What Are the Missions in San Antonio?
The missions in San Antonio are five settlements the Spanish built along the San Antonio River around the early 18th century. Many missions were constructed throughout Texas for the purpose of converting the natives to a Christian way of life. The Spanish hoped to teach them new skills and give them the opportunity to settle down. However, the Apaches and Spanish soldiers did not always get along. Some of the missions in San Antonio are surrounded by walls for protection. It’s unclear how often they were used to oppose attacks.
Today the missions live on as significant historical structures in Texas, and are very popular tourist attractions. The missions in San Antonio are located along the San Antonio Riverwalk. You can easily tour them all in one day via bus, car, or bike. If you prefer to hike, you can also access them on foot like we did. The San Antonio Riverwalk is our nations largest urban ecosystem, and stretches 15 miles through the city.
How Long is Mission Reach?
Being a person who likes to ask questions, I often wondered how the San Antonio Riverwalk works. I’ve spent a lot of time hiking in San Antonio with my dog, and have researched many of its parks along the way. The Mission Reach section of the riverwalk is about 10 miles long. This section of the river is great for biking, walking your dog, or kayaking.
Mission Reach consists of the San Antonio Riverwalk and other trails such as those which follow acequias. Four of the Spanish Missions can be found in this area. However, you won’t quite see them from the riverwalk. We’ve hiked the entire San Antonio Riverwalk through the reach, but most people prefer to bike. If you do too, bikes can be rented near Mission San Jose. There are at least 15 miles of trails to hike, or bike, through Mission Reach.
The Map for the Missions in San Antonio, TX
The missions in San Antonio from north to south are:
- The Alamo
- San Jose
- San Juan
Things to do at the Missions in San Antonio
Each mission is free to visit. The four missions along the reach have large parking lots, and parking is also free. Park grounds are open from sunrise to sunset. The visitors center, or shops at the missions, are generally open from 9am – 5pm on most days. The missions are dog friendly. You may walk your pup (on leash) through the missions, or along the San Antonio Riverwalk. You may not bring your dog into the Alamo or church buildings unless he is a service dog.
At Mission San Jose you can take a free guided tour. Tours take place on an hourly basis four times per day. Mass is currently held at the church every weekend. If you are a practicing Catholic, you may attend mass Saturday afternoon, or Sunday morning. Most of the missions contain benches and historical markers. Feel free to take pictures at the missions. However, they do not allow pictures inside the Alamo.
Each of the missions are a short distance away from the San Antonio Riverwalk, with San Jose being the furthest. If you plan on traveling the riverwalk from mission to mission, it may take an entire day. I have visited each of the four missions along the reach with my dog. We decided to visit the missions and hike the riverwalk in separate visits. Hiking the 15-mile riverwalk has been our longest so far!
Espada is the oldest mission in Texas, and was transferred to San Antonio more than 40 years after being built. It is the furthest mission from the downtown area, but the closest to the riverwalk. You can find it just south of I-410, on the west side of the river. Acequia trails flank this mission on each side.
As you can imagine, Mission Espada has quite a history. It has been through abandonments, relocations, smallpox, draught, fire, and enemy attacks. Espada has a wall surrounding its chapel, which was active during our visit in the winter. Several churches were designed with this chapel in mind. We couldn’t help but imagine what the bells must have sounded like hundreds of years ago. I’m not sure why the bell on top does not match the two on the bottom. At first I thought it was detached from the building.
Mission San Juan
Address: 9101 Graf Rd, San Antonio, TX 78214
San Juan is only about one mile north of Espada, on the opposite side of the river. This mission had its own irrigation system and farm. It also contained horses, goats, sheep, and cattle. The original church had only two bells, but it currently looks very similar to the one we saw at Espada. Several years ago the church was renovated. This explains its bright white appearance.
The surrounding wall at San Juan is so small, anyone could seemingly hop over. This mission also contains a section on the east side which was supposed to be a church, but was never finished. The area may have been used as a cemetery in the past. That would have been nice to know before I walked on it.
