A collection of rocks on a trail at Upper Purgatory Natural Area

Six Ways to Experience Undisturbed Nature in San Marcos TX

Summer is just around the corner in Central Texas, and that means kids will be out of school and adults will be taking some time off work to plan some fun summer activities. While there is no shortage of family-friendly attractions around San Marcos, sometimes the best way to spend some free time is to get away from the bustle of town with an escape into untouched nature. Those who just moved to San Marcos recently might not realize how many excellent choices outdoor enthusiasts have to enjoy undisturbed wilderness without even having to leave the city limits. For this reason, we’ve decided to highlight some of our favorite hiking trails and natural areas in San Marcos. Even long time residents might be surprised to find a few on this list they haven’t heard of yet!

Lower Purgatory Creek Natural Area

This is the big one any San Martian has likely been to or heard of even if they’re new to town. Lower Purgatory is the largest set of trails in the area and offers the most thorough escape from the bustle of civilization of all the natural areas in San Marcos. Parking and trail access are located on the corner of Wonder World and Hunter, making it easier to find than most sets of trails on this list. With beautiful views of cliffsides and dense woodlands, Lower Purgatory’s distinction as the town’s most well-known destination for scenic hiking is well-earned. Be warned, however, that the rugged terrain of its trails are not wheelchair accessible—a trait it shares with most of the hiking trails on this list. Being a creek, much of the park is also prone to flooding after heavy rain.

Prospect Park

When exploring the trails of Lower Purgatory, one might find themselves crossing underneath the Wonder World Bridge, where they will end up in Prospect Park. This small pocket park connects to Lower Purgatory through the Virgil trail and has its own parking accessed from Prospect street off Bishop. A short, rocky trail loop makes up the bulk of the park, with shaded pavilions to hang out at and enjoy the sound of birds chirping. Educational signage about local flora and fauna line the trails, offering a great introduction to the area’s wildlife for people who just moved to town. Since most of the park’s trails are unpaved and rocky, they can become quite slippery after it rains and require some caution to navigate.

Upper Purgatory Creek Natural Area

When most people think of Purgatory Creek, they think of the lower part mentioned above. What many don’t realize is that there’s another trailhead that opens up to a completely different side of the park with its own set of trails. Upper Purgatory connects to the lower side through the meandering Dante’s Trail, with some beautiful vistas between the two sides of the park. Being smaller the smaller of the two, Lower Purgatory is a bit more straightforward and not as easy to get lost in. It was recently renovated to include paved trails and easy access to the new subdivision nearby. Half the park’s trails close March 1 – May 31, however, for the nesting season of the endangered golden cheeked warbler.

Spring Lake Natural Area

Being the second largest set of trails in town, Spring Lake Natural Area has two trailheads and parking access locations similar to Purgatory. Its main access is off Lime Kiln road, but there’s another trailhead off North LBJ just past Holland St. For those wanting more of a challenge, Spring Lake offers some of the steepest hills in town that make for an invigorating hike. For those wanting a more relaxing time, the Lime Kiln trailhead offers easy access to the paved Tonkawa trail, and park goers might even catch a glimpse of a gray fox that serves as a namesake for one of the trails. Like Lower Purgatory, however, much of this park closes during the spring months for the golden cheeked warbler nesting season.

Ringtail Ridge Natural Area

A smaller set of trails not too many people know about, Ringtail Ridge is a bit off the beaten path with its trailhead and parking access off RM12 past Craddock. Despite being a bit tough to find, it welcomes everyone with a small wheelchair accessible loop that branches off into rugged, rocky dirt trails for the more adventurous. During years that see a good amount of rain, the basin in the center can fill with water, attracting lots of birds, insects and deer. With the sounds of nearby apartment complexes never being too far off, Ringtail Ridge offers a fulfilling taste of nature without feeling like you’ve completely left civilization behind.

Schulle Canyon

The second pocket park on this list, Schulle Canyon is a tiny yet charming set of trails with its own parking and trailhead off Alamo street north of Holland. Despite its size, it has a good variety of difficulty levels with a central wheelchair accessible gravel path running parallel to a more rugged dirt and rock option. Educational Signage even pops up now and again to highlight some of the more interesting tree species that live in the park. An offshoot of the main trail leads to the Sierra Circle subdivision, making it accessible by foot to those who live nearby.

Despite their varied sizes and hiking difficulties, these natural areas all offer an excellent summer activity for experienced hikers, families and nature lovers alike. While this list is far from comprehensive, it should offer a great starting point for San Martians or visitors who want to explore the beauty of nature right in their backyard.

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