Put It on Your List: El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail

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From coast to coast, the U.S. exhibits an array of ecosystems and wonders that make up a trail-runner’s paradise. Trail systems travel through wild places and provide access to soul-nourishing experiences for runners and hikers alike. Here’s one to add to your list, even if you don’t hail from the Lone Star state.

El Camino Real de los Tejas, a 2,500-mile footpath, was originally a series of trails and trade routes used by native people from Mexico to Louisiana—in fact “tejas” is a Spanish spelling of the native tribe Caddo’s word “taysha,” which means “friend” or “ally.” Tejas was later adapted a second time to become Texas.

The Spanish built Catholic missions all along the trail as a way to stake their claim on the land before other European nations could get their hands on it. Later, when the region was still a part of Mexico, thousands of Americans would use the trail to immigrate into Texas and eventually spark the Texas war for independence. Running the Camino Real de los Tejas is a way to commune with people who set into the unknown to find their future on foot.

Floresville Hike and Bike Trail

The Floresville Hike and Bike Trail is the longest stretch of officially signed hiking trail along the Camino Real de los Tejas.

Situated in Floresville, Texas, about 30 miles southeast of San Antonio, the Floresville trail is a rail-to-trail conversion that traverses neighborhoods and natural areas within the city. At three miles long, the trail allows users to see actual remnants of the historic Camino Real (referred to as swales), so look closely for U-shaped depressions on the side of the trail in the natural area near the country club. Or, if you’re in the area in early October, look for an annual run that is hosted by the Wilson County Road Runners and El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail Association.

Mission Reach

Along the San Antonio River is a hike and bike trail that spans eight miles and connects all five Spanish missions in San Antonio: The Alamo (Mission San Antonio de Valero), Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan and Mission Espada. The trail mirrors El Camino Real, and is a great way to approximate a piece of the old trek while walking through the history itself.

The Spanish built thick, stone Catholic missions like these all the way from Texas to Argentina in the early 1800s. The five preserved in Texas have been standing for nearly 300 years. Each mission is about 2.5 miles apart, so nice runs can be interspersed with history and water breaks.

Along the Mission Reach, runners can see stone bridges reminiscent of the historical mission walls, and kayakers traveling beneath them on their way down the river. The path is alternately grassy and shady with tree cover—it gets the maintenance of an urban trail with more rural surroundings.

This makes sense, because Mission Reach is actually a segment of a larger trail called the Riverwalk, a 15 mile trail that follows the river and leads runners right into the heart of San Antonio. The river has been important to the state ever since the first Governor of Texas visited it in 1691. Hundreds of years ago, this meant the construction of missions, forts and bridges along the river. Now it means museums, restaurants and markets—and the potential for modern fun after your trek through history.

McKinney Falls State Park

Located in Austin, Texas, McKinney Falls State Park is a great way to experience El Camino Real in the Heart of Texas. Onion Creek Trail, a 3.6-mile loop, tracks the route Domingo Ramon’s 1716 expedition took along the left bank of Onion Creek on El Camino Real in 1716. Look for indentations in the rocks revealing historical use of the area.

The park features a total of 9 miles of trails traversing various terrain featuring wooded riverside views, cacti and wildflowers. Shady singletrack Rock Shelter Trail, takes runners to an ancient Native American campsite and a massive 4,000-year-old limestone overhang—the rock shelter itself.

Finish off your trip by stopping by the Upper and Lower Falls themselves. Not only are they historic Camino crossings of Onion Creek (worn paths of the road can be vividly seen at the latter), there are large, popular swimming holes beneath the falls, perfect for a post-run swim. McKinney Falls State Park is an excellent way to get in a few miles before heading to the weird and lively city of Austin, just over ten miles away.

Mission Tejas State Park

Located in the forest of East Texas Pineywoods, Mission Tejas State Park is a place like no other along the Camino Real. Loblolly, longleaf, and shortleaf pines rise above the trail, and in the understory dogwood trees sprawl, blooming pink and pearl in early spring. On the history side, the park contains a commemorative structure of the first Spanish mission in Texas—Mission San Francisco de los Tejas, which was dedicated on June 1, 1690.

Visitors can also walk in a swale (a marshy depression between ridges, the Texan equivalent of a valley,) and follow the footsteps of Native American tribes such as the Caddo, French and Spanish Explorers, and early American settlers heading into Texas from the east.

The run along the Camino Real Trail brings visitors to a grassland at the edge of the forest, which is an archaeologically verified Caddoan village. Run the nearly seven miles of hiking trail, plus the Rice Log Cabin as another stop along your way, you can get in a wooded run in before heading out or camping beneath the pines.

Road Run—New Braunfels to San Marcos

By beginning at the intersection of the Old Bastrop Road and Interstate 35 and following Old Bastrop northeast towards San Marcos you can run a 10 mile (20 round trip) stretch of El Camino Real in Central Texas. The one lane road winds through the Blackland Prairie, an area so fertile that people once claimed you could simply drop seed on the ground and watch it grow.

The run parallels the Balcones Escarpment to the west, a line of low hills in the Balcones fault zone that separates the great plains of the west from the coastal plains back east. Look for granite markers placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution and the State of Texas in 1918 that mark the route of the Camino.

The run ends at the junction of the San Marcos River and the Old Bastrop Highway (known as Old Bastrop Road, just across the county line), where you will find historic markers at the first town site of San Marcos de Neve, established in 1805.  Finish off (or take a break at the turn around) by taking a cool dip in the San Marcos.

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