Located in Central Texas not far from San Antonio, Palmetto State Park is a fun place to take a few short day hikes. The park’s dwarf palmetto population is rare this far west, and it gives the place a tropical look unusual to this area. I hope you enjoy this first article “Hike Texas Parks: Palmetto State Park”. We plan to do an entire series of articles called Hike Texas Parks.
I visited this park on a Sunday morning, arriving around 9 a.m. The place was quiet despite it being Labor Day weekend and all campsites were full. I was able to hike almost all of the trails in the park and still be back home in San Marcos by lunchtime. Palmetto State Park is an awesome place to go if you have a few hours of free time, and you want to stretch your legs and get a good dose of peace and quiet in nature. The day-use fee is a mere $3. Of course, I didn’t stay in the campground, but the facilities were clean and the sites lovely.
For a full map of the trail system, click here.
San Marcos River Trail
None of the trails at Palmetto State Park are difficult. They are flat (mostly) and incredibly well maintained with bridges and boardwalks along the way. The San Marcos River Trail is a 1.25-mile loop. Featuring beautiful trees covered in rattan vines, it hugs the river for some of its distance. Some of these trees, specifically one sycamore on the river bluff, are huge and majestic. Occasionally, there are some very short spur trails leading to the high bluff above the San Marcos River. Here you can catch a glimpse of the milky-greenish waters below.
Palmettos are not frequent on the San Marcos Trail, but they are present. What I did see, but mostly hear, were the birds. This park is a premier place for birding. It is situated on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail. While hiking, I heard plenty of cardinals, white-eyed vireos, and Carolina wrens. Visitors have viewed more than 240 species here. For a Palmetto State Park bird checklist, click here.
One surprise along the way is the sign reading “Site of Mud Boils”. Behind this is what looks like a patch of earth torn up by feral-hog-rooting behavior. However, it turns out that this is a location where mud boiled up because of water heated beneath the earth’s surface. This sort of blew my mind and was totally unexpected.
Canebrake & Mossycup Spurs
There are two spurs that you can include in your San Marcos River Trail loop. The Canebrake is only .14 miles and Mossycup is .27. This will make your loop a bit longer and allow you to see more of the forest.
Canebrake is named for the timber rattlesnake, which is normally found a bit farther East than Central Texas. This ecosystem, unique for Central Texas, found at Palmetto State Park supports these gorgeous snakes. I was hoping to see one…maybe next time. Mossycup is a lovely walk among Bur oak and other trees. Bur oak trees have the largest acorns in North America. The acorn top (or cup) appears “mossy”.
Ottine Swamp Trail
This easy 1-mile loop has some cool boardwalks along the way. During wet times, you should see some ephemeral swamps here. Of course, I was there in early September, and it was dry as a bone. You’ll see Spanish moss festooning from tree limbs. I remember seeing some monster pecan trees along the trail. Signs exploring the native vegetation such as red mulberry (used in jams & wine), trumpet creepers, Texas persimmon (a favorite of deer and some humans), and sea oats (once a food source for Bison), appear along the walk.
Palmetto Interpretive Trail
Although only .25 miles long, this trail packs a punch! It loops through an impressive spread of thick dwarf- palmetto growth. I’m sure that it’s even more tropical during the wet seasons when there are swamps present. I’ll definitely be going back to see that!
This trail feels like something straight out of southern Florida. When we thru-hiked the Florida National Scenic Trail earlier this year, I loved all the palmettos. This instantly reminded me of the Florida swamps (minus the alligators though).
At the western end of the loop, there is a fantastic CCC building called the Water Tower. This palisade is a peaceful spot for a break. You can plop down on a nearby bench and listen to the water trickling into the pool below.
Mesquite Flats Trail
I have to say that aside from the Palmetto Interpretive Trail, this one was my favorite. It’s 1-mile, but you’ll have to link it up with portions of the other trails to make a circuit. Along this footpath, you’ll hear the pleasant crunch of crushed granite as you walk. It offers diverse scenery. You’ll hike through stands of elm, areas of brushy mesquite, dwarf-palmetto swamps, and even catch a glimpse of the neighboring private property: an oak savannah. It is lovely.
I highly recommend Palmetto State Park as a fantastic and scenic place to spend a morning or afternoon doing some day hikes. You may even want to stay longer! If you have any questions or comments about this park, please feel free to contact us. We would love to hear from you! Thanks for reading. Happy trails!
For other hiking destinations, click here.
- If you like to paddle and fish, this is a great place to do it!
- Take your camera. There are interesting things at every turn.
- Take your binoculars. This is a wonderful place to bird.