In the heart of Texas, Hill Country State Natural Area is an area of stunning, wide vistas of open space that will remind you of every western movie you've ever seen. It is a place where it's easy to imagine frontier wagons under a hot sun crossing miles and miles of empty chaparral – scrubby, isolated plains with sweet brooks and rivers here and there providing life-giving water to the arid lands.
As you might surmise, the place is dedicated to horses. Dogs are allowed, as they are in all Texas state parks, so long as they are held on a leash with a maximum length of six feet. But, while your pooch will certainly love to accompany you anywhere along the 40 miles of backcountry trails, dog owners are warned that canines should be accustomed to being near horses, which dominate the domestic species in this yip and yap Texas lifestyle.
Horses, however, will be the least of your worries. You know enough to step away from a timber rattlesnake, but does your dog? Hill Country State Natural Area is, in fact, resplendent with predators and other exotic wildlife that have the right-of-way. Gray wolves are in the area, as are the swift fox, Texas kangaroo rat, pronghorn sheep, Dahl sheep, coyote, black bear, skunk, and prairie dog.
There are also badgers, elk, mountain lion and 21 species of bats – including western Mastiff bats, the largest flying rodents in North America. While most of the Hill Country State Natural Area's 5,400 acres would be considered open trails along flatlands, there are scenic hills and a local canyon that give the landscape plenty of variety.
Some of the stunning trails include a visit to Cougar Canyon and to the Chaquita Falls Camp area. The entire property was once the home of the Bar O Ranch and it cost $6 per day to be in the park for anyone 13 or older. Other fees apply for those using the equestrian facilities and some of the more established camping areas have toilets, running water, and a few other basic amenities – like picnic tables and a place to park.
The Hill Country State Natural Area is literally the heart of Texas, located inland that borders both the Gulf coastal plains and the great plains. It is 52 miles northwest of San Antonio and 12 miles southwest of Bandera, right at the top of the lower Texas peninsula, that triangular teardrop that becomes the apex of the second largest state in the nation.
Your dog will love the long walks and the chance to go for a swim now and then. Besides strange and menacing wildlife, however, the basic concern is having enough water and dogs get very dry after chasing a rabbit or two. Bring an extra canteen and a bowl for Woof and have a terrific time.