I braved hot temps for this classic Hill Country view at an underrated San Antonio-area park – mySA

While others were sleeping or otherwise staying cool indoors, I traveled to a San Antonio area park to catch some breathtaking Hill Country views in the hot Texas weather – and the scenic overlook was worth the confusing and challenging trek

About an hour’s drive northwest of San Antonio, you’ll find the highly underrated Hill Country State Natural Area. The over 5,000-acre park features rugged canyons, scenic plateaus and tranquil creek bottoms that used to be a former ranch in Bandera County. 

I describe it as a gem because it offers iconic rugged Hill Country views. And, almost no one was out there on Sunday, June 12. It was just me and one other person who ended up helping me find my way when I hiked up the West Peak Overlook Trail (it’s quite a story, but we’ll get to that later). 

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Priscilla, it wasn’t crowded because it’s freaking hot?” And, true. However, it was only about 78 degrees when I hit the trails at 8 a.m. Plus, I packed plenty of water and snacks for my journey. I also made sure to let the park ranger know at check-in which trails I would be on and what time I plan on being back due to traveling alone on that day. Pro tip: Phone service is rare out there.

If you want to see a great view without the challenge, the Merrick Mile Trail offers an amazing tease of the West Peak overlook. 

If you want to see a great view without the challenge, the Merrick Mile Trail offers an amazing tease of the West Peak overlook. 

Priscilla Aguirre, MySA.com

Out of the over 40 miles of trails the park offers, I saw about six miles of it (I had to leave early before the triple-digit weather hit the area). My main goal for that day was to try the staff’s favorite trail, the West Peak Overlook Trail (1.5 miles). The steep climb up this trail is not without reward. 

I started off on the Merrick Mile Trail as it later connects to the West Peak. If you’re trying to see a quick glimpse of the natural area without a rough walk, I’d recommend the Merrick trail (1 mile). It’s an easy to moderate climb that descends into a prairie of native grasses and wildflowers. 

After I reached the end of the Merrick, I began my confusing and interesting journey to the West Peak overlook, which has the highest peak in the natural area. Another tip: horseback riding is allowed at this park so be prepared to jump over sizeable animal droppings. 

The trail to get to the overlook is challenging with lots of inclines but it's worth the trek. 

The trail to get to the overlook is challenging with lots of inclines but it’s worth the trek. 

Priscilla Aguirre, MySA.com

On my way up to the peak, I saw cute rabbits hopping around, beautiful birds and so many sneaky lizards that made me jump a bit. The natural area provides a great habitat for various reptiles, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. 

At first, I thought the park was well marked and provided clear paths to its trails. However, I was a tad confused after I reached what I thought was the overlook and saw nothing but treetops near the Heritage Loop Trail (1.1 miles). I thought to myself, “Is this it? This is lame.” 

I searched for about 20 minutes, looking for the overlook where the signs told me to go. I ended up giving up and heading back down. *Qeue in the only other hiker out there.* As I headed towards a sign that told me to turn right for the overlook, a man named Daniel was fixing it, murmuring, “This is wrong.”

The West Peak Overlook Trail is 1.2 miles and challenging. 

The West Peak Overlook Trail is 1.2 miles and challenging. 

Priscilla Aguirre, MySA.com

He saw my face of disappointment and told me, “This sign was facing the wrong way. The overlook is to the left, not the right.” You see, Daniel goes to the park often for the tranquil views. It turns out the park led me in the wrong direction. If it wasn’t for Daniel’s help, I would have missed the most scenic Hill Country views you can get in this area.

I raced up the hard incline and found the bench you can sit on to take in the canyons and rocky hills. The views are abundant in every direction. I saw almost every trail the park has from my vantage point. It’s the type of place where you want to unplug and meditate, which is why Daniel goes. He and I chatted for about 20 minutes before I headed back down to escape the noon temperatures. 

Back down, I saw a little bit of the Heritage Loop trail, which offers views of the Bar-O Ranch House and the historic Kitselman fencing as well as a garden. The Merrick Bar-O Ranch donated most of the site in 1976. The owners stipulated that it “be kept far removed and untouched by mod­ern civilization, where everything is pre­served intact, yet put to a use­ful purpose.”

At the overlook, there's a bench where you can take in the views. 

At the overlook, there’s a bench where you can take in the views. 

Priscilla Aguirre, MySA.com

Other worthy trails the park ranger told me are great to trek during the summer are the Bandera Creek Trail (2.0 miles) and the Wilderness Trail (3.1 miles). The Bandera Creek leads to the creek where you can fish and swim, while the Wilderness Trail offers some shade to escape the heat. 

Medina Loop (2.6 miles) routes to a point of interest at the park, Comanche Bluff. It’s a rugged route but you’ll be welcomed with limestone outcroppings and bluff. 

Other than that small hiccup, I enjoyed the Hill Country State Natural Area. I would have missed the gorgeous overlook if it wasn’t for Daniel (thank you, if you’re reading this). If you decide to go during the summer, go early and take plenty of water. Also, go with a friend if you can. Hiking alone is nice but not for first-timers in this Texas heat.

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