Day Trips: 10 ways to have fun outside near San Antonio

Who wouldn’t love to take a long trip to the Rocky Mountains or the Adirondacks, but let’s get real: not all of us have time (or the funds) to do that. And while saving up for that dream outdoor experience is a must, here are 10 short day trips from San Antonio to itch that outside scratch.

New Braunfels
When the South Texas heat begins to reach its peak during those brutal summer months, about the only outside activity worth braving those temperatures for is cooling off in one of the Hill Country’s beautiful rivers. New Braunfels, less than an hour north of the Alamo City on I-35, offers two of the best: the Comal and Guadalupe rivers. Need we say more? But even though it’s officially fall, temperatures are still warm enough for a dip, tubing or kayaking. There are also numerous campgrounds, hiking and biking trails, fishing holes and parks to spend a great day soaking up some rays.

San Marcos
The Edwards Aquifer bubbles up from Aquarena Springs and into the San Marcos River in San Marvelous, Texas. Like New Braunfels, San Marcos has no shortage of outdoor activities based around the crystal clear, cool river. In addition to canoeing, kayaking and tubing, there are opportunities to snorkel, scuba dive or take a ride on a glass-bottom boat. And if you don’t feel like getting wet, there are numerous parks and hiking and biking trails to choose from. According to the San Marcos Convention and Visitor Bureau, there more than 850 acres of outside opportunity just within city limits, and it’s just an hour away.

Urban environments offer plenty of outside activities with their own twists. Playing in the outdoors doesn’t always have to include hiking or tubing on a river, a downtown romp in a big city is plenty of fun. For instance, take a trip and visit the Capitol and grab lunch at one of the diverse spots around it, many of which feature patios. Or head over to the Congress Avenue Bridge at dusk and see the impressive bat population that leaves its roost every night. But hurry, because the bats migrate at the end of October. There are also numerous opportunities along Lady Bird Lake, including a popular hike and bike trail.

The Underground
There’s more to the underground than new music, poetry, art and film: caves, for instance. And just a short drive away from the Alamo City are two great cavernous destinations: Natural Bridge Caverns and Cascade Caverns. Either way you go, you’re going to have a fascinating time touring the caves and admiring the strange geological features, which have fantastic descriptions like the “Kings Throne” and “Grendel’s Canyon,” both of which can be found in Natural Bridge Caverns.

You don’t have to drive 1,000 miles to visit a canyon, the Hill Country has its own brand—though not enormous like the Grand Canyon or Palo Duro Canyon. If you head west of San Antonio there are two great options: Paradise Canyon Recreational Park and Government Canyon State Natural Area and either way, you’re making a great decision. Paradise Canyon offers a myriad of activities, including hiking, fishing, tubing and camping. Prices vary, so visit the park’s website for more information. As for Government Canyon, a cool $6 gives you access to more than 12,000 acres of natural wonder, including 110-million-year-old dinosaur tracks; talk about old-fashioned fun. Both destinations are under an hour away.

For a slice of the Old World mixed with numerous ways to have fun outside, visit Fredericksburg and indulge in some rich German food after a relaxing and rewarding day outside. While the small city, which is a little more than an hour away from San Antonio, is famous for its German heritage and its National Museum of the Pacific War, Fredericksburg has plenty of birding, fishing, bicycling and even rock climbing opportunities to take advantage of.

State Parks
There’s no shortage of them. Any Alamo City resident looking to cure themselves of the urban doldrums can pick their medicine: the Hill Country State Natural Area, Old Tunnel State Park, Guadalupe River State Park, Honey Creek State Natural Area, Lockhart State Park and Palmetto State Park, to name a few. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is a great resource for finding out what each destination offers. Here’s a TPWD map that has all state parks near San Antonio catalogued with contact information.

Canyon Lake
A popular and timeless Texas getaway makes its home between San Antonio and Austin. Canyon Lake is a great outdoor destination any time of the year. With the Texas heat (hopefully) starting to subside, Canyon Lake still offers aplenty, including kayaking, camping, fishing and hunting, and there are two designated swim beaches that have amenities like picnic tables and playgrounds. But swim at your own risk, there aren’t any lifeguards.

Small Towns
We’ve all heard the term small town charm. Well, it’s true. Outside of Loop 1604 there are numerous small towns like Floresville, Pleasanton, Medina, Boerne and Hondo that all have their own flavors, coupled with small shops, local restaurants, parks and hiking trails. Taking a day to get to know one of the Alamo City’s neighbors can be rewarding. Visiting one of these small towns can lead to finding a new fishing, hiking or camping spot that might not get as much foot traffic as some of the better known outdoor hotspots in South and Central Texas.

Life’s a Beach
A little farther than the rest of the destinations in this story, the Gulf Coast is still a doable and enjoyable day trip. Despite fall temperatures (there will still be hot days), a day in Corpus Christi offers fun at the beach, whether it’s taking a dip in the Gulf of Mexico, boating, fishing or just enjoying the waterfront. And if you’re in the area, head over to Port Aransas and visit Mustang Island, a state park that caters to anyone’s outdoor appetite.

To be sure, South Texas has great variety when it comes to outdoor fun. These are just a sampling of the many opportunities to get outside and play that are within easy driving distance from the Alamo City.

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