Photo of the Medina River in the Medina River Natural Area.

Medina River Natural Area

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It’s lucky for natives of and visitors to San Antonio that voters halted construction of the Applewhite Reservoir. Otherwise, the Medina River Natural Area on San Antonio’s South Side and the 78 archeological sites discovered in the area would now be under water.

Instead, the Medina River Natural Area, just a stone’s throw away from San Antonio’s Toyota assembly plant and the haunted Donkey Lady bridge, gives visitors a chance to take a walk on the wild side. (Cue Lou Reed. May he RIP.)

I took a group of Palo Alto College students for a picnic/hike in the 511-acre natural area to celebrate the end of a successful semester. Most of the students are city slickers who hadn’t explored nature in quite some time, so they were surprised that they could be “out in the country” a mere 7 miles from campus. As you travel south down Highway 16 and cross Watson Road, keep an eye out for the natural area’s entrance on the left. It’ll sneak up on you.

Pick up a Self-Guiding Nature Trail brochure and a map at the entrance before heading out along the 10 miles of trails. Ninety-nine numbered wooden posts and orange tags will direct you to information in the brochure, like Marker #96: Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia engelmannii) “produces beautiful flowers and a fruit, called a ‘tuna,’ that wildlife like to eat. Have you noticed some of the white spots on the cactus plants? These are cochineal insects enclosed in a protective white sac. Cochineal insects produce a red dye that was historically used by Central and South American Indians to dye clothing; today it is used in food coloring and cosmetics.”

We took the 1.47-mile Rio Medina Trail that makes a loop through the woods before leading you to the Medina River. Birders, anglers, entomologists, naturalists, walkers, joggers and cyclists will all have their itches scratched. Almost 3 miles of the Howard Peak Greenway Trails System is located within the Medina River Natural Area.

The Medina River Natural Area’s Second Saturday Programs (scroll down to the bottom of the page) offer a wide variety of activities for young and old. On Saturday, Dec. 14, Mark Bird, the City of San Antonio’s arborist, will present “Trees are the Answer,” a discussion of ways to increase the Alamo City’s tree canopy with the right tree in the right place. For more information on all educational programs, contact Susan Campbell at 210.207.3106 or email her at

You may also download the Texas Nature Challenge coordinated by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and Forest Service to provide FREE fun for the entire family.

The Medina River Natural Area, located at 15890 Highway 16 South, is open daily (except for Christmas and New Year’s) from 7:30 a.m. until sunset.

For even more ideas of fun things to do and see in San Antonio, visit Barnes & Noble, The Twig, Whole Foods, Half Price Books on Broadway, Costco, Sam’s and Hudson News to purchase “100 Things To Do in San Antonio Before You Die” by yours truly. ¡Viva San Antonio!


8 thoughts on “Medina River Natural Area

  1. Great Article Denise!! Thank you for sharing a secret treasure of San Antonio. We who have helped manage & love the Medina River Natural Area call it the Jewel of the South Side! Your article has done well to describe it and hopefully piques the interests of many to come explore this green riparian wonderland! Thank you for writing about and exploring the Medina River Natural Area!

    1. Thanks for reading/commenting, Gail. Medina River Natural Area is indeed a Jewel of the South Side. (Palo Alto College would demand an arm wrestle for the title of THE jewel, so let’s just leave it at A jewel!) I hope that more of San Antonio’s citizens and visitors explore its beauty. Cheers, Denise

  2. What a lovely morning walk through one of my favorite places thanks to you, Denise. It is a gem in the San Antonio natural areas treasure box.

    1. I’m happy you enjoyed the post, Susan! I’ve been meaning to write about MRNA for ages. I was so happy to be able to share it with my students. Only one of them had ever been there before, and most of them live on the South Side of San Antonio. Cheers, Denise

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