I walked the San Antonio Riverwalk with my dog on March 13th. Yeah, the entire thing – 34,197 steps along the dog friendly Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas! Here are all of the amazing details, including photos, and a video, of our day-long journey. You have never seen a hike quite like this one.
- How long is the San Antonio Riverwalk?
- Which parts of the riverwalk are pet friendly?
- What will I see along the San Antonio Riverwalk?
- Where can I park, or go at the riverwalk?
- How long does it take to walk the Riverwalk in San Antonio?
The answers are discussed below. The San Antonio Riverwalk is free, unique and self-guided, unless you purchase a riverboat tour. The riverwalk is broken down into four sections: Mission Reach, Southtown, Downtown and Museum Reach. Our guide is unique because it’s based on our record-breaking experience in our hometown of San Antonio.
How Long is the San Antonio Riverwalk in Texas?
The San Antonio Riverwalk is the largest urban ecosystem in our nation. It works in a fascinating way, and offers breathtaking sights. The riverwalk covers a total distance of 15 miles (on paper), from Mission Espada to the Pearl. Today I walked the entire riverwalk with my dog, Abbey. It’s a spectacular hike. Our journey and the points of interest are covered in this walking tour.
This journey begins where the riverwalk meets the Medina River Greenway connection. The connection is under construction and turns away from the river. It’s just south of Mission Espada on the west side of the river. A brief side note – the Haunted Train Tracks are across the river from this point. It’s simply a reference point, I’m definitely not trying to plug the experience.
Let’s Begin the San Antonio Riverwalk Tour
Most people prefer to bike along this section of the riverwalk, known as Mission Reach. However, we are resolved to complete it on foot (or paws as it were). We will not cheat by hitching a ride on one of the four wheel vehicles used to maintain the riverwalk.
Mission Reach is pet friendly. We have visited this stretch several times, but this will be our first time walking all the way through. I’m not sure if anyone has done this. Abbey, will probably be the first dog to hike the entire San Antonio Riverwalk!
The adventure will not be easy, but it will be a fun experience. We normally hike everywhere in San Antonio, as well as the state parks in Texas Hill Country. Our hikes have recently been as long as 14 miles. The dog friendly San Antonio Riverwalk is just a little further.
The bridges and trail extensions are not likely included in the total. In fact, there are several miles of trails which run along the acequias. Use the map we created to find the access points along the San Antonio Riverwalk. Those will lead to parking lots, but you can find more access points if you are able to park along a street. If you look close enough you will see the separate trails near some of the missions on the map.
The terrain will be easy to manage, but the distance may be challenging on foot. I chose a pair of tennis shoes which should remain comfortable for a few hours. Normally, I use hiking shoes for a better surface-grip, but the dry concrete should not put up much of a fight.
Mission Reach: Miles 1 – 9
I chose to approach the riverwalk from the south side of San Antonio because I live on the north side. The plan was to be dropped near Mission Espada, hike with Abbey to Brackenridge (or as close as we could get) and be picked up there. It’s Friday the 13th, so we have that going in our favor, and it’s fairly overcast. Four missions are along this nine mile path: Espada, San Juan, San Jose and Concepcion.
The dog friendly San Antonio Riverwalk has maps at each mission. There will be several bridges and paths to take between them. However, we will stay as close to the river as possible, using the hike and bike path. There we are, all the way at the bottom of the first map (the red dot), close to Mission Espada.
The missions cannot be seen from the river. If you would like to tour the Missions in San Antonio, you must walk away from the riverwalk. Furthermore, you can take a free audio tour of each mission via World Heritage SA.
Hiking Mission Reach is a long journey north (for us). The south side is the most unpopulated, and a great place to find solitude. There is some noise pollution at Espada due to trains, planes and traffic on I-410.
Despite that, I also hear the rush of the San Antonio River as it heads out of the city. Wildflowers are growing, and many trees are being renewed with the season. The path is a short distance away from the river, but the openness provides a good view of the river in both directions.
Dog Walking on the San Antonio Riverwalk is a Pleasure
It’s clear this path was designed with bikes and other vehicles in mind. The path is primarily concrete, it’s several feet wide and contains very little elevation gain. It’s perfect for a casual bike ride along the river, or to the missions. It’s also an excellent place to walk your dog.
There are several bridges to travel over, or under depending on your path. Traffic has the right of way at every street crossing, but shouldn’t be moving very fast. I typically notice the most bike traffic near Mission San Jose, which is probably the most popular mission. It’s about five miles from the Medina River Greenway connection to Mission San Jose.
