The gorgeous scenery, gently winding rivers and interesting wildlife in San Marcos make it a wonderful destination for outdoor lovers of all ages. You can experience the area’s natural beauty in a Glass-Bottom Boat Tour at The Meadows Center, in an inner tube floating the San Marcos River, or with a leisurely hike through one of the nearby trail systems. These hikes are not difficult to find—in fact, there are several within city limits that can be completed in under an hour. If you’re looking for something more challenging, there are plenty of options within a short drive of the city. We’ve rounded up the top hikes in the area to get you started. Some are simple, some are challenging, but all feature incredible views, wildlife encounters and a chance to experience something new.
1. The San Marcos River Walk
The San Marcos River Walk is as scenic as the name suggests, skirting the river and taking you through the heart of San Marcos. Because of its varied resident populations of green and great blue herons, red-shouldered hawks, kingfishers and butterflies, the park is a popular destination for birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts. Colorful wildflowers and succulents decorate the trail, which runs about 2.5 miles. Start at City Park and follow the paved walkway along the San Marcos River to Crook Park.
2. The Purgatory Creek Natural Area
If you’re looking for an easy hike or a scenic picnic spot close to town, the Purgatory Creek Natural Area is very close to town and within the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. You’ll find stunning upland meadows, juniper groves, tall canyon bluffs and bountiful champion oak trees for shade. Since it’s so close to civilization, you’ll likely encounter a few other locals (and perhaps dogs) on your trip, but the area is filled with more than nine miles of trails that are very well marked, so there is plenty of room to spread out. The park is home to countless species of wildlife, including white-tailed deer, and the trails are all relatively flat with just a few gentle rolls.
3. The Spring Lake Natural Area
Though the Spring Lake Natural Area is located within the city limits by the Meadows Center. The trail winds around the lake, and the 4.3-mile loop can be used for both hiking and mountain biking. Due to the peaceful setting and lack of foot traffic, the area gives the impression that it is worlds away from civilization, but at the same time, it’s close enough for a quick hike during your lunch break or after work. The loop includes an elevation gain of 380 feet, which may not seem like much, but it’s enough to raise your heart rate.
4. Ringtail Ridge Natural Area
A 10-minute drive to the northwest side of town will bring you to the Ringtail Ridge Natural Area. The area caters to those looking for a beginner-level hike with just a few technical sections. The Ringtail Ridge Trail is an easy, 1.9-mile loop with just 91 feet of elevation gain. During the spring and early summer, the area explodes with beautiful wildflowers, so make sure to bring your camera to capture the scenery.
5. Blanco Shoals
Blanco Shoals was specifically designed with hikers in mind, and for that reason, boasts 81 acres of scenic, hikeable terrain. The area is mostly undeveloped, featuring high bank bluffs, tall cottonwoods and sycamore trees, mesquite and countless species of wildlife. The area skirts the Blanco River just on the edge of town, and there is very little elevation gain.
6. Madrone Trail
The Madrone Trail gives visitors the chance to explore one of the nearby peninsulas in Canyon Lake. The 7.5-mile loop trail includes a moderate elevation gain of 485 feet, making it the perfect option for day-hikers looking for a workout with incredible views, wildlife encounters and shaded trails. The juniper canopy makes the trail accessible even in the hot summer months, though an early start is still recommended. Keep your eyes open for cardinals, which like to hide in the trees. The hike is about a 30-minute drive from town, and chances are you won’t find much company on the trail.
7. Palmetto State Park
A trip to Palmetto State Park (located just outside of Gonzales) is well worth the 45-minute drive from San Marcos. The well-maintained and well-shaded trail system is perfect for hikers of all levels, and there is plenty of wildlife to see along the way. Since the three main trails are all fairly short by themselves, loop them together to make for a more substantive hike. But if you’re under a time crunch, at least make sure to do the River Loop Trail—this 1.4-mile loop features river views and just 32 feet of elevation gain. If you have time, finish your hike with the Ottine Swamp trail, which features patches of wildflowers and a series of wooden bridges.
Written by Sarah Strohl for RootsRated Media in partnership with San Marcos CVB.