The best outdoor adventures in San Antonio prove that nature is never too far from the town of the Alamo. Located in the southwestern corner of the Texas Triangle, this city boasts gorgeous scenery of giant oak trees and rolling green hills.

    The Hill Country of southern Texas takes over the moment you head out north and west of San Antonio. There are glistening rivers fed by springs to dive into between New Braunfels and San Marcos. You'll even find eye-catching cave systems with stalactites bigger than a rodeo bull. Let's take a look at the best spots you can visit for an active weekend in San Antonio.

    1

    Hill Country State Natural Area

    For a taste of the rancher life

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    The Hill Country State Natural Area is one of the jewels of the southern Lone Star State. A small portion of that – 5,369 acres, to be exact – is protected at the Hill Country State Natural Area, which lies just over 1.2 hours' drive west of San Antonio.

    Expect to discover a sweeping land of karst valleys and granite peaks, dotted with gallery woods of mountain cedar and live oak. There's hiking to be had, like on the Heritage Loop that offers a glimpse of an age-old Texan ranch. This is also a fine place to hop in the saddle and channel your inner Clint Eastwood for a while.

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    Location: 10600 Bandera Creek Rd, Bandera, TX 78003, USA

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 830-796-4413

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    photo by lamoix (CC BY 2.0) modified

    2

    San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

    Colonial history in the Texan sun

    The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is much more than just a place to score some fresh air in San Antonio. It's also a UNESCO World Heritage site that oozes colonial history from its half-ruined religious buildings, which still stand a stone's throw from the San Antonio River some 15 minutes' drive south of the Downtown. 

    The spot is a must for history lovers. It showcases 5 stunning missions that were built by the Franciscans and the Spanish throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. Those who want a true outdoor adventure should consider hoofing it or cycling the Mission Trails system. It links up all 5 of the famous European churches, eventually culminating with a glimpse of the iconic Alamo.

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    Location: 6701 San Jose Dr, San Antonio, TX 78214, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 5 pm

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    3

    Natural Bridge Caverns

    Delve into the darker side of Texas

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    The Natural Bridge Caverns show that going into the great outdoors in Texas doesn't always mean being outside. Carving more than 180 ft under the ridges of the Texas Hill Country to the north of the city, the tunnels and chambers here reveal a strange and alien underground world.

    Thanks to an almost constant 21°C temperature and steady humidity levels, the Natural Bridge Caverns have developed a unique array of stalactites and speleothems in their countless subterranean rooms. You'll see rock formations with names like the King's Throne and The Chandelier, along with amazing flowstone walls and shadowy halls that pierce deep into the Lone Star earth. There's also a Hidden Passages tour that lets you see some of the less-trodden parts of the cave system.

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    Location: 26495 Natural Bridge Caverns Rd, San Antonio, TX 78266, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 4 pm

    Phone: +1 210-651-6101

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    4

    Comal River

    A great place to cool off in New Braunfels

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    The Comal River gurgles through the heart of New Braunfels, a town that's best-known for its waterparks, sat in the hills some 40 minutes' drive from San Antonio. A trip here is the perfect way to cool off in the steamy Texan summer. The river is one of the shortest navigable waterways in the USA and lends itself perfectly to tubing and wild swimming.

    Yep, you'll notice oodles of San Antonio locals making the jaunt up to Comal to grab an inflatable rubber ring and hop in the H2O whenever it's hot in the city. The float from starting point to endpoint typically takes 2 hours in all, beginning at Hinman Island Park. Be sure to bring along a refillable drink container for your tipple on the side.

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    photo by Jeff Gunn (CC BY 2.0) modified

    5

    Lost Maples State Natural Area

    Escape the city entirely

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    The Lost Maples State Natural Area is one darn wild corner of the Lone Star State. It spreads across the ridges of the Edwards Plateau in the far southwest of Texas. The drive from San Antonio is about 2 hours from start to finish, but that means leaving behind the hubbub of urban life completely.