We noticed only a few bikers, and one other hiker until we closed in on San Jose – the “Queen of the Missions”. Even though this stretch of the riverwalk is pet friendly, we don’t see many dogs using it. Eventually, we passed a couple of other dogs, several groups of bikers, and some people fishing near San Jose.
The riverwalk is not well-shaded throughout Mission Reach. The sun decided to show itself by the time we reached San Jose. Luckily, I wore sunscreen. It was fairly warm (at least 80 degrees), but not uncomfortable. In the summer, the concrete will be very hot. The risk of burning paws, and skin will be much higher.
I was carrying water and a collapsable bowl, but there are water fountains (at least 12) along the riverwalk. Several fountains are clearly dog friendly, having the bowl at the bottom. However, not every fountain is in good working order. A few of them worked for us, and a few did not. Bring water (and hiking gear) with you at all times, and do not count on every water fountain working properly.
Wildlife on the Riverwalk in San Antonio
The San Antonio River is home to wildlife of many types. Gaze closely into the water and you may see bass, catfish, or sunfish where the water level is low. As we began our journey near Mission Espada I could hear bullfrogs, but did not see them. I saw turtles underneath a bridge, but did not see any water snakes which live in the area.
The only mammals we noticed were squirrels, but raccoons, armadillos, rabbits, opossums, deer and javelinas live nearby as well. Birds are very common along Mission Reach. Cormorants, Cranes, Kingfishers, Ospreys, Egrets and Mallards are some you may find. I noticed many of these along the first five mile stretch. Of course, this stretch receives the least traffic and there are fewer residences.
I noticed the occasional shack, or structure between the missions, but residences increase dramatically as one approaches downtown. There are also several pieces of metal art along the dog friendly San Antonio Riverwalk. I won’t pretend to know them all, or what they represent.
There is one very large structure outside Mission Espada which is a new addition. The metal structure is hard to miss. It reminds me of a large crib mobile, but it turned out great!
San Antonio Riverwalk Points of Interest
- Tower of the Americas
- Espada Aqueduct
- Stinson Airport
- Espada Dam
- Hot Wells
- Confluence Park
- Tunnel Outlet
- San Fernando Cathedral
There are several points of interest along the San Antonio Riverwalk. My favorite is probably the Tower of the Americas. The tower is actually a couple of blocks away from the river in the downtown area. However, you can see it from the riverwalk at several locations. I recorded many of them in the video of our riverwalk adventure. The tower is a leftover relic from the World’s Fair back in 1968.
Tower of the Americas
Currently, it is a popular tourist attraction and is open everyday. It contains a restaurant, an observation deck, and is the tallest building (750 feet) in the city. The Tower of the Americas is taller than the Space Needle in Seattle, which is 605 feet high. I love finding different views of the tower from various locations around the city. Surprisingly, I spotted the tower from Black Hill, inside Government Canyon, which is approximately 30 miles away!
The only remaining Spanish aqueduct in our nation is this one. It was built in the 1700’s to irrigate the crops. Miles of irrigation ditches still remain between Mission Espada and San Juan. If you stay near the riverwalk, you will pass by part of an acequia between Mission San Juan and Stinson Airport. You can also follow one of the acequias for nearly four miles on the east side of the San Antonio River.
This airport is on the west side of the river, directly across from Mission San Juan. It’s the second oldest general aviation airport operating in our nation. The location is very easy to reach from downtown, or the south side of San Antonio. I noticed several small planes flying to, or from, Stinson Airport during the first few miles of our hike. Did any of the pilots notice us as we walked the riverwalk? They were flying low enough for a visual, but I could only wonder.
This is one of several dams along the river, and you will find it at Espada Park. The river is several feet higher behind the dam. It is also much wider, and deeper. This looks like a great spot for fishing, bird watching, hiking and paddling. Look to the west toward the cemetery and you will see a beautiful waterfall.
These old bathhouse ruins are located along the east side of the San Antonio Riverwalk, across from Mission San Jose. Those who bathed in the sulfur water were cured of diseases (supposedly). Hot Wells is over 100 years old, and has been through at least two fires. The current owner plans on restoring the property, which has clearly been in ruins for many years.
This is a beautiful park just north of the confluence where San Pedro Creek joins the San Antonio River. The pavilions at Confluence Park are designed to collect rainwater, and store it underground. The space is also energy neutral, and contains five different ecotypes. It’s free to visit, and an educational experience for students.
It took us a few hours to reach Confluence Park. Our current distance was nine miles (from the start), and we needed a short break from the sun. As we cooled off in the shade, Abbey nearly fell asleep.
The restroom felt slightly cool, and the drinking fountains were fully operational. Several bikes came through the park as we recovered from the sun exposure. After a quick conversation and a small snack, we continued north toward downtown San Antonio.
