Hill Country State Natural Area- Tarpley, Bandera County, Texas

Always , always I am looking for elevation. Someone told me that Hill Country State Natural Area had the best views outside of Big Bend. I looked at the maps of the area and found that the hills here reached up to 2000 feet. Ah Yeah, this is more what I am looking for. I planned my trip for my birthday in 2019.

In Texas a State Natural Area is way different from a State Park. First they have very minimal development. At Hill Country the office is little more then a ranch house about the size of a doublewide trailer, which is what it very well may be. If you find a restroom it is probably no more then a pit toilet. At Hill Country there is absolutely no potable water so you have to take plenty with you. And since the mission of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Division at a natural area is preservation of the land, if it rains very much they close the trails. So to go to one, especially this one and find all the trails open is a treat. The park has over 40 miles of hiking trails.

We were having a bit of a wet spell that March and I anxiously checked the trail map that the park posts daily on the website as to which trails are closed and which are open. The morning I left there were still a couple trails closed, but it looked like I could get into the high country, which is what I wanted anyway.

Hill Country was once known as the Bar-O Ranch. Between 1976 and 1982 Louise Merrick, whose family obtain the property in the mid 1940’s, began to give the state parcels of land to develop a natural area. Merrick stipulated in her gifts that “the land be kept far removed and untouched by modern civilization, where everything is preserved intact, yet put to a useful purpose.” The state has made good on that statement and that is why it is so very primitive here. The Natural Area opened in 1984 and through a couple more land purchases the Preserve now incorporates over 5300 acres.

I started the day by ascending the West Peak near the Horse Campground. Yes they do allow horses on the trails here, but I have found that the higher you go the less “road apples” you encounter. It gets extremely rugged up higher and most people won’t take the horses up there.

Summit of West Peak

The 1868 foot summit of West Peak is one of the highest spots you can get to on the trails and the views were outstanding.

view from West Peak
East Peak from West Peak

After I descended I headed out into the back country. I wanted to hike over Vista Ridge and through Cougar Canyon to the Hermit Cabin Primitive Camping Area.

Vista Ridge is to the right, Ice Cream Hill to the left
An outstanding view from Vista Ridge

As I headed up the Madrone Trail I passed through an old homestead.

Every park in Texas seems to have a Madrone Trail. A Madrone is a specie of tree and they are supposed to be plentiful along these so named trails. I have yet to see one.

Old homestead
old feeding station
Cougar Canyon

I returned on the Good Luck Trail and Creekside Trail which is a bit of a misnomer as it was just a dry creek bed.

The Goodluck Trail….I had to laugh at this name when I saw the trail. It descended steeply into a small canyon and the surface was all loose rock. It then ascended the other side just as steeply with the same loose rock surface, yeah, Good Luck getting across there. But I did and hit the Creekside Trail back to the car.

Descending The Goodluck Trail
Ascending the Goodluck Trail
Crossing the “Creek” on the Creekside Trail

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