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 natural trails, it provides visitors with glimpses of the Wild West.
The Texas Hill Country is filled with draught resistant trees, cacti, wildlife, 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.
- Dog friendly
- Mountain biking
- Horseback riding
There may not be many things to do in this section of the Texas Hill Country, but the scenic views along the natural trails are worth the trip. This dog friendly, Texas State Park, is open from 8am – 5pm on a daily basis. In order to reach Hill Country State Natural Area from San Antonio, you will need to travel around Medina Lake to the northwest. The headquarters is located on the east side of the park. You will most likely drive through Bandera, or Hondo, before reaching the country roads leading to the park.
Things to do
There are 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 on our first 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.
Government Canyon is the only park in San Antonio which rivals Hill Country State Natural Area in terms of size. Each Texas State Park has 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
A Scenic Adventure
We traveled from the northeast side of San Antonio mid morning, and arrived at Hill Country State Natural Area headquarters late in the morning. Although August is behind us, and many people have been declaring the arrival of fall, it still felt like a very hot, sunny, summer day. 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 headquarters, 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.
We were on a section of the Spring Branch Trail which winds around a hill with a steady incline. As soon as we noticed a rocky incline with large steps it became clear we were headed the right direction. This was the challenging area both the staff, and the map had mentioned. The average hiker will not find the climb difficult.
Abbey jumped up the steps without issue. Prior to reaching the top I spotted a few horseback riders on a separate trail, which may have been the Wilderness Trail off in the distance. I couldn’t help thinking about the Wild 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.
The Top of Overlook Trail
Upon completing the stair 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 even though there were sure to be many other spectacular views. 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 will return to hike the most challenging trails with scenic views.
Hiking Trails With 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
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 on hiking most of 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, such as a collapsable water bowl, so that your best four legged friend is able to rehydrate as well.
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 park is open daily, but it’s not open late. 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.
Explore The Wild West
Hill Country State Natural Area is like no other Texas State Park. Travel to this park to explore the hills, and gain a plethora of scenic views. The adventure will not come to you. This may be as close as we can get to witnessing life as it was in the Wild 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.
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I wish you good fortune on the trails to come.