San Antonio River Tunnel Outlet
This point of interest is beyond Roosevelt Park, and a sharp curve in the San Antonio Riverwalk. You will notice water flowing into the river. The water which enters the river here comes from an underground tunnel constructed in 1997.
Many visitors and residents have no idea this three mile tunnel carries water about 150 feet beneath downtown San Antonio. The tunnel keeps water runoff from flooding the city, along with the Olmos Dam on the north side. Just another reason why this is the best riverwalk in the nation!
San Fernando Cathedral
This is the oldest functioning religious community in Texas. The cathedral was founded in 1731, and continues to serve as a place of worship for Catholics. The architectural style is gothic and colonial. You will not see the building while walking the riverwalk because of the other structures downtown. However, you will find it about a block west of the dog friendly riverwalk, between Commerce St. and Market St.
If you are in this area after dark, you may witness, “The Saga”. Lights are projected onto the front of the Cathedral accompanied by music. The 24 minute story is available three times a night on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Main Plaza’s website claims, The Saga, happens “rain or shine” at 9:30pm, 10:00pm, and 10:30pm. However, we have visited several times, only to find the show cancelled. I hear, The Saga, is pretty amazing. One of these days, we shall see it as we walk the riverwalk at night…
Southtown and King William: Miles 9 – 11
After rounding the curve near the San Antonio River Tunnel Outlet, we quickly arrived in Southtown. We’ve seen several areas along the riverwalk before, but not this one, and it is stunning. The colorful apartments, restaurants and bridges are a pleasant sight along the river. The revitalization of Southtown is very apparent. The riverwalk is pet friendly in Southtown.
If you are biking, pay attention to the San Antonio Riverwalk Map because the hike and bike path splits. There are two small sections where you will need to use the on-street bike path instead. One section is in Southtown, and the other is downtown.
There were fewer bikers as we approached downtown, and more runners, dog walkers and paddle boats. In fact, a group of people were exiting the river with paddle boats as we entered the King William District. I will definitely need to try a paddling tour soon. I wonder if they are dog friendly?
We walked by the Blue Star Art Complex, Guenther House, Steve’s Homestead and our first museum. Abbey spotted more than a few squirrels she would like to chase. We’ve been approaching tall buildings for hours, and now they appeared extremely close.
Two of the most well known buildings provided a nice backdrop for the amazing riverwalk. We began 11 miles away from the Tower of the Americas, and the Tower Life building. The buildings were easy to spot from several points along Mission Reach, but now we were finally passing them.
Downtown San Antonio: Miles 11 – 13
As we walked under the Nueva St. bridge, we noticed a riverboat coming through a passageway. Ah, so this is where they hide all of the boats. Riverboats are in motion everyday, as they float around the “island” along the San Antonio Riverwalk.
We followed the loop around as well, which is the most trafficked section of the riverwalk. Abbey LOVES this part of the dog friendly riverwalk. No, not because of the dog friendly restaurants. She loves the ducks, and they seem to love being near the restaurants.
The downtown stretch is arguably the most attractive section on the riverwalk. There is no shortage of food, or beautiful scenery along the river. It’s entirely possible to follow the riverwalk through downtown, without heading up to street level.
However, foot traffic along the river is slow moving, and congested. Abbey is a fast walker. Even though the riverwalk is dog friendly downtown, it can be challenging getting through the bodies.
We hiked right by La Villita, an historic village full of small shops selling arts and crafts. Access the village from above the outdoor theatre. If special events are taking place on the riverwalk, there may be a gathering and live music at this theatre. In fact, I noticed St. Patrick’s Day floats preparing for the holiday as we entered the downtown area this Friday the 13th.
After passing La Villita, we began to see the string of restaurants with a river view. I discussed the dog friendly restaurants along the San Antonio Riverwalk in a previous article, so I won’t go into which ones we have sampled here. We breezed right by the Alamo without seeing it, but I did remember it!
How to Get to the Alamo from the riverwalk
You cannot see the Alamo from the riverwalk. The Alamo is up on street level, while the dog friendly San Antonio Riverwalk is technically underground. If you would like to reach the Alamo from the riverwalk, head east from the Hyatt, or take East Crockett St. When in doubt, anyone at the Rivercenter Mall should be able to point you in the right direction.
A couple of quick turns and we found ourselves back along the north-south stretch. North of the Alamo, the river tends to be fairly quiet. There are fewer restaurants, but the scenery is still gorgeous.
Clearly, they work very hard maintaining the plant life, the river and its boats. With most of the public behind us, (enjoying happy-hour I presume) we continued toward the stretch known as Museum Reach.
