Hill Country State Natural Area, is an incredibly scenic Texas State Park. Located in Bandera, “Cowboy Capital of the World”, it is approximately 60 miles west of San Antonio. With over 5,000 acres and miles of horse-ridden trails through the hills, it provides visitors with glimpses of the Old West.
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.
Hill Country State Natural Area is an Adventure in the Old West
The Texas Hill Country is filled with draught resistant trees, cacti, armadillos, rocks, and of course, hills. To some, hills provide a landscape with depth and beauty. Climb to the top of a hill and you will see a unique view that would be otherwise unobtainable. There is no shortage of these views inside Hill Country State Natural Area. In fact, this park has some of the best views in Hill Country and is adequately named.
How to Get to This State Park in Bandera, Texas
Hours of operation: Open daily for camping, riding and hiking
Fees: $6 without a Texas State Parks Pass
In order to reach Hill Country State Natural Area from San Antonio, you will need to travel around Medina Lake to the northwest. We find it easier to drive through Helotes, but I-90 provides an alternate route. You will most likely drive through Bandera, or Hondo, before reaching the country roads leading to the park. The HQ is located on the east side of the park.
There may not be many things to do in this secluded section of Texas Hill Country, but the scenic views along the natural trails are worth the trip. In fact, secluded and scenic may be the best two words to describe this park. Hill Country State Natural Area is dog friendly, and the HQ is open from 8am – 5pm on a daily basis.
Things to Do at Hill Country State Natural Area
There are (at least) 40 miles of natural trails inside Hill Country State Natural Area. The trails are dog friendly, and are great for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. We saw a few people riding horseback during each visit to the park. There are only two parking areas in the entire park for day visitors.
There are a few camping areas which require a reservation, and a group lodge which does as well. You may bring a horse, or bike to ride, but the trails vary in difficulty. The most challenging trails are also the ones with the best views, and you may be forced to walk.
Hiking Trails at Hill Country State
Government Canyon is the only park in San Antonio which rivals Hill Country State Natural Area in terms of size. Each Texas State Park boasts 40 miles of trails. However, Government Canyon is less dog friendly, and is not open Tuesday through Thursday. Several hiking trails at Hill Country State Natural Area will lead you to spectacular Hill Country views, and the park is open daily.
- Bandera Creek Trail – a moderate two mile trail near the headquarters
- Bar-O Trail – a moderate 1.9 mile trail leading from the park entrance to Creek Bottom and Spring Branch
- Cougar Canyon Overlook Trail – a challenging 1.5 mile loop on the north side
- Creek Bottom Trail – a moderate 1 mile trail connecting Bar-O Trail to Creek Bottom
- Heritage Loop – an easy 1.1 mile loop south of the headquarters
- Hermits Trail – a moderate 1.9 mile trail to the north, leading to the Butterfly Springs and Hermit’s Shack camping areas
- Ice Cream Hill – a challenging 1.5 mile loop on the west side
- Madrone Trail – a moderate 2.1 mile trail on the north side
- Medina Loop – a moderate 2.6 mile trail on the south side which connects to the Heritage Loop
- Merrick Mile – an easy 1 mile trail on the northwest side of the headquarters
- Pasture Loop – a moderate 1.9 mile loop on the southeast side
- Spring Branch Trail – a moderate 6.4 mile trail with a large, winding loop near the center of the park
- West Peak Overlook – a challenging 1.2 mile trail with a loop at the end
- Wilderness Trail – a moderate 3.1 mile trail with a camping area along the large loop
Which Trail will You Choose at Hill Country State Natural Area?
We traveled from the northeast side of San Antonio mid morning, and arrived at Hill Country State Natural Area HQ late in the morning. It felt very hot on our first visit in the summer. The staff advised us to take the West Peak Overlook Trail in order to find the best scenic views inside the park. Since part of the initial trail was closed for unknown reasons, we had to use the Spring Branch Trail to reach the Overlook Trail.
Surprisingly there are only two parking areas within Hill Country State Natural Area, and they are less than a mile apart. From the second parking area beyond the HQ, you can easily reach the Overlook Trail. As we set out on the dirt trail we quickly came across a horseback rider. Abbey gave the horse a look, but isn’t typically interested in horses. We continued on, but the hot sun, and lack of shade were not easy to dismiss.
The Spring Branch Trail winds around a hill with a steady incline before reaching the steep and rocky Overlook Trail. This was the challenging area the staff had mentioned. Experienced hikers will not find the climb too strenuous, but others might. Abbey jumped up the “steps” without issue.
Prior to reaching the top I spotted a few horseback riders on a trail in the distance, which may have been the Wilderness Trail. I found myself thinking about the Old West. This must have been what it was like in those days. I could see dusty, rocky trails, horses, oak trees, bushes, cacti, and hills in every direction. This is Texas Hill Country.
Overlook Trail is one of the Best in Hill Country
Upon completing the climb we noticed a couple sitting on one of the benches, admiring the view. The views were getting amazing, but the lack of shade was becoming a problem, especially for Abbey. The trail continued up, around the hill, and had many spectacular views waiting to be found. The benches faced the east, but the loop trail allows views in all directions from the top of the hill. We surveyed the hills in the east, as well as those to the south.
Unfortunately, we could not continue much further on our first visit. Abbey was consuming most of our drinking water, and consistently seeking shade. This behavior was indicative of potential overheating. Such behavior for her was abnormal, even in very hot weather. She desired to hike, but her body was unable to take the heat at Hill Country State Natural Area. We had no choice other than to turn back, but we returned in the winter when the weather was not a factor.
All Points of Interest at Hill Country State
During our second visit we made record distance on the trails. We visited every point of interest and each scenic overlook marked on the map. On the south side of the park we used Heritage Loop, Chiquita Falls, Pasture Loop, and Medina Loop. This route allowed us to see three points of interest, and a view of the hills from the south. We also saw some of the original ranching areas, including a building which could be entered.
On the north side of the park we made a much larger loop in order to see the final point of interest and two other scenic overlooks. We used Spring Branch, Overlook Trail, Madrone, Vista Ridge, Cougar Canyon, Hermit’s, Creek Bottom, and Bar-O. The views along this route are nothing short of spectacular. Along the Creek Bottom Trail we came in direct contact with an armadillo as the sun went down. Abbey wasted no time chasing it away.
The amount of trails and scenic views at Hill Country State Natural Area allowed us to set a new distance (and duration) record. Although there is a LOT of elevation change, it is not as much as what’s inside Garner State Park.
Duration – 6 hours
Distance – 14 miles
Elevation – 106 floors
Without a horse there are far too many trails to cover in one day. This is one of my favorite parks, and I cannot wait to return in the spring. Below is a photo of our routes. Perhaps we will travel from east to west on our next visit…
Hiking Trails with the Best Scenic Views
- Cougar Canyon Overlook Trail – 1.5 mile loop with steep inclines, and scenic views on the far north side
- West Peak Overlook Trail – 1.2 mile trail with steep incline, and a loop on top of a hill near the center of the park
- Vista Ridge Trail – 2.3 mile loop with steep inclines, and scenic views on the west side between the previous trails
- Medina Loop Trail – 2.6 mile loop on the south side of the park
Things to Remember in Hill Country
You will not find drinking water, or other beverages inside the park. Bring plenty of water with you if it is hot, or you plan to hike for the day. Bandera may be the last opportunity to buy beverages if you are traveling around the north side of Medina Lake. Most Texas State Parks require a State Parks Pass, or $6 to enter the park, and Hill Country State Natural Area is no different.
Some trails are smooth and easy, while others are steep and rocky. Wear appropriate hiking shoes to help prevent injuries, and improve stability. Bring a first aid pack with you in case any cuts, bumps, or stings are sustained. Many trails are out in the open, and you may benefit from wearing a hat, or sunscreen. Consider using a backpack to carry snacks, extra water, and first aid. Carry dog friendly gear so your best four-legged friend is also prepared.
You may want to take a picture of the trail map so that you do not get lost, or turned around in the hills. The only two parking areas are centrally located, which means you will need to travel further along the trails in order to get to the ends of the park. The trails are popular for horseback riding. Plan on crossing paths with horses along the narrow trails. Hikers have right of way over bikers, and horses have right of way over all.
Enjoy the “Old West” Atmosphere at Hill Country State Natural Area
Hill Country State Natural Area is not like other Texas State Parks. Travel to this park to explore the hills, and gain a plethora of views. The adventure will not come to you. This may be as close as we can get to witnessing life in the Old West. You may not be able to travel back in time, but perhaps you can have a glimpse of it at Hill Country State Natural Area in Bandera, Texas.
This state park is worth multiple return visits. If you would like to see more, checkout our more recent hike at Hill Country State Natural Area. We filled in the east-to-west section of the trail map, and matched our record distance. However, the total elevation was much lower because there aren’t many hills east of the HQ. This is one of the best parks to hike in Hill Country.