“A rugged, taxing singletrack traversing the Balcones Escarpment.
— Brendan Ross
Government Canyon State Natural Area is open Friday through Monday, 7 am to 10 pm. Some additional openings are found around major holidays, and there may be closures after inclement weather to protect the trails. Check their website
Admission for visitors 13 years and older is $6. Overnight camping is available.
Pets are allowed on the frontcountry trails only (Savannah Loop
and Lytle's Loop
Trails in Government Canyon SNA are typical of those found in the Hill Country, meaning that rocky conditions are common and trail shoes are recommended. This can considerably slow many runners' "normal" pace, so plan for a longer time on the trail than the mileage may suggest.
San Antonio experiences hot, humid summers and mild winters. The months of June to September often experience highs in the triple digits. Plan around the hottest parts of the day and bring plenty of water, as none is available away from the trailheads. Also be sure to pack out any waste produced during a visit; the SNA overlays the Edwards Aquifer and all runoff will eventually end up in the city's water supply.
Cougars, bobcats, and rattlesnakes are part of the wildlife. Cougar sightings are uncommon but a potential danger; they are most active at dusk and sunrise. If out on the trail at these times, avoid running alone, and keep children and pets close at hand.
Stretching across Government Canyon's backcountry, Sendero Balcones cuts a path along the top of the Balcones Escarpment. This rough, rock-strewn trail requires constant attention to pathfinding and can be very mentally tiring.
The track splits off from Recharge Trail
at a signed map and a trail marker just east of Bluff Spurs. It is a rocky, moderately technical singletrack, at times widening to doubletrack. The rocks come in varying sizes. While they don't require any climbing, they often create hazardous footing throughout Sendero Balcones' four-plus miles, and therein lies most of the challenge of this route. It requires an eyes-down approach to running and a slower pace than other area trails. On the up side, nearly the entire trail is covered by tree canopy, providing plenty of shade from the scorching Texas sun.
The path makes a steady, low-grade climb up to the top of one of the Balcones' many hills over its first mile. The second entry to Bluff Spurs is found about a half mile in, at another map/marker intersection. From here, it's a remote-feeling mile and a half to the next intersection, with a few brief smooth segments breaking up the constant rock hopping and dodging. Thanks to the thick tree cover, the view doesn't change much, but the plant life makes the air fragrant and cool.
Wildcat Canyon Trail
and Far Reaches Trail
come together just before the two mile point. The high point of the trail is about a half mile after, and a noticeable descent follows. The signed turnoff for Twin Oaks Trail
is also the edge of the Protected Habitat Area, which takes up the northeast section of the park. Open September through February to pedestrians only, these trails are similarly rocky but may provide more opportunity to view undisturbed wildlife and plants. Sendero Balcones will follow the western edge of the Habitat for its remainder.
Watch for a flat rock creek crossing a little after the three mile point, near the first turnoff for Black Hill Loop
. The last climb follows soon thereafter. A few faint false leads will split off to the left; keep an eye out for the brown trail markers to keep on track.
The second turnoff for Black Hill Loop
is easy to miss, as the signs face away from the trail. Look for the Habitat Area gate to help out.
Sendero Balcones ends about half a mile later, turning south and becoming the northern end of Joe Johnston Route
Flora & Fauna
The Texas Hill Country is well known for its abundant tree life. Government Canyon exhibits a number of these varieties, including mountain laurel, Ashe juniper, mesquite, and live oak. Birds and deer are the most common animals encountered in the area.