San Antonio Riverwalk Parking
Looking for the best place to park downtown? I prefer to park on top of the river at Convent St. Parking should be free on Sundays, as well as every night throughout the week. The cost during the daytime is merely a few quarters for half the day. Compare that to the $10-$20 cost of parking in a garage, and the short walk down the San Antonio Riverwalk in Texas, is an affordable pleasure.
Museum Reach: Miles 13 – 15
As we exited the downtown area, we hiked by the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, the locks, and the San Antonio Museum of Art. The atmosphere is not quite as colorful as Southtown, but it’s nice nonetheless. Underneath I-35 the “fish” float above the water. I remember hiking this section in the winter, and the Christmas lights in San Antonio looked amazing!
Look to the west of the river on the north side of I-35, and you may see faces in the water. This area is the Grotto, and it is an artificial cave feature. It’s a great spot to find shade and sprinkling water during the summer. Someone was fishing from the Grotto as we neared the Historic Pearl.
It’s not uncommon to see a riverboat this far north. We passed a boat-load of waving people as we entered the Pearl. I withheld my excitement as our journey was near its end, and focused on finishing our hike strong. Perhaps it’s a good time to eat at a new dog friendly restaurant? Museum Reach is pet friendly, and so is the Pearl.
The Pearl District is currently in its restoration phase. This was once a brewery, but the buildings within are now revitalized. The Historic Pearl is a hotspot for locals and visitors. There is a farmers market every weekend, and more than a few things to do daily.
- Dog friendly restaurants
- Splash pad
- Live music
- Lick (ice cream shop)
- The Twig Book Shop
- Hotel Emma
- Local Coffee
- Dog park (under US-281)
The Pearl is also full of luxury apartments which some call home. New construction is taking place today as the area continues its growth. Many homes date back to the 1920’s, but are being remodeled. However, some dilapidated properties remain in the mix. The Pearl is another one of Abbey’s favorite spots. Of course, it is along the riverwalk and many other dogs visit as well.
We hiked beyond Hotel Emma, the amphitheater, the riverboat pick-up, and the tiny waterfalls. In my opinion, the San Antonio Riverwalk officially ends (or begins) here, near US-281. We passed the dam, and the inlet of the San Antonio River Tunnel. According to my activity tracker, I hiked 15 miles and took more than 34,000 steps – a new single day record!
Our journey (for the day) ended at US-281. We were a little tired, and incredibly hungry. It’s possible to continue north to Brackenridge Park, which I considered. However, you must follow the path around the Alamo City Golf Trail. This is the oldest municipal golf course in Texas, but the general public cannot simply walk the riverwalk when the course is in use.
The riverwalk has a very different appearance inside Brackenridge Park. We have hiked through the park on a few other occasions. You will not see any boats, or restaurants here. The San Antonio River is more like a creek in this park. In fact, it is still being fed by Olmos Creek, and the Blue Hole (spring) inside the University of the Incarnate Word. Brackenridge is a very family friendly park with many things to do.
- Japanese Tea Garden
- San Antonio Zoo
- Sunken Garden Theater
- Kiddie Park
- Witte Museum
How the San Antonio Riverwalk Works
It’s not magic, it’s conservation
San Antonio is a master when it comes to recycled water. Some believe the river was originally fed in a nearly magical way by many springs. These days the springs cannot be relied on to provide enough water. To solve this issue San Antonio recycles waste water, and pumps it back into the river at various locations. This reduces water usage by more than 40% – Amazing!
Why Take a Self-Guided Tour of the Entire San Antonio Riverwalk?
Good question. I’m a certified personal trainer, and Abbey is a Rhodesian Ridgeback. This is what we do. Hiking is our favorite thing to do together, and we love to stay as active as possible. Although we have been taking longer hikes in Texas Hill Country, it has been one of my goals to walk the entire riverwalk in San Antonio. Spring is a great time to do that whether it is Friday the 13th, or not.
If you have reached this point on our self-guided tour, you know there is no lack of scenery along the free, unique, dog friendly San Antonio Riverwalk. It’s a truly amazing experience for residents and visitors. I hope our adventure is educational and inspiring. Learning things about San Antonio, and sharing that information is another one of my favorite things.
How Long Did It Take to Walk the Riverwalk?
By the end of the afternoon it had taken us six hours to walk the Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas. However, we did take a short break at Confluence Park to escape the sun. I imagine we could have completed the journey in five hours, without taking any breaks, on a cooler day.
Biking the riverwalk would obviously take a few less hours. I’m sure many people have completed the riverwalk on a bike. Have you, or your dog(s) hiked through Alamo city? Which part of the dog friendly San Antonio Riverwalk is your favorite?