By: Brian Kendall
There are more than 70 lanes of bicycle and horseback riding trails that allow locals to access the entire city along the Trinity River. But, what happens when locals want to veer off the well-paved path and take in the outdoors outside of the invisible walls of the city? I did just that my sophomore year in college when I jumped on my new Trek mountain bike and started riding to the closest trail. Once out of Overton Woods, my small vision of Fort Worth opened up to a panoramic view of a new world outside. So I kept pedaling. And pedaling. That’s when I discovered Fort Worth’s boundless backyard. This would be how I spent most of my summer days after that. My favorite spot was west from my entry point in Benbrook where I would stop at a waterfall to think about life. Quiet. After a moment there, I would exit the woods and wind through a trail surrounded by tall golden grass and summit at Benbrook Lake. This article is meant to expand your boundaries as mine were once expanded, as described by Sylvia Plath in The Bell Jar: “I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery — air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.’”
Here is a list of activities, both on and off of the Trinity River in Fort Worth’s wild backyard. The local land is calling you, and this thoughtfully compiled list will help you find it.
Hike Dinosaur Valley’s Summit
Strenuous with rewarding scenery, this hike through the massive hills south of Fort Worth near Glen Rose summits into an overlook of the trickling Paluxy River, yet it is only an hour long. Beginners can hike with state park ranger Jenn Menge, who even guides hikers through the shallow river. Be prepared to take off shoes and cut loose. Hikes are 11 a.m. on Sunday mornings.
1629 Park Road 59, Glen Rose, Texas 76043, tpwd.texas.gov
Roam the LBJ National Grasslands
Located in the Great Plains section of North Texas, just one hour north of Fort Worth near Decatur, the everyday person can roam free like they did in the old Wild West free of charge, unlike in state parks. Campers can park and set up in any of nearly all the 20,309 acres available. Visitors often drive around and explore as if this were their own private ranch. Think of it as a vast playground for outdoorsman looking to get away in the North Texas wild.
FS 904, Alvord, Texas, 76225
Take a Backpack Adventure in Bluff Dale
Emory Richey operates a campsite on his family’s vast ranch, tucked between Granbury and Stephenville on 377 near Bluff Dale. Each of the three campsites has roughly 100 acres for campers to explore. Also included at each is a primitive restroom, picnic table and fire pits. The Paluxy River runs by one campsite, referred to as Brookside, providing a watering hole for swimming or fishing. If you don’t have a tent and other camping gear but want to try camping, Emory has a teepee set up on one campsite complete with an air mattress and a shower. The camper will still need to bring “simple stuff” like a flashlight. Explorers will find vast flats with native grasses, and a pecan tree grove that runs along the river that moves into hills covered in trees. An “ecosystem orchard,” where all of the plants support the others, allows campers and visitors to pick fruit to eat. And if the camper wants to get rid of modernity entirely, they can park near the entrance and hike into the campsite. Emory will be there to greet you and make sure your needs are met. “You can’t see the closest person. It is a lot more private. You have freedom,” he says.
Fly-Fish in Your Backyard
Some of the best fly-fishing in the country is right here in Fort Worth on the Trinity River, according to avid fisherman Stephen Woodcock. Last year, Stephen traveled the world and made sure he fly-fished in nearly every spot he and his wife stopped, but his best fly-fishing was on the Trinity River, catching 22 bass (not trout) in four hours. “I have fly-fished for 25 years, and it is still one of my most memorable experiences.” Wednesday nights, Stephen conducts free fly-fish-tying classes at Backwoods on Foch Street. No experience needed. He also provides tips on how to enjoy the Trinity River, which can be fished nearly year-round due to milder temperatures in Fort Worth. You don’t need expensive rods, reels or gear to get amazing experiences like Stephen’s out of the Trinity River.
1013 Foch St., Fort Worth, Texas 76107, backwoods.com
Hike Eagle Mountain Park
Some hikers, joggers and nature observers may appreciate this park because not only does it have 400 acres of land, most of which has been untouched, but it also prohibits bicycles. This is good news to those who spook at bikers whizzing by like at busier state parks in the area. The park has six short yet connected trails that line and provide views of the beautiful and nearby Eagle Mountain Lake.
11601 Morris Dido Newark Road, Fort Worth, Texas 76179, trwd.com
Climb the Historic Grain Silos
Now the world’s tallest indoor/outdoor climbing gym, complete with an outdoor climbing wall standing 100 feet tall with walls 8-inches thick consisting of concrete and reinforced steel, the North Texas Outdoor Pursuit Center was once an unused storage for grains in case of famine, cold stints or drought. Considered a “historic treasure,” two surviving grain silos still stand only yards from the old town square in Carrollton, 45 minutes northeast of Fort Worth. The facility is designed to simulate any intense outdoor experience for any everyday person. They offer courses for beginners and those wishing to expand their knowledge. These are held indoors on one of the 100-foot walls or out in the Texas wild. “You can train for Yosemite right under a roof,” COO Ben Wright said.
1003 4th Ave., Carrollton, Texas 75006, northtexasopc.net
Trace John Graves’ Epic Journey on the Brazos
Fall 1957, author John Graves took his famous trip down the Brazos River and stopped by Rochelle’s Canoe Rental to visit. He documented this in his memoir later turned classic, Goodbye to a River. Meanwhile, Ms. Rochelle (as she prefers to be called) and her son still run and operate the canoe and kayak rental their family started 50 years ago in Graford, Texas. Her husband’s family has owned and preserved the property along the historic area for 100 years. “We are in the beautiful Palo Pinto County Mountains.” Visitors can trace up to 40 miles of the very trip John Graves traveled, and Ms. Rochelle said it is just as quiet and primitive an experience as the one Graves took more than 60 years ago. “People will say, ‘Oh yeah, my grandfather took me here,’ and they will be up there in age.” Ms. Rochelle and her son rent canoes and kayaks and go over the journey intensely offering a map, what they need to bring, and places to stop and/or sleep if they prefer not to take the 10-mile day trip, which takes about eight hours, including a picnic lunch. When the trip is over, Ms. Rochelle and her son pick the group up and bring them back to Rochelle’s place. They are open March through the end of November, and the water is best when North Texas receives rain in spring and later in the fall. Visitors don’t need a guide because the water runs quietly and smoothly and only goes one way. “It is a lazy, scenic river.” All visitors have the option of a day trip, overnight, two nights, or a week’s vacation, which is 10, 20, 30 or 40 miles along the Brazos, just 1 hour 20 minutes west of Fort Worth. Ms. Rochelle recommends reading Graves’ account before embarking on this unforgettable journey.
7024 N. Farm-to-Market Road 4, Graford, Texas 76449, rochellescanoeandkayakrental.com
Paddle and Kayak on the Trinity
Family-owned (and Austin-based) retailer Backwoods offers kayak, paddleboard and canoe rentals on the Trinity River at Panther Island from March until the end of November. Kayaks and SUPs (stand-up paddle boards) are launched in knee-deep water at Panther Island. Renters can choose to paddle self-guided or take customized tours, and packages can be created for groups of 10 or more. Bonus, dogs can join too as long as they wear Ruffwear Float Coats (available for $5 from Backwoods).
480 North Taylor St., Fort Worth, Texas 76102 backwoodspaddlesports.com, Paddleboards start at $15/hr
Visit Cedar Hill State Park After Dark
See Cedar Hill State Park under the moonlight during this roughly one-hour program guided by state park interpreters. Listen to the sounds of nighttime critters like owls, coyotes and bobcats and gaze at the stars while exploring Penn Farm inside Cedar Hill State Park. Interpreters also encourage guests to look for scorpions and other bugs under black lights. The Cedar Hill State Park has overnight campgrounds complete with 350 campsites. It’s located southeast of Fort Worth just south of Interstate 20 in Cedar Hill.
1570 W. Farm-to-Market Road 1382, Cedar Hill, Texas 75104, cedarhilltx.com
Zipline at DFW Adventure Park
Next to the Texas Motor Speedway just north of Fort Worth, a massive, outdoor zipline offers an opportunity for thrill-seekers. Four towers are spread far apart through roughly 100-foot trees that form a large square. Instructors assist guests on the descent end and on the receiving end. “Plan to spend half a day outdoors on the ziplines,” general manager Jonathan Edwards said. He said the height and speed can make it scary at first, but it’s an opportunity to overcome fears after flying through trees (that are cut back for safety).
13055 Cleveland Gibbs Road, Northlake, Texas 76262, dfwap.com/zipline
Scale a Boulder at Eisenhower State Park
The coolest part about scaling this boulder is it overlooks the placid Lake Texoma. The least cool part is that it is made mostly of sandstone and limestone so the rocks can easily break, so bring a crash pad. There are also many cliffs and caves to explore. Bring swimsuits for a cooling dip afterward in the blue water. This lake also features several beaches to relax after the climb.
50 Park Road 20, Denison, Texas 75020, tpwd.texas.gov
Horseback Ride in Rockwall
This is not the pokey type of trail riding most people are used to. Chisholm Trail Rides, a family-owned operation in Rockwall, offers open trail riding where riders can fly into a full-blown cantor and jump their horse whenever the terrain allows. The guides will give the visiting equestrian a lesson first to make sure they have the skills to do this safely. They provide horses of all different levels and breeds. Owner Laura Smith says their “step up” horses are more trained, need fewer cues, and are naturally faster. It doesn’t take much for this horse to take off running with the slightest clampdown from the rider. Be ready to ride the horse through water, over bridges, through flatlands and into wooded areas. And they offer this experience to beginners. “We are truly the only open walk/trot trail riding around,” Smith says. Rides are split for dual levels on their privately owned trails so beginners can ride with their more advanced friends. The coolest part — 90 percent of the horses at Chisholm Trail Rides are rescued from dire situations that owner Laura and her cowboys rehab back to health.
1068 Frontier Trail, Rockwall, Texas 75032, chisholmtrailrides.com
Jump in Tonkawa Falls
Former President George W. Bush retired in these parts because of its beauty. The capacious hills in Crawford, one hour south of Fort Worth, even claim rock-climbing spots with water features like Tonkawa Falls. Climbers say it is never crowded and it’s “low key” because it is one of the lesser-known climbing retreats. Scenes include water, caves and meadows. Also, a 14-foot waterfall charges into a swimming hole below. When the creek dries up in the summer, visitors may also view petroglyphs dating back hundreds of years. The Tonkawa Indians inhabited the area for centuries before white settlers arrived in North Texas.
540 E 5th St., Crawford, Texas 76638, mountainproject.com/area/106992314/tonkawa-falls
Climb Penitentiary Hollow
Because most of the climbing here is what they call “top rope,” beginners are welcome. Top rope climbing or “top roping” means the climber is safely attached to a rope anchored at their summit. The climbing haunt has pleasant views of Mineral Wells from any height. But local avid rock climber and REI staff member Mary Hanna Tyer warns visitors that they need 100 percent competency to climb this hollowed-out 30-foot wall. She recommends a crash pad. And because of the type of rock — a limestone conglomerate — the rock can come loose easily. Rangers are known to shut down climbing at any sign of moisture. In the last few years, bolts were added to make access much easier. There’s also a beach for a post-climb swim.
100 Park Road 71, Mineral Wells, Texas 76067, tpwd.texas.gov
Explore Lake Mineral Wells State Trailway
If you’re looking for a place with proximity but not exclusivity, then this is the spot for you. Only 45 minutes west of Fort Worth just past Weatherford, this trailway has more than 20-miles long and 10-feet wide of hiking trails, most of which are open to bicycles and horses. While hikers may not see towering mountains, they do pass serene, remote rolling hills, watersheds, creeks and bridges. It has four trailheads that offer paved parking, drinking water and restrooms. Beware: This trail can become cramped on good weather days.
100 Park Road 71, Mineral Wells, Texas 76067, tpwd.texas.gov
Mountain Biking Trails
Marion Sansom Park
Elevation Gain: 275 feet
This is a backpacker, trail runner or more advanced mountain biker’s dream right in the middle of Fort Worth by Lake Worth. Lisa Uranga, avid mountain biker and founder of the club Dirtside Sisters, says this space is different from all other trails in North Texas because of its unique terrain and elevation. It has more exposed rock, making it more technical, and some loose stones going downhill for thrill-seekers wanting more of a challenge. For trail runners, hikers and bikers looking for intensity, the climbs are steep here. And the payoff is panoramic sights that overlook Lake Worth. Uranga’s advice is to go in cooler temperatures — it’s hotter and muggier than most parks in the summer.
6952 Cahoba Drive, Fort Worth, Texas 76135, fwmba.org/sansom-park-trail
Isle Du Bois
Elevation Gain: 882 feet
This trail, tucked in Ray Roberts Lake State Park, is only one hour north of Fort Worth, where adventurers can camp, hike, bike, or backpack. Isle Du Bois takes the outdoorsman through Eastland Cross Timbers and Blackland Prairie by the sparkling lake. After a difficult ride or hike, many have been known to find the little beach off of the lake and jump in. It’s also wooded throughout the whole trail so it stays cooler in warmer months. Trees with exposed roots offer a challenge.
100 Public Works Highway 4137, Pilot Point, Texas 76258, tpwd.texas.gov
Elevation Gain: 140 feet
The Weatherford Mountain Biking Club scored a licensed agreement with the city that’s a 100-acre piece of property in Weatherford. It also acquired authority to move dirt into trails — two of three phases are complete. WMBC president Larry Colvin said it should end up with seven miles of trails for mountain bikers, trail runners and hikers alike. A demanding 140 feet of elevation separates the lowest and highest spots. Colvin says the hill has had nearly 12,000 visitors in just one year.
810 W. Lake Drive, Weatherford, Texas 76087, wmbctx.org/trail.html
Knob Hills Trail
Elevation Gain: 288 feet
This 10.6 miles of trail near Roanoke loops around Lake Grapevine through wooded areas, over small hills and by prairieland (total of six loops). Some mountain bikers go for the variety of terrain — roots, rocks, grass, gravel and short climbs and descents that bikers can fly down with their head down. A few man-made features like bridges and teeter-totters make it more exhilarating for mountain bikers. And it’s all one way for those who don’t like two-way traffic. The trail can be used for trail running or walking too.
Highway 377, Roanoke, Texas 76039. Find Knob Hills MTB Trail on Facebook.
Elevation Gain: 695 feet
Area mountain bikers call this the mecca of mountain biking in the metroplex because it has so much trail, roughly 23 miles of one-way single track broken into two loops so they don’t have to worry about oncoming traffic. It has beautiful views of Lake Grapevine. Cyclists are sometimes riding along the water. It is almost entirely wooded, providing shade and roots for added challenge. There are different trailheads you can start from and park. Most start at Murrell Park because it is at the center of the trail. “If you are starting from the middle and headed east, it is more of an intermediate loop — it is more flowy. If you head northwest, it is more technical and rocky,” cyclist Lisa Uranga said.
3600 Pilot Point, Grapevine, Texas 76051, lake-grapevine.com/north-shore-trail
By: Brian Kendall