Mission Tejas is one of the more modest Texas state parks I’ve visited so far–there’s a mere 17 camp sites huddled together in one small area (except for two water-only sites a short stroll away), and the only water feature is one little muddy pond–no swimming allowed.
I heard from park regulars that it’s usually quiet and attracts few of the weekend and holiday day-users that you might find at a larger, lake-adjacent park. The bathrooms are clean, the headquarters building is beautiful and new and there is a generous playground for the kids (I overheard two little girls talking about a playground ghost, and I kind of wish I had followed up on that). But Mission Tejas’ real charm lies in its rich Texas history and–to my delight–its extensive and varied network of hiking trails.
I chose this particular weekend to camp at Mission Tejas as I had joined an outdoor adventure Meetup group and a hike was scheduled for Saturday morning. It was only after plans were in place that we realized this was also the weekend of the 14th Annual Folk Festival, where costumed presenters demonstrated their crafts and trades and explained everyday life of frontier Texans (see photos below). So quiet little Mission Tejas was actually pretty busy, but the crowd was handled well by the friendly park staff and a busy shuttle van.
The festival was an unexpected treat, and complemented the other historical elements at the park such as the CCC-constructed replica of the Mission San Francisco de los Tejas building (available for weddings!), a restored log home (one of the oldest structures in the area), the remnants of a fire watchtower and a piece of the El Camino Real de los Tejas trail.
The Trails, The Trails, The Trails!
But my favorite part of the park was, by far, the hiking trails–Mission Tejas has a positive hairball of hiking trails. Some are as narrow as a single person, some are as wide as a road. Some are old and historical (you can always spot a CCC-built trail by the presence of old wood or stone stairs), some are much newer (the official park map is missing at least four, although you can get a more accurate trails map at headquarters). Some are steep and twisty and dramatic, while others are flat and straight and relaxed.
I got turned around more than once when I went hiking by myself on the first day, although the most confusing trail bits are also the shortest and I’d soon stumble onto a sign-marked crossroads and get myself righted again.
As there are so many trails I won’t go over every single one: as a general rule the trails in the middle of the cluster are the older ones, ducking in and out of thin valleys and crisscrossed with streams–these are narrower, shorter and very steep in places (so definitely the most fun!) I enjoyed the challenge of the Steep Steps and the narrow, wandering Olen Matchett; I was completely charmed by the rickety old stairs at the end of the Big Pine that led up to the historic log home. I savored the nature trail looping around the CCC-constructed pond first in the morning, when the muddy water turned still and reflective and beautiful.
The outer, wider trails were just as enjoyable–especially the Steep Ravine, which surges upwards for a long, sweaty time before sending you through several switchbacks, then tumbles back down again–and the Chimney Loop, which has its own quiet rest area in the middle of nowhere, where I dozed off on a bench until a pileated woodpecker startled me awake.
The only trail that put a dent in my fun was a victim of recent weather–the Nabadache Loop’s entire northern section was all mud and standing water, and I just kept pressing forward (and sinking down) thinking that, surely, it would get better. (It did, eventually, after getting a lot worse.) But even that mucky trail had some beautiful views of the San Pedro Creek.
After two full days of hiking these wonderful trails I returned home thoroughly exhausted, but already looking forward to my next trip. Five stars for Mission Tejas!