A Beginners Guide to Trail Running in Bandera (HCSNA)

July 27, 2018

A Beginners Guide to Trail Running in Bandera (HCSNA)

Bexar Tracks

Over the last few months, our trail running group (Bexar Tracks) has been training on various local trails in preparation for the Alamo City Ultra.
The majority of our trail time has been spent at Friedrich Wilderness Park, the Powerlines, and Mcallister Park. Prior to moving into our specificity training at Eisenhower Park during the month of August, we have decided to take a road trip to Bandera and put in some miles at the Hill Country State Natural Area.
In preparation for this trip, it became evident that it would be useful to share more details with the trail running community concerning running in Bandera.
This post is intended to provide you an overview of our plans and an initial overview of one of my favorite places to run within a 1-2 hour drive from San Antonio. If you have more questions, would like to join our training group or need additional information please feel free to contact us for more specifics.

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Overview of the Hill Country State Natural Area (HCSA)

The Hill Country State Natural Area is located just outside of Bandera, Texas.

Per the HCSNA website, "HCSNA is an undeveloped and secluded retreat. Approximately 40 miles of multi-use trails wind up grassy valleys, cross spring-fed streams, and climb steep limestone hills. Equestrians, hikers and mountain bikers can enjoy exploring the trails. 

Field Notes:
  • Dogs are allowed to run on the trails but must be kept on a leash.
  • This is an equestrian park so awareness and caution must be used on the trails. Horses have the right of way and make sure to use caution to not spook any horses on the trails.
  • The HCSNA website states that mountain bikers are allowed on the trails but I have never seen any mountain bikers. 
  • There will be times where you see some runners and or hikers but I've had quite a few runs at Bandera that I did not see anyone else during a four-hour run. This is the beauty of running at Bandera but preparation and caution must be used to make sure you have an enjoyable and safe run.
  • HCSNA is secluded. There is no water available along the trail. Proper trail running preparations must be made prior to running at HCSNA. HCSNA is not something we'd recommend for beginning trail runners unless you are exploring the trails for the first time with someone who has experience running at Bandera.
  • HCSNA is made up of sections of runnable single track along with more technical ascents and descents on loose rock. The closest terrain we have close to San Antonio is the Powerlines. The Powerlines route is the best local trail to prepare for Bandera and the Hill Country State Natural Area.
  • For the best in-depth knowledge of trail running in Bandera make sure to check out the Rockhoppers. My base knowledge comes from their education on the trails.

Getting There


The drive from the San Antonio Running Company to the Hill Country State Natural Area is around 61 miles and takes around 1 hour and 15 minutes traveling along highway 16. It is a nice and easy drive although precaution should be taken when driving in the early morning due to a lack of lighting and the frequent wildlife sightings.


Hill Country State Natural Area
10600 Bandera Creek Road
Bandera, TX 78003


Once you arrive at Bandera, you take a left onto 173 and follow the signs to the Hill Country Natural Area for around 18 minutes until you enter the state park. After entering the park you will be traveling on dirt and gravel roads at a low rate of speed. To get to the headquarters you will take your first right across a low lying road that is frequently flooded. Use precaution crossing and continue until you see signs pointing towards the headquarters.

Map to get to Headquarters in Bandera for a trail run
At the Headquarters, you will need to fill out one Self Pay Permit per vehicle. For day use the cost is $6 unless you have a Texas State Park Pass. If you plan to trail run in Texas, the year-long pass is a great investment and a great opportunity to help support the state park system. To purchase a Texas State Park Pass click here.

HCSNA self pay pass
Once the self-pay permit is completed, remove the adhesive portion and place it on the inside of your windshield and deposit the cash and permit at the Headquarters.

Most of the trail running groups will then proceed to park at the Equestrian Camp Area located on Park Road just past the Headquarters.

There is a restroom at the Headquarters and also one at the Equestrian Camp Area for your convenience. From the Equestrian Camp Area, there are various trailheads in different directions that can be taken depending on the route you prefer to run.

Bandera Trail Running Route

For our trail run on Saturday, we will mimic the Bandera 25K route as close as possible while starting and finishing from Equestrian, instead of the Lodge. The Park Road leading to the Lodge is currently under construction.

Bexar Tracks 25K trail running route for Bandera

  1. We will head North from Equestrian on the road to enter Bar-O Trail to the right. 
  2. Continue North on Bar-O Trail until it merges onto Creek Bottom Trail.
  3. After 1 mile on the Creek Bottom Trail continue straight, North, unto Hermits trail and take our first trail to the right, Side Track Trail towards the Good Luck Trail.
  4. We will continue on Good Luck Trail for .6 miles and stay to the right to connect back to Side Track Trail until we hit Hermits Trail.
  5. At Hermits Trail we'll take a hard left, now heading South, and take our first right at Madrone's Trail after .45 miles.
  6. We'll use Madrone Trail to connect to the Cougar Canyon Overlook Trail which is 1.5 miles long until hit connects back to Madrone Trail. On the Cougar Canyon Overlook Trail, we will hit our first scenic overlook.
  7. At Madrone Trail we will take a right until we hit Vista Ridge Trail which we will take for 2.25 miles until we connect back to Madrone Trail.
  8. Madrone Trail to the right to connect to Spring Branch Trail.
  9. Take Spring Branch Trail for .35 miles until we reach a busy trail intersection at the foot of the West Peak Overlook Trail and Twin Peaks.
  10. Here we will take the scenic route heading West on West Peak Overlook Trail and up one of the Twin Peaks to the scenic overlook. We'll circle the top of the hill and head back down to the trailhead intersection to take a left onto Spring Branch Trail to circle around the Scenic Overlook we just visited.
  11. After .84 miles on the Spring Branch Trail, we will take a left onto Wilderness Trail to cross over and connect back to Spring Branch Trail after .38 miles.
  12. Once back at Spring Branch Trail take a left for .74 miles until we are back at the trailhead intersection and West Peak Overlook Trail.
  13. From here we have around .75 miles to go on Spring Branch Trail headed East towards the Equestrian Camp Lodge and our start and finish point of the trail run.
  14. Spring Branch Trail will lead you back to the Park Road which you can take to the right and end up at the Equestrian Camp Lodge or you can take a right back onto Spring Branch Trail to get back to the Equestrian Camp Lodge.

Summary

Bandera and the Hill Country State Natural Area is a great escape and a fun place for a trail run but you must be prepared to have a self-supported run.

We hope you find this useful as an initial reference point.  Please contact us if you have any questions or would like to join our Bexar Tracks trail and ultra running group as we train for the Alamo City Ultra, Sky Island, Bandera and other races throughout the year.


What is your favorite place to trail run around San Antonio?

What is your favorite trail run route at Bandera?

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