Hitting the Trails, Dallas Style
We’ll avoid all those clichés about those who wander not being lost and cut to the chase. Walkers, cyclists and runners venture into some fascinating places in the Dallas Region. These including former outlaw hideouts, abandoned rail beds and suburban oases. Of course, not all 442 miles of off-street paths in the region offer such adventures. So, the “Say Yes” crew has cobbled together a list of trails that effectively debunks the notion that the Dallas Region is four-wheel-centric.
In assembling our “Hidden Trails” list, we stuck with our methodology of avoiding well-known destinations (the nationally publicized Katy and White Rock Lake trails), and avoided the well-worn paths. Our entries are meant to transport both mind and body. (Disclaimers: Trails are open to both pedestrians and cyclists, unless otherwise noted. Also, be sure to check to make sure trails are open before heading out.)
Arbor Hills Nature Preserve
Passers-by might see lights dancing through this park after dusk. Those are just bike- and helmet-mounted lights of the bike riders taking night rides through the Arbor Hills Nature Preserve’s 2.8-mile off-road cycling trail. The preserve is a find for the variety it offers. Roughly 2.6 miles of paved trails ramble along blackland prairie, riparian (river) and upland forests. The preserve, which is owned and operated by the City of Plano, also has three miles of unpaved, pedestrian-only trails that roll along ponds, lowlands and creeks (pedestrian trails are open from dawn to dusk). Aside from having a shaded playground and a section of groomed grass for Frisbee and picnicking, the 200-acre park is known for its observation tower, which overlooks Plano’s suburban skyline. “There are great maps, markers and distance markers, so you never get lost, and clearly know your trail, path or distance,” one park fan tells us.
The Santa Fe Trail
Abutting one of the nation’s most-popular trails (White Rock Lake Trail) is one of Dallas’ most intriguing and underused: the Santa Fe Trail. The Santa Fe Trail was built for urban explorers, extending roughly four miles southwest from the White Rock Lake spillway and weaving to the Deep Ellum neighborhood. The trail is popular with early-morning cyclists, who hear the roosters of East Dallas crow at sunrise, and who use the trail en route to cruising the relatively quiet streets of Downtown Dallas on weekends. The trail is also a hit with cyclists who are known to ride just for the excuse of grabbing a brew (either coffee or alternative coffee) and a bite (at the Angry Dog, BrainDead Brewing, The LOT, or other such establishments near or along the trail). The trail was built on an abandoned Santa Fe rail line.
This 3.1-mile trail provides another paved pathway for bikers, walkers and runners, while still connecting them with nature. “With this connection, it is possible to travel from the City of Dallas’ far northern boundary with the City of Plano to the edge of downtown Dallas – a distance of over twenty miles – without the need of a car,” states a Dallas County map of the Cottonwood Trail. At its southerly terminus, the Cottonwood Trail spurs off of the White Rock Lake Trail and meanders past some wetlands, eventually leading up to a fairly elaborate waypoint before it crosses under Interstate 635 along North Central Expressway. At its northern terminus, the trail runs into residential and commercial neighborhoods and resumes northward as the 6.1-mile Preston Ridge Trail, into Plano.
McCommas Bluff Preserve
For centuries, the Trinity River has twisted and turned through this 120-acre stretch of wilderness in southeastern Dallas County, creating striking, canyon-like topography. The sections of land are so remote that in the 1880s, outlaw Belle Starr and a criminal gang were said to have camped out there to avoid capture. Dallas County, which owns the site, recommends that the preserve is best-suited for nature study, hiking, fishing and informal picnicking. While trails are sporadic on the property, the county reports a two-mile natural surface road that provides a pleasant walk. Just keep your eyes open: “You’ll see some crazy stuff down here,” wrote one fan of the preserve. “Like a pack of feral hogs. It’s great for any activity.”
AT&T Trail connects this preserve with the Trinity River Audubon Center, which we’ve already written about here.
This 212-acre plot of land in McKinney offers seven miles of trails (also maintained by the Dallas Off-Road Bicycle Association), overnight camping and large expanses of open spaces. “If you try this, we suggest you wear hiking boots instead of running shoes, and be prepared to yield to the cyclists,” writes the host of the Visit McKinney Texas blog. Cyclists, meanwhile, rate the trail as one of the best off-road trails in the Dallas Region. It doesn’t hurt that large swaths of prairie are covered with wildflowers.
Trailhead at California Crossing Park, 5198 Riverside Drive, Irving, 75039
Some trails are measured in miles. Others are measured by views. Campion Trail falls into the latter category. “My visits to Campion Trail are my nature escapes,” one trail user tells us. “The park covers a wide variety of topography, including fields of wildflowers. It’s like a secret West Texas. It seems like you can see for miles.” The Spandex biker crowd doesn’t dominate Campion. That honor belongs to the leisurely riding/walking demographic, including families and casual cyclists, none of whom are attempting to break land-speed records. Campion Trail connects three of Irving’s 43 parks, as it winds along the Trinity River, from north to south. The trail gets extra kitsch points for its lion-statue waypoint/trail marker at 1601 TX-348 Spur. For extended rides, the southerly terminus of Campion Trail connects to Lake Carolyn in the Las Colinas development. Measured conventionally, the trail is 10.5-miles in length, with plans for expansion.
Big Cedar on Prayer Mountain
Southwesterly Dallas has a wealth of hiking and biking trails. In this case, the Mountain Creek Church generously opened its land for use by the Dallas Off-Road Biking Association (DORBA), pending a completed waiver by trail users. The paths they’ve established are called “Big Cedar Wilderness Trails.” “Big Cedar Wilderness Trails is located atop one of the most breathtaking escarpment areas in North Texas,” writes DORBA, in its description of Big Cedar. The trails span roughly eight miles and have colorfully named loops like “Dragonfly,” “Pitbull” and “Man Bites Dog.” Hence, the hardy riders of DORBA issue this disclaimer in their trail description: “BCWT (Big Creek Wilderness Trail) also has some dramatic Downhill Areas and a Trials Area. THESE AREAS ARE DANGEROUS AND ARE DESIGNED FOR … EXPERT RIDERS ONLY.”
“Is this a good place to go hiking?” asks a Google User. “Absolutely!” answers Google local guide First Salem Church.
The Trails (and Tales) Go On and On
So, there you have it. For more exhaustive listings, visit our Walk & Roll page, the North Central Texas Council of Governments’ comprehensive trail page; cyclists can visit the DORBA page, while joggers/runners can visit North Texas Runners. If there’s any place we missed, tweet us at @sayyestodallas.
Visit our Hidden Gems page for more of the Dallas Region’s best kept secrets.