Periodic mild winter days present a great opportunity to lace up your hiking boots or simply slip on your sneakers and hit a variety of trails snaking through dozens of Texas State Parks.
With 94 state parks, hikers of all abilities will have no trouble finding the kind of trail – flat and wooded to rocky and mountainous – to tackle for healthy, low-impact exercise, to burn some calories and to get close to nature. After all, hiking is one of Texas State Parks’ most popular activities.
A survey of Texas State Park visitors conducted from 2002 to 2007 at 70 state parks revealed that hiking ranked highest for recreational activities participated in for both day users and overnight visitors. Thirteen percent of day park users listed hiking/walking park trails as the primary reason for a state park day trip, second only to sightseeing/scenery. Day park users also ranked trail improvements (signage/trail map/more trails) second only to “more interpretive programs” as the “most desired park improvement” they’d like to see.
As if to prove that point, on Jan. 1, more than 1,000 people headed to one of 47 Texas State Parks to participate in the parks’ inaugural First Day Hike program, part of a national effort sponsored by the National Association of State Parks. Lake Brownwood State Park reported 133 participants lined up at the gate to get in on the New Year’s Day fun.
Now is a great time to take to the trails in a state park near you, according to Brent Leisure, director of Texas State Parks. Dozens of state parks throughout the state have recently upgraded existing trails or added to their trail system.
“Outdoor activities like hiking are gaining popularity and are ideal for winter months which is off-season for most parks, bringing fewer crowds and many days of mild weather,” says Leisure. “Many of our parks either have just completed or are in the process of renovating and improving their hike and bike trails.”
Caprock Canyons State Park near Quitaque in the Panhandle Plains is in the midst of renovating roughly a third of the 65-mile Caprock Canyons Trailway, a rails-to-trails conversion that runs 64 miles from South Plains to Estelline. Five miles – from Monks Crossing to Clarity Tunnel – already have been resurfaced, providing a mostly level hike or bicycle ride for the whole family. An additional 15 miles will be resurfaced with crushed caliche to complete the project. Inside the park, another 28 miles of trails, ranging from fairly level to an extreme incline, offer challenges for persons of any ability.
A new four-mile, multi-use Canyon Rim Trail has been completed at Seminole Canyon State Historic Site in Val Verde County, where hikers can take in amazing views from the canyon’s edge. The new trail, which will be receiving finishing touches from a Trails Across Texas crew this month, doubles the trail mileage within the park.
At Palmetto State Park near Gonzales, Superintendent Todd Imboden says workers recently have completed trail improvements to the five miles of hike-and-bike trails, including 1,000 feet of new boardwalks and 15 foot bridges suspended 18 inches over the Ottine Swamp Trail’s dwarf palmetto wetlands. Additional trail spurs lead to the San Marcos River Trail and other park trails of wide, decomposed granite trails ideal for hiking or biking. In addition, he says, crews just last week erected new interpretive trail signage providing directions and information about the park’s natural and cultural history.
Austinites will be pleased to learn that McKinney Falls State Park on Feb. 25 will host a grand opening of an additional mile and a half of multi-use trails along the Homestead Trail, featuring bridges, armored drainages and boardwalks. Drainage and erosion issues also were addressed on the Homestead Trail’s original 2.8 miles that wind through the heart of the park.
Ongoing trail improvements at Government Canyon State Natural Area mean hikers in San Antonio’s urban setting won’t have far to travel to access more than 40 miles of trails traversing both flat and hilly terrain that varies in difficulty from beginner to technical. Located at the southern edge of the Hill Country, the state natural area, which opened in 2005, provides users with countless loop options and breathtaking scenery.
From easy hiking trails like those at Brazos Bend State Park and Dinosaur Valley state parks that put hikers eye-to-eye with alligators and dinosaur footprints, respectively, to challenging desert trails covering 18 miles at Big Bend Ranch State Park in far west Texas, the Texas State Park trail system makes for happy feet.
Park rangers remind trail users to don sturdy footwear, bring along a hiking stick and pack plenty of water for your trek. Park entrance fees apply at most parks.
For more information on hiking in Texas State Parks and park trail maps, visit: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/parks/things-to-do/hiking-in-state-parks