After wandering through the mission we hiked the trails near the riverwalk. San Juan is positioned near nature trails which are well shaded and handicap accessible. These trails overlook the original San Antonio River. It is possible, and not too difficult, to get to San Juan from Espada on foot. This is what we did because these two missions are so close together.
Mission San Jose
San Jose is at least two miles north of San Juan on the west side of the river. This mission is the furthest from the San Antonio Riverwalk. It is also the largest mission in San Antonio, and known as the Queen of the Missions. You will notice it contains many rooms along the surrounding wall. The church inside this mission is large and includes the mysterious rose window.
It is much easier to imagine a community living inside Mission San Jose. You can envision residents sitting outside the rooms, and roasting food in the fire pit. I imagined friars welcoming people into the church, and soldiers coming through the gates. I wondered how they sent messages, how often they traveled to the other missions, and if they feared attacks on a daily basis.
Mission San Jose offers four free guided tours on most days. It also hosts mass four times on the weekends for practicing Catholics. After we admired the grounds we made our way to the riverwalk. It was nearly a mile walk along a concrete path through a wooded area, but we eventually reached the river. Mission Park and Padre Park are both along this section of the riverwalk. We hiked along both sides of the riverwalk with our dog before returning to San Jose.
Concepcion is about a three mile hike, or bike, from San Jose if you are following the riverwalk. It is located on the east side of the river, just south of downtown San Antonio. Concepcion is known as the best preserved mission in Texas. This mission has no surrounding wall, unlike the other missions in San Antonio. Mass still takes place during weekends at this church as well. While visiting you can take a seven minute audio tour of this mission here.
Touring Concepcion will be short and sweet. On my first visit to this mission I hiked with my dog from Confluence Park, which is across the river. I accidentally found Confluence Park while driving toward Concepcion. The hike from one to the other will take you across the river and through Concepcion Park. The distance is approximately one mile.
Remember The Alamo
The Alamo is at least three miles north of Concepcion, on the same side of the river. It was known as Mission San Antonio in the 18th century. After its abandonment it was used as a fortress, and became known as the Alamo. Many people are aware that a historically significant battle took place at the Alamo. I remember watching a movie about it in class prior to reaching high school. It was the first movie I had seen in which the “good guys” lost in the end.
The chapel was nearly destroyed during the Battle of the Alamo. There isn’t much in there these days apart from tourists. They do not allow pictures or pets inside the building, so it’s something you need to see for yourself. I couldn’t help but imagine what it must have been like defending the building to the last breath, with no possibility of escape. I “remember the Alamo”, and I wasn’t even born in Texas. What is taught in Mexico regarding the battle that took place here, I wonder?
The Missions in San Antonio Are Dog Friendly
Many people don’t realize the missions are dog friendly (outside of the chapels). However, they ask that you clean up after your dog and keep him on a leash. Many areas inside the missions and along the San Antonio Riverwalk are in direct sunlight. Dogs can get sunburn and dehydrated like us. Carry water, and a collapsable bowl to help keep your dog hydrated. Check the ground during hot weather to ensure it won’t be too hot for his paws.
There are many access points to the San Antonio Riverwalk. At some of these points you might find water fountains, or bike and scooter rentals. However, the water may or may not be active during your visit. Don’t count on the fountains to keep you hydrated. Bring water with you every time, especially if you are hiking or biking Mission Reach.
There is an excellent map of the entire riverwalk on the San Antonio River website. Swimming and floating is not allowed in the San Antonio River, but there is access for kayaking. I did witness a couple of men fishing from kayaks during our hike. It’s probably more popular during the “rainy” season, and I hope to try it myself in the future. Hopefully I can get my dog, Abbey, to kayak with me!
San Antonio is also called Alamo city, and River city for good reasons. The missions in San Antonio are historically significant and have been well maintained. The riverwalk here in San Antonio is like no other, and it works in a fascinating way. People will be visiting the missions in San Antonio, and the riverwalk, for many years to come. Saying that you need to see them for yourself is an understatement!