Madla Natural Area Has Secrets to Share

Madla Natural Area is on the far northwest side of San Antonio in the Grey Forest area. The park contains only 40 dog friendly acres. It has hiking trails, a picnic area and scenic views. Although it isn’t the easiest park to find, the adventure is worth the trip.

Madla Natural Area is named after the late Senator Frank L Madla, who was raised on a nearby farm. A secret society was held here more than 100 years ago. Some form of that society is still taking place these days. I can only imagine the fun which must be happening at the meetings.

Abbey looks out at the hills from Madla Natural Area.
The overlook at Madla Natural Area

How to Get to Frank L Madla Natural Area

Address: 9788 Menchaca Rd, Helotes, TX 78023

Hours of operation: Sunrise to sunset

You can only reach the natural area by following Scenic Loop Drive. Watch out for a home using a rail car to connect one building to another! It should be north of Helotes, on the west side of Scenic Loop Drive.

The entrance to the park is found on the south side of Menchaca Road. Along the way there will be several properties surrounded by old barbed wire fences. The drive to the park made me wonder if I was entering someone’s personal property.

Things to Do at Madla Natural Area

If the gate to Madla Natural Area is open, come right in and enjoy the views. It is open daily from dawn until dusk. The roads are rocky and narrow. The “parking area” is noticeable next to a pavilion and meadow. No parking spaces are marked. Simply find a good spot within the gravel area.

The pavilion is front and center containing a map of the trails. There is a concrete picnic area next to it, as well as a portable toilet and water bowl for your pups.

The pavilion next to the meadow.
Madla Natural Area Trail Map

The Lost Dog

Abbey and I, exited our vehicle and headed for the pavilion which overlooks a meadow. However, we heard someone yelling from inside the woods. To me it sounded like someone was saying “save me”, so we crossed the meadow and entered the woods.

As soon as we were covered by shade a woman came toward us with a look of distress on her face. She said she was looking for her dog after someone had scared her off. We decided to help look for the lost pup. I know I would want all the help I could get if Abbey were missing. After giving us her dogs details the woman went back to the parking area hoping her dog would return.

We followed the well shaded trails through Madla Natural Area until we came to a gravel road. A couple of dogs began barking because I was whistling and calling out for the lost pup. Unfortunately, those two dogs were on the other side of a fence, inside a property next to the park.

The cabin at Madla Natural Area.

A Hill Country View

We followed the gravel road up a hill, away from the barking dogs, and found a cabin. The cabin is in excellent shape, but appeared to be empty. Perhaps it hosts some of those secret meetings?

Just beyond the cabin is a bench which overlooks the farm, and a fair amount of hills. There’s about a 180 degree view of the surrounding Hill Country. We surveyed the hills and trees, but weren’t going to see a dog from there unless she ran into the open field.

Texas Hill Country from Senator Frank L Madla Park.

Hiking Trails at Madla Natural Area

We headed back down the hill, through the woods, and emerged in the meadow. There are several trails leading into the woods from the meadow. I wasn’t paying close attention to the names of the hiking trails and their routes. By this time a few others had arrived to help locate the lost dog.

I let Abbey grab a drink from the water bowl near the parking area. We went back into the woods to continue the search on some trails we hadn’t used. All of the trails are short and fairly easy to hike. The distance is not marked on the map, but I’d guess there are about two miles of hiking trails (including the meadow marked in orange).

If you spend a couple of hours at Madla Natural Area you can hike every trail, and get a great view of the hills to the north and west. I didn’t notice too many details on the trails because I was engaged in the search, but I did notice the barbed wire fence on the south side of the woods.

Lost and Found

By this point in time I began to doubt we would find the lost pup on the trails. I thought it was more likely that she would have ran to one of the homes in the area, or toward some other dogs. When we hiked back toward the meadow for the fourth time I planned on suggesting we search outside the park. However, the woman pulled her vehicle around and her lost pup was now found in the passengers seat.

The poor girl barked at me several times. I’m not sure if she recognized my voice or not. She sustained a minor cut on her left foreleg (probably running through the barbed wire), but at least she had been found. The woman thanked me for my effort in the search, and took off to get to the vet. Abbey and I, jumped back in our vehicle to head home. Another adventure in the books.

Visit This Natural Area Next to Hill Country

We were able to hike all the trails, and see the views at Madla Natural Area. However, we will return because the park is definitely worth another look. If you appreciate secluded areas in nature with far reaching views, you will enjoy this park.

If you go hiking with your dogs make sure they are on leash. She will be less likely to run off if she is tethered to you by leash. We do have leash laws for a reason. At the same time, it’s probably not a good idea to “blow up” on someone whose dogs are off-leash. This entire situation (to my knowledge) could have been prevented with those two pieces of information.

Furthermore, there are wild animals and poisonous snakes all over Texas. The closer your dog is to you, the safer she will be. You can’t protect your dog very well if she is roaming around in the woods, and it’s difficult to see what is out there in the brush. At the end of the day all dogs left Madla Natural Area happy, and that’s the best part about hiking with dogs.

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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