San Antonio & Austin Area Hikes
This is a rugged hike in a pristine Hill Country preserve with a 350-foot climb, steep and narrow trails, and an abundance of Texas plant life. The Friedrich Wilderness Park is also home to one of the oldest working windmills in Bexar County.
Take I-10 West from San Antonio, and then take Exit 554 to Camp Bullis Road. Stay on the access road until you can turn west on Oak. When you reach the end of Oak, turn north-the park is right on the left.
If not for Norma Friedrich Ward, the 232-acre Friedrich Wilderness Park would not be a reality. In 1971, Ms. Ward bequeathed 180 acres of this land to the city of San Antonio in memory of her parents to ensure that the native vegetation and wildlife would be protected. An additional 52 adjacent acres was donated by W. L. Mathews and Associates. Now the Friends of Friedrich Wilderness Park, in conjunction with San Antonio Parks and Recreation, maintains a stewardship role to this unique resource that offers over five miles of trails.
Unlike some local parks, Friedrich Wilderness Park has an extensive trail system open to wheelchairs. Each trail is rated, indicating how appropriate it is for wheelchair use. Levels 1 through 3 are open to wheelchairs and indicate increasing difficulty. Level 1 trails have gentle slopes and are paved with either asphalt or concrete, whereas Level 3 trails consist of crushed-stone surface and slopes are significantly steeper. Wheelchair users are cautioned that exceptional upper body strength may be required. Level 4 trails are unimproved dirt designed to be difficult to traverse. They may include rock ledges and steep gradients and are not accessible to wheelchairs.
The trailhead at the southwest end of the parking lot provides access to all of the park's trails. You'll see a bulletin board and kiosk with information about the park, as well as a desk with a Plexiglas cover containing trail maps, a bird list, and a guest book for visitors to sign.
A flyer titled "Emilie and Albert Friedrich Wilderness Park" also contains a trail map and interpretive information to correspond with numbered points along the various trails. This is easier to read and carry than the photocopied map.
Start your hike by heading west on the concrete Main Loop Trail. The shade provided by the trees help make this hike a little more bearable on an otherwise hot day. There are numerous benches located at the beginning legs of the trail. You'll reach a T intersection about 450 feet into the trail. The Forest Range Trail takes off to the right, and the Main Loop, designated as a Level 2 trail from this point on, continues to the left.
The trail changes from concrete to asphalt as it continues up the hill, then across a wooden bridge over a dry creekbed. Several sections of fencing are visible on your right, though it is unclear what purpose they serve. Another T intersection is reached at 0.3 miles. You will return to this point later using the trail on your right, so head left to continue on the southern portion of the Main Loop Trail. The trail surface turns to mulch as you keep traveling the Main Loop, and the incline starts to increase. Three hundred feet ahead, the trail forks. Continue on the Main Loop Trail, or go right on the more rugged, Level 4 Water Trail, which rejoins the Main Loop. About 0.1 mile past the intersection of the Main Loop and Water Trail, you'll reach the Juniper Barrens Loop Trail, which appears on your left. Continue right along the Main Loop Trail, which becomes a Level 4 trail from this point. The trail surface is dirt and rock from here on out.
As the incline steadily increases you'll see a bench on the left; this is the last place to sit for a while. After climbing about 200 feet (to 1,390 feet elevation), there is a sign informing hikers that the remainder of the park has been set aside as protected habitat for the black-capped vireo. These small songbirds make nests from the bark strips of the ash juniper tree (also called the mountain cedar) found in this area. One of the main reasons for the vireo's decline is habitat loss, though they also fall prey to the parasitic nesting of the brown-headed cowbird. These larger birds lay their eggs in other birds' nests and abandon them to be raised by the nest's owners. The young cowbirds usually hatch first and crowd out the other chicks.
You'll come to another sign with the park's map system on it and find a fork in the trail. The Main Loop continues to the right, but go left on Vista Loop Trail, which rejoins the Main Loop in about a mile. Go up the hill to reach the park's highest point (1,440 feet) 1 mile into the hike. Enjoy the great views of the surrounding area. Nearby you will see a wall constructed of stacked limestone that crosses the trail and disappears north into the brush. The trail leaves the wall behind, becomes very narrow and rocky, and soon loops back to rejoin the wall, turning north to follow the rock wall for several tenths of a mile. Shortly after rejoining the wall, you'll come to an intersection with the Upland Range Trail, which leads 0.1 mile back to the Main Loop Trail. Stay on the Vista Loop Trail.
The trail is now on the backside of the hill you just climbed, and the view to the west is expansive. Miles of hills and valleys roll on with very little sign of civilization. You'll reach another sign about the black-capped vireo habitat and shortly thereafter see a set of earthen stairs leading down. The dirt and root surface of the trail requires that you watch your step. The trail is very narrow at this point, and steep gradients leave no room for error on the left side. Occasionally, wooden planks have been added to shore up the trail against erosion. Another set of earth and wood stairs at just over 1.5 miles lead down into and back out of a small canyon.
Shortly after the stairs, you'll reach the Fern Del Trail on your right. If you haven't felt challenged enough, take this short, steep loop trail, which rejoins Vista Loop Trail. Otherwise, continue on, passing the other end of Fern Del Trail 0.1 mile later. You'll soon meet back up with the Main Loop trail and a sign noting you are half a mile from the trailhead. Turn left and go mostly downhill from this point. Having climbed back out of the valley you were in, you'll be able to hear the traffic that was inaudible on the opposite side of the hill.
The hike ends on the same trail it began on, and the downhill slope is a welcome change. The cement trail leads back to the parking lot, past the kiosk you passed on the way in to the park. Sign the guest book if you haven't already and be sure to note any birds you may have sighted in their log.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication