Less developed than most other state parks, the Hill Country State Natural Area (SNA) offers a more rugged experience for visitors with unique Hill Country grasslands, oak tree groves, canyons, creeks, and springs that sport catfish, perch, and bass. With 40 miles of trails and up to 2,000 feet in elevation for any combination of hiking, running, mountain biking, or equestrian pursuits, this natural area begs to be explored.
What Makes It Great
Located in Bandera Texas, the self-proclaimed “Cowboy Capital of the World,” Hill Country SNA allows one to experience central Texas like it was when only Comanches and cowpokes roamed the region. You will often see a desert environment with scattered trees and rocky terrain. The park was opened in 1984 with the stipulation that it "be kept far removed and untouched by modern civilization, where everything is preserved intact, yet put to a useful purpose." (source: Hill Country State Natural area, http://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/hill-country/park_history). The park has certainly achieved that goal with this far-removed and peacefully quiet park. Hill Country SNA is implementing a star party program much like other state parks as it attempts to gain the valued Dark Sky certification. For trail runners, this park notably hosts the popular Bandera Ultra Marathon trail race on its network of trails.
Those up for a demanding hike or trail run can take advantage of the various elevation changes and long trails. For these audacious individuals, start at the park headquarters and take 5a to the scenic overlook at 5b. The climb to 5b is worth the ascent as it overlooks a panoramic, unobstructed view of the hills, rivers, and valleys. From there, take trail 5 to trail 1 as you wind around Ice Cream hill for a nice climb and descent. Continue on 1b to trail 1 and check out the pond and primitive campsites. Carry on to 5c then make your way back to trail 1 and the park headquarters. This loop totals a healthy 5.5 miles. You can add more miles via the loop near W. Verde Creek on the east side or Cougar Canyon to the west where trail 4a boasts another scenic overlook. Hill Country’s busy season is in the spring when the weather cools off. This park has unique campsites: equestrian and non-equestrian campers are both welcome for primitive and backcountry camping. The Group Lodge contains a kitchen, sleeps 12, and is equestrian friendly.
Who is Going to Love It
Be sure to bring plenty of water, especially in the summer months, as there is no potable water on the trails. If it has rained recently then make sure to call the park ahead of time to see if it is closed. The trails flood easily and they will close trails if it has rained recently. It is easy to get lost at this park because trails change often so pay close attention to your map and go back the way you came if you feel lost. Those who do not feel comfortable with the inclines may want to stick with the lower elevation areas on the roads or near W. Verde Creek. Make sure to review the yield policy before you encounter a horse or a mountain biker.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Daily entrance fees are $6 per person, and camping rates vary according to locations ranging from $5-15 nightly. Dogs are allowed on leash in the park at a maximum of 6 feet. Parking is plentiful near trailheads though you might have to park in the dirt if the trails are crowded.