    The reward for the road trip is a vast reserve of nearly 3,000 acres. It covers sweeping vistas of lifted limestone bedrock and deep canyons carved out by ancient creeks. There's hiking galore. Casual walkers might want to try the short Maple Trial, which reveals bigtooth maple trees. The East Trail is for experienced ramblers, offering views of the meandering Sabinal River from high lookout points.

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    Location: 37221 RM 187, Vanderpool, TX 78885, USA

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 10 pm

    Phone: +1 830-966-3413

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    6

    Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

    Mystical mountaintops north of town

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    Enchanted Rock is like the Texan answer to Uluru. A colossal inselberg mountain that lurches from the dusty ground nearly 90 miles north of San Antonio past Fredericksburg, it clocks up a mighty 556 metres above sea level and spans a territory of 640 acres in all.

    Historically, the local Apache and Comanche tribes believed that the great rock held spirits and magical powers. Others say it's the hiding place of the elusive El Dorado gold. Whatever you think, there's no doubt that it's a top spot for experiencing the outdoors, what with that fantastic Summit Trail path, plenty of spelunking, and backcountry camping to be had.

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    Location: 16710 Ranch Rd 965, Fredericksburg, TX 78624, USA

    Open: Daily from 6.30 am to 10 pm

    Phone: +1 830-685-3636

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    7

    San Marcos River

    Tube or kayak – take your pick

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    The San Marcos River is fed by natural springs that gurgle from the ground in the middle of the town of San Marcos itself. That means the source of the water – which always manages a steady 21°C– sits just shy of an hour from San Antonio up Interstate 35.

    The reason you might want to make the drive is to find a relaxing urban tubing course that's rarely as busy as its compadre in New Braunfels. Other folk come to paddle down the gushing rapids of the San Marcos River in a kayak, or even do a little bit of snorkelling – the water is famously clear.

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    photo by Nicolas Henderson (CC BY 2.0) modified

    8

    San Antonio River Walk

    Alfresco energy in the heart of San Antonio

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    The San Antonio River Walk is hailed as the number 1 attraction in Texas. Cutting right through the heart of the city, along the bends of the San Antonio River itself, it draws a whopping 14 million people each year. They come to stroll a vibrant path by the water's edge, where everything from Tex-Mex eateries to beer bars is on the menu.

    The most famous part of the River Walk lies between Alamo Plaza and West Market Street, on a big U-bend in the waterway. That's where you'll find classic margarita lounges like Casa Rio – it's been there since the 1940s – and rollicking Irish bars like Durty Nelly's. In all, the River Walk clocks up 15 miles, with quieter sections for strolling to the north and south of Downtown.

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    9

    Canyon Lake

    Refresh yourself in a local reservoir

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    Canyon Lake is a big bulge on the Guadalupe River that's a fine place to head whenever it's hot in southern Texas – which is very often. It sits almost midway between San Antonio and Austin, which means it draws plenty of city slickers when the mercury cranks skywards.

    The west side of the water is dominated by the colossal Canyon Dam. However, the rest of the reservoir is lined by pretty parks with grassy banks where you can swim and boat your days away. Canyon Lake has 2 operational marinas offering jet ski and pontoon rentals.

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    10

    Martin Luther King Park

    An urban garden for the whole family

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    • Families

    The Martin Luther King Park is a breath of fresh air that's within easy reach of the bustling Riverwalk and Downtown core of San Antonio. You only need to drive eastwards down I-10 for around 15 minutes and you'll be there, surrounded by lawns and leafy paths and picnic spots.

    Being out on the east side of town means this is an urban garden that most visitors never get to see. Cue a glimpse of local life, with dog walkers and joggers in abundance. Families will be especially pleased to find basketball pitches, tennis courts, a small bandstand, and plenty of designated cycling paths. 

    Location: 3503 Martin Luther King Dr, San Antonio, TX 78220, United States

    Phone: +1 210-207-7275

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    Joseph Francis | Contributing Writer

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