donovan Trail west. Once again, the area is slightly steep no matter which direction you follow. The trail leads down into the woods and has two bridges crossing Elm Creek. More unstable rocks, tree stumps and tree roots litter the trail.

I nearly hurt my left ankle and knee stepping directly onto a very small tree stump in the middle of the trail. The risk of twisting an ankle, or spraining a knee ligament seems high, but the trails are fun if you are careful. Always use adequate footwear on Hill Country trails, and watch your step.

Donovan is a fun, but risky trail at Garner State Park.
Crossing Elm Creek via Donovan Trail

Campos Trail

The Campos Trail wraps around another peak on the west side, near US-83. Two other points of interest are found along this route. The first is called CCC Horseshoe Footprint, but it’s just a small wooden carving along the trail. The second is an overlook which we reached after another moderate climb.

Surprisingly, this location was also secluded. We didn’t see another person on this side of Garner State Park, despite the amount of visitors present. We rested on the rocky peak momentarily to rehydrate and survey the hills. The curve of US-83, as well as any traffic, can be seen nearby.

The Campos Trail overlook

Old Horse Trail

We turned northeast on Campos Trail and followed it to Polly Trail, which leads down another hill. We did not follow it very far because we intended to use the Old Horse Trail which runs along the hill, and down the north side. This trail is full of trees, and well-shaded. It is very easy to navigate, but has a steep section near the Old Entrance Road.

The Old Horse Trail is a pleasant hike at a moderate elevation. The dirt trail is very narrow with a steep incline to one side, and a steep decline on the other. Passing traffic on this trail may be difficult. However, we did not see anyone else on the trail.

Old Horse Trail is hardly a trail, but it's a fun hike along the hills.
Old Horse Trail at Garner State Park

Blinn River Trail

We followed the road to the River Crossing Camping Area because it is the only path from the Old Horse Trail. There are restrooms, cabins and camping spaces in this location.

After wandering through the area we found the Blinn River Trail along the Frio River. The trail is very narrow with slight changes in elevation. No one else was using the trail, but there were a few people along the river.

The Frio River at Garner State Park.
The Frio River through the rocks

It may be possible to cross the river using rocks, but there are no hiking trails on the east side. The Frio River is incredibly clear as it flows over rocks to the south. Fish and turtles are easy to see under the water.

We climbed a few large rocks along the river, and Abbey stopped momentarily to gather the scents coming down stream. The Blinn River Trail follows an interesting cliff. One cave is noticeable midway, and it appeared to be in use!

The Frio River is crystal clear

Crystal Cave Trail

Between the Frio River and the trails on the west side of Garner State Park there are two caves. One of these caves is located at the third point of interest on the map. It can be reached by using the Crystal Cave Trail, which is fairly short, but very steep and rocky.

We climbed our fourth hill of the day via this trail. Finally, we saw other life-forms, which we had not seen since leaving Old Baldy. The Crystal Cave Trail must be another popular area.

Crystal Cave Trail is very popular at Garner State Park.
Crystal Cave from the outside

The climb up to the cave is a very good workout. Abbey continued to lead the way even though we had been hiking for hours, with more changes in elevation than ever before. Eventually we reached the first cave, which is large enough for several families.

Crystal Cave is dark and has no exit, but it is open to the public. We’ve been to hundreds of parks, but Garner State Park is the only one which allows self-guided cave touring, and rock climbing! It will be great to see this park again in the spring.

Crystal Cave is dark but not very deep.
Crystal Cave from the inside

White Rock Cave Trail

The Crystal Cave Trail leads to Bridges Trail, and the fourth point of interest. Painted Overlook was very easy to reach from the cave. There is a great view of Old Baldy, once again, from this overlook.

Interestingly, there is also a spectacular display of cairns near the intersection. I captured a shot of the rocks with Old Baldy in the background. Abbey was more interested in the tiny people moving around below.

Rock sculptures with Old Baldy in the background.
An additional point of interest on Bridges Trail

We took Bridges Trail back to Foshee, and the four way intersection from earlier. This time we headed east along Bird Trail, which turns into White Rock Cave Trail. There is another cave along this trail, but it’s much smaller than the previous one.

The White Rock Cave Trail led us back downhill toward the Pecan Grove Camping Area. Steep and rocky are two good words to describe this trail as well. As we exited the trail, Hill Country was beginning to lose its daylight. Many visitors were setting up camp for the evening, or preparing to grill dinner.

We had seen the wonders of Garner State Park and were ready to head home. The only point of interest we did not see was Shady Oak, but we see plenty of large live oaks in San Antonio where we live. As we exited the park, a very large group of people were hiking up Crystal Cave Trail before sundown.

Conquering hills at Garner State Park

Challenging Trails at Garner State Park

  1. Old Baldy Trail
  2. Crystal Cave Trail
  3. Bridges Trail
  4. White Rock Cave Trail

Parks Near Garner State Park in Concan, TX

Total Workload at Garner State Park

Duration – 5 hours
Distance – 9 miles
Elevation – 135 floors

We conquered many hills at Garner State Park. This may very well be the best park in Texas Hill Country. The views are amazing, and there are unique activities. The hiking trails are fun, but they are also dangerous. Your endurance will be challenged within the hills.

Are you up for the challenge at Garner State Park?

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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