Texas natives aren’t strangers to Canyon Lake, but most have not heard of Madrone Trail, a 7.6-mile point-to-point hike and bike trail that winds its way through a peninsula along the north side of the body of water.
When trying to beat the sweltering triple-digit heat, people aren’t typically looking to add in any cardio other than swimming, but for those in search of a scenic, moderate-to-difficult hike or bike experience where you can bring your dog and cool off in the sparkling clear waters of the Guadalupe River after, Madrone Trail is for you.
Managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, the twisty, single-track trail located about an hour and 15 minutes from San Antonio has lots of exposed rock, making for a pretty technical bike ride where you can build your skills around trees and practice the occasional one-to-two-foot drop and sharp turn
For those on foot, the trail makes for a great wander because it is completely unmarked throughout. This can be frustrating, but the views are beautiful and the paths are clear – whether they were created with intention by the Army Corps, or by those looking to get closer to stunning views of the lake. It’s a comfortable jaunt either way, especially since about 70 percent of the trail is shaded.
When I first happened upon Madrone Trail, it was because the car line to enter Canyon Lake Park – the little island offshoot that offers some camping sites and a marina – was understandably long on a day where the heat was close to debilitating. I kept driving up Canyon Park Road and found Madrone Trail less than a mile away.
While Canyon Lake Park is not an expensive adventure – $5 for a carload of people and around $15 to camp – part of what makes Madrone Trail so magical is that it offers free access to the same body of water, you just have to take a short walk to get there. In about eight minutes, you can walk from your car and along the trail to the first sight of water. And because it’s a separate entrance from the more well-known lake offerings, it’s secluded, which means you and your furry and/or human friends will likely have a little slice of lake heaven all to yourselves.
On a recent trip to the trail, there was only one other person making his way along the trail on bike. Myself, a pal, and my pup were the only others exploring the area on foot at golden hour, which made for an even more beautiful experience.
As the paths twist, turn, and intersect with one another, you’re consistently met with breathtaking views of the water. And because there is a marina close by, and it’s August 2019, motorboats making their way across the water will likely be blasting their favorite rendition of “Old Town Road.”
Pro tip: use the restroom at the gas station up the road before parking at the trail. While there is a single stall located at the trail head, it’s typically locked, and when you peer inside, it is reminiscent of the bathroom from Trainspotting. You could also go the old-fashioned route and use nature as your toilet – but make sure you bring poop bags for your dog, as they are not provided at any point along the trails.
Additionally, there are few trash cans along Madrone Trail, which was evident on my recent trip, as the one closest to the trail head was completely filled with garbage that overflowed onto the ground around it. The Army Corps would do good to monitor this more closely, as it is clear from the trash contents, people are really enjoying the secluded spot, packing lots of food and beverages to consume while seated at the few picnic tables lining the trail.
The trail is named after the madrone tree, which is famous for its pinkish-red bark that is visible at certain times of the year. There are several of these trees near the trail head within the first two miles of the trail; one of the larger madrone trees has a fence around it, along with a plaque describing the tree species. So, if the bark color isn’t standing out to you, you’ll be sure to know it when you see it.