Monday, November 9, 2015

Hike Report: Hill Country State Natural Area

During our recent stay at Kerrville-Schreiner Park, we decided to do a short hike at Hill Country State Natural Area. Unlike most parks in the Texas Parks and Wildlife system, Hill Country SNA is not developed. There is not a single bit of pavement within this remote park, located about 10 miles southwest of Bandera, nor are there any developed camp sites. But the park does offer over 40 miles of trails, and it is arguably the most popular park in the state for equestrians.

The rustic headquarters building at Hill Country SNA
This was not our first visit to the park. We originally visited the park in July 2006, when we took a 6 or 7 mile hike almost due west from the headquarters building. On our most recent outing, we followed a trail more or less in a southerly direction from the headquarters. By using the park map, we followed trail 8 for most of our hike, working our way up and down a series of hills along a utility ROW. After looping back to the north, we then followed West Verde Creek and a park road along a few trails, especially trail 8A, until we arrived back at the truck near headquarters.

Trailhead across from the parking area near headquarters
On our previous trip to the park, we were virtually alone in the park. It was July then, and quite hot, and few people were willing to venture out in the summer heat to hike. But today, the temperature was quite pleasant, and a number of vehicles were parked at headquarters, including at least 3 trucks with horse trailers.

Since the area had seen some heavy rains recently, I planned a hike to avoid low lying areas and any creeks as much as possible without hiking portions of the park we had already seen. And because we are not as adventurous as we were just a few years ago, I tried to pick easier trails. On the park map, single and double track trails are clearly indicated, so I picked a trail with double tracks hoping that the trail would be clear.

A double-track trail. This was near the beginning of trail 8. Actually, this is a road to me, much more than a "double-track" trail. But I'm not complaining a bit.
This trail sign appeared at the junction of trails 8 and 8A. It is indicative of trail signs in the park. The top 4 symbols are related to trail 8A while the bottom 3 apply to trail 8. The colored sections indicate trail difficulty. Basically, the straighter the horizontal line, the easier the trail. The arrows indicate direction. The symbol just below 8A indicates a group camp along that portion of the trail. We followed 8, which would require a bit of elevation change.
There were quite a few trees and much brush along the trail, but I was able to snap this view of surrounding hills.
The park, like many Texas parks, was originally a ranch. Many of the double-track trails were originally ranch roads, used by trucks and jeeps. There are also a number of old ranch structures throughout the park, and we came across several during the hike today.

The trail passes to the left of this old ranch structure.

Depending on your location, the trail surface is a mix. On most slopes and high ground, the surface tends towards exposed rock. Most loose stones range in size from golf ball to football size. Much rock is embedded in the ground with jagged edges jutting up to trip you. Regardless, you really have to watch your step around all the rock. Along lower elevations, especially near West Verde Creek, the trail is dirt and is rather easy walking.

This picture clearly illustrates the mix of rocks you'll encounter, from loose stones to embedded rocks that jut above the ground's surface.
About a third of the way through our hike, we encountered this utility ROW, which stretch for nearly half a mile in all. Notice that at this point the trail is really just a single-track, not the double-track indicated on the map. If you are referring to the map, this is the section of trail 8 located between the two asterisks.
This photo, near the end of the utility ROW, illustrates both elevation change and the rocky nature of the trail.
More structures from ranching days. Horse trough in center. I guess the structure on left is some type of cistern, while the structure on the right might be a pump house of some sort.
From time to time, there are some nice views.
Near the Comanche Bluff Camp Area (see map), we became a bit lost. I was hoping we could stay on the south side of West Verde Creek. When we first entered the park in the truck, there was a low-water crossing over this creek, so I knew that there was water in the creek from recent rains. I really did not want to have to do a water crossing. I'm getting to be a lazy hiker in my senior years, I guess. I could not tell clearly from the map, but it appeared that there was a trail (8B, perhaps) that would keep us on the south side of the creek and allow us to rejoin 8A for an easy walk back to our truck. But in the section of the park around the scenic overlook (again, see map), the trails were not marked at all. After scouting around some, I did find a ledge trail above the creek, but I knew there was no way I'd get Donna up there walking along a ledge, so we decided to work our way over to the park road.

Ledge above West Verde Creek, seen in part below. Note trail on other side of creek.
We were able to cross the creek on a dry low-water crossing near the Chapas Croup Camp Area. We then followed the road for perhaps a third of a mile before we found a place where we could cross the creek without getting too wet.

The Chapas Group Camp Area is just an old ranch house. It sits in a lovely grove of oak trees along the banks of West Verde Creek.

Looking upstream along West Verde Creek from low-water crossing.

West Verde Creek. The ledge pictured several pictures above would be along the top of the ridge in the background of this picture.

This picture was taken after we crossed the creek. We emerged on the trail on the left, then worked our way across the creek on high points of ground. We kept relatively dry.

We made a couple of attempts to cross the creek, but the water was too deep at those locations. So we continued to hike up the road towards headquarters. We then found a trail heading towards the creek near where Trail 9 hits the road. We found the creek to be rather shallow here and were able to successfully cross with only the soles of our shoes getting wet.

The trail from that point on was very easy. We met a couple of ladies on horseback and yielded the trail to them -- as trail etiquette warrants -- and soon found ourselves back on trail 8 heading for our truck.

This park offers some good hiking. The elevation changes are not too great. Because there are so many trails, you should be able to hike the park several times without repeating previous hikes.

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