I’ve been on hundreds of adventurous hikes in and around San Antonio, but have never been creeped out on the trails until today. I inadvertently found a spooky little gem just outside downtown San Antonio, north of the San Antonio Zoo. Judging by the lack of Google reviews, as well as the lack of visitors on the trails, it’s probably safe to say you have not hiked here before. The place is known as Headwaters Sanctuary, and it is apparently the only nature preserve in the heart of San Antonio. The nature preserve has several unique features, but thus far I found it to be the spookiest place to hike in San Antonio.
If You Go
Headwaters Sanctuary is located behind the University of The Incarnate Word on its northwest side. At first I attempted to get to the Sanctuary around the backside, but that was not possible. You must go through the University to reach the nature preserve. It is open to the public everyday from sunrise to sunset. I have been to Headwaters Sanctuary twice during the past week because I missed a couple things on the first visit.
I have found the best method of entry to be the US 281 north entrance ramp at Hildebrand Ave. Instead of merging onto US 281, take the first and only right turn you can make from the entrance ramp. There will be a University sign, as well as a sign that says, “do not back up”. Make two left turns from there and you will find many parking spaces behind the baseball field.
Abbey (my dog) and I arrived at Headwaters Sanctuary late in the morning on the first visit. After viewing the map on the board we decided to head left. Our adventure began with the Great Oak trail and the first thing I noticed was mulch covering the trail. There would be no muddy feet on this journey! As we entered the preserve I also noticed that someone hadn’t finished cleaning up. Piles and piles of dead branches flanked our way along the mulch trail. Even though it was a hot, sunny day in San Antonio, the southwest section of the woods seemed rather dark.
We continued along the Great Oak trail and I consistently noticed giant patches of spiderwebs along the ground. What kinds of spiders live here? Why are they placing their webs all over the ground? I suppose they are more interested in hopping and crawling insects rather than those which fly. Clearly there was no shortage of spiders inside the Sanctuary. What would the spookiest place be without tons of spiders? Many of the webs contained a giant hole where its maker was probably residing. Don’t stick your nose in there Abbey!
She did not need to stick her nose in the webs because she was much more interested in the scent up ahead. On the path an armadillo was lying belly up with flies surrounding it. It may have had a wound on its right side, but it was not missing any body parts. I quickly pulled Abbey away before she made a decision to share its scent. We hurried past and continued through the dark wooded area full of low lying webs. Many trees appeared to be dead or dying. I felt as if I’d seen more dead things than living. This was definitely the spookiest place I had hiked. I officially had, “the creeps”.
Don’t Give Up
We did not turn back. We did not give up. Abbey and I marched through the Great Oak trail with determination. In my right hand I held Abbey’s leash, while my left I waved in front of my eyes. No one enjoys getting spiderwebs in the face. In many places the brush was high enough and close enough for spiderwebs to block the path. A walking stick would surely have come in handy, not for walking, for waving. It began to brighten as we continued, and we transitioned from the Great Oak trail to the Heritage Loop.
The Heritage Loop is a rockier trail which forms a circle around an open soccer field. Much of the loop can be seen from the parking area. The Heritage Loop also contains Stations of the Cross. These are painted art pieces which show the path of Jesus on the day of his crucifixion. The faithful can sit on a bench opposite each station and contemplate the path. It seemed as though the stations had not been cleaned regularly. Set in wood housings they have been covered by nests of spiders and wasps.
The Great Oak trail had spit us out on the west side of the Heritage Loop, which is across from the parking area. From there we entered the circle of springs. This sounded absolutely refreshing! However, the circle was filled with rocks and bushes. There was no water of any kind. A lone feather sat in the center of the rocky circle. What do you suppose that means? There were more than a handful of butterflies taking advantage of one flowery bush. I was excited to see life within the Sanctuary. Abbey was excited to smell it.
Beware What You May Find
We exited the circle of springs the same way we had come. It was the only way after all. We continued heading east toward the parking area until we came across a sign which read, “Little Blue Hole”. Intrigued by what we might find we followed the trail. We heard sounds in the woods to the right as we continued along the short and narrow path. Perhaps there are more living creatures than I originally thought?
To the left I saw an orange bucket lid on the ground with flags around it. Surely that wasn’t it. Just beyond that I spotted what appeared to be a fire pit to the left. We slowly moved toward it and began to hear a strange sound. Abbey and I both stopped next to the pit and stared in the direction of the sound. The sound is very hard to describe. It was sort of a cross between a “quack”, and a “meow”. We held our ground until I began to see movement in the nearby grass.
Was it a bug? A rodent? Slowly it moved, the noise stopped, and it slithered away from us. It was some kind of talking snake! What kind of snake makes a peculiar noise like that!? I have never heard that noise before. We’ve been on hundreds of hikes and this was the first snake we have come across. That’s probably hard to believe, but it’s true. In any event, the nearby sign assured us we had reached the Little Blue Hole. Apparently it was one of San Antonio’s springs. There was some dirty water in there, but it did not appear active. It was unspectacular, but that snake was pretty wild.
Better Luck Next Time
We departed from that point, but not before checking the map once again. It seemed I had missed a view of the Olmos Dam as well as a larger spring that fed the San Antonio River. Even though this had been the spookiest place to hike, I made my plans to return later on, and I did so three days later. Once again it was late morning and the sun was shining bright in the sky. This time we headed the opposite way and started at The Little Blue Hole. Everything was still the same, except the snake was nowhere to be seen. Unfortunately I had failed to get a photo of that snake. It was hard to see in the tall grass and I had to keep Abbey back as a precaution.
We headed straight for the Olmos Creek trail from there to see if we could get a look at the dam. The trails were still narrow and many trees appeared to be down for the count. Either they fell down, or someone was cutting them down (one area near the creek had been cleared out). Once again I held onto Abbey’s leash with my right hand while my left waved in front to clear out any webs. Eventually the path ended and we had a good view of the side of a bridge which went over the creek. There was a bench to sit on but the view was terrible. I also noticed a giant hole in the chainlink fence. Someone was coming or going through the fence for reasons unknown.
The Path Was Too Quiet
We continued along what you might call the outer loop, returning once again to the Great Oak trail. We nearly brushed up against a giant yellow and black spider along the outside of the trail. That would have been a bad day! The spider was currently preserving some food for later. Was the Great Oak trail still one of the spookiest places? Yep. We did not see a single person on the trails during the first visit. I continued to wonder when we would see someone. Anyone. Does anyone even know this nature preserve is here?
We went from the Great Oak trail to St. Brigid’s trail, which eventually led us to a bridge. Even the bridge looked creepy. What is it with this place? Spookiest place ever! We crossed the campus street and continued along the path until it ended. The wooded path had turned into a sidewalk which led to University buildings. Abbey erupted with excitement because there were cats and squirrels out in this area. After she regained her composure we crossed a few parking lots and found the creek once again.
To the right I saw a bright, lovely looking bridge. This was not creepy at all! This must be the way to the spring. We crossed the bridge and sure enough, I noticed a sign leading us to The Blue Hole. We walked along the sidewalk which appeared to be outside of the Sanctuary. Finally we reached The Blue Hole. The water was crystal clear and actively flowing into the creek. The creek by the campus street was dirty and swamp-like, as you might expect the spookiest place to be. Here the water was pristine and looked good enough to drink.
Should You Go?
I’m not sure what the overall plan is for Headwaters Sanctuary, but it currently needs A LOT of work. We walked more than 10,000 steps in two visits to the Sanctuary and saw just about everything there is to see. The trails are very short and somewhat spooky. Perhaps more people need to know about the Sanctuary? We never did see anyone else on the nature trails. Being directly behind the University, I would expect people to be on the trails frequently.
I must admit, my eyes were surveying every direction expecting an army of spiders to appear on those trails. Luckily, that did not happen. If you are into wooded areas that look kind of creepy, then you will enjoy Headwaters Sanctuary. If you would like to see crystal clear spring water that feeds the San Antonio River, you will find it (across the red bridge east of the trails). Once the trails are updated and the area is cleaned up, it should look pretty spectacular. Currently, it wins my vote for spookiest place to hike in San Antonio.
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Even though I promote places, or things, and emerge from the woods unharmed, I am not at all responsible for you, your family, your friends, or your pets. You are solely responsible for following in my footsteps and trying things I have described on this site. I wish you good fortune on the trails to come.