hike_03 Arbor Hills Nature Center's scenic outlook and forests of bur oaks, pecans, and hackberries. photography by Bud Force

The Buckeye Trail
Southeast Dallas

One of the best entries to our Trinity Forest, the trails here begin on the other side of the Trinity River Levee, at the south end of Bexar Street, off I-175. There’s a small pavilion with picnic tables and a kiosk with a map of the trails. Master Naturalists maintain several miles of well-marked trails. As you descend on the other side of the levee, you enter an unexpected world of trees and grasses.

The trail is named for a stand of buckeye trees, which display their intricate blooms in the spring. There are guided hikes in the spring. The rest of the year, you can walk in the shade of towering bur oaks, pecans, and cedar elms, and along carpets of Virginia wild rye, a native grass. You can also find our native maple, the ash leaf maple.

You can hike all of the trails for a total of about 3 miles. A tip: use the paved ADA trail to look at the meanders of the Trinity River. Two clearly marked natural surface trails branch off the ADA trail. There are signs with simple maps. Here’s another: there’s a less-traveled trail that leads to where White Rock Creek empties into the Trinity River. The path begins by a giant bur oak, close to where the grove of buckeyes is, if you have a mind to explore.

Scyene Overlook/Piedmont Ridge
Southeast Dallas

These trails are referred to as the Gateway Trails, and, living up to their name, they are a great introduction to our huge Trinity River Forest. They are short but have some of the best views of the forests along the Trinity River and lower reaches of White Rock Creek.

Located off Jim Miller Road, just south of Scyene Road, this is the area of Dallas first settled by John Neely Bryan and John Beeman. Both trails begin across from the Gateway Park on Jim Miller. The trailhead to the Scyene Overlook trail is not terribly easy to locate. It starts just to the north of a baseball diamond and cuts across a large field. (I’ve watched scissor-tailed flycatchers in those fields.) But the trail is easy to follow. There are lovely towering walnut trees, which I’ve heard were planted by the early settlers in the area. The trail to the overlook is well defined and marked and climbs through a cedar grove. And there’s a short climb up to some log benches with really dramatic views of the forest.

The Piedmont Ridge Trail begins off the road that enters the Keeton Park Golf Course, before it crosses the DART tracks. You’ll see a kiosk with a map across a field on the left. The trail immediately begins to climb through woods of shin oaks, shumard oaks, and ashe junipers. There’s a beautiful spot with a bench that’s great for taking a break and taking in the view of the forest, which stretches as far as you can see. This trail ends at an overlook on Bruton Road. If you cross Bruton, the trail continues to Devon Park.

hike_04 Oak Cliff Nature Preserve photography by Bud Force

Spring Creek Nature Area

This 50-acre nature area has mostly paved trails, but there are some great unmarked dirt trails that beg to be explored. The trail I take heads toward Spring Creek, crossing under the street at Plano Road. It immediately enters a forest of mature cedar elm. The trail continues all the way across to Renner Road and Central Expressway.

There is an abundance of wildlife. During a snowfall last year, I followed coyote tracks crisscrossing a meadow. In the summer, I saw a black-chinned hummingbird perched on the top of a cedar elm. There are unmarked dirt trails that wind through undeveloped areas of meadows and cedar thickets. A loop path can be accessed by crossing a bridge over Spring Creek. There are several small, spring-fed, tributary creeks that I’ve never seen run dry. The meadows are filled with wildflowers in the spring and after fall rains.

Spring Creek is a beautiful clear creek. I’ve often watched sunfish building nests in the gravel bottom. Red-eared slider turtles and diamond-backed water snakes sun on the boulders. Find a spot on one of the bluffs overlooking Spring Creek, and sit and hear the water flowing over small rapids. The area was settled by Baptist preacher Jacob Routh, who was buried close by in 1878. The woods and creek bottoms are filled with birds. Among others, I’ve seen great blue herons, snowy egrets, red-shouldered hawks, painted buntings, kestrels, and black-chinned hummingbirds.

Oak Point

At 800 acres, this is Plano’s largest park. It’s on the corner of Jupiter Road and Los Rios Boulevard, and it’s filled with giant trees. Plano has done a great job of balancing access with preservation here. There are several dirt trails that follow Rowlett Creek, so it’s possible to walk several miles. The trails are all very clearly marked. The forest is filled with huge bois d’arc trees (Maclura pomifera), which were named by French explorers who noticed that the Plains Indians used the hardy wood for bows. There are huge old black walnuts (Juglans nigra).

My favorite hike begins along the natural Caddo Trail (1.2 miles), rejoins the paved trail to cross Rowlett Creek, and then picks up the Rowlett Creek Trail (1.3 miles), returning on the Willow Springs Trail, to create a loop hike. This is a very shady trail and can be hiked year round. All of the hikes are easy to follow, and there are multiple signs showing side trails to explore and add some miles to your path.

hike_05 (clockwise from top left) You can find a bicycle burial ground, wildflowers, cactus, and towering oak trees along Oak Cliff Nature Preserve’s 8 miles of trails; Oak Point—with its creeks, ponds, and trails among its 800 acres—is Plano’s largest park. photography by Bud Force

Oak Cliff Nature Preserve
Oak Cliff

Oak Cliff sits on the prettiest topography of this area. This was recognized when the spot was turned into a scout camp. Later, local activists worked to get this special, 121-acre, wooded locale in the middle of our city preserved by the Texas Land Conservancy.

The trails were developed by the Dallas Off-Road Bicycle Association—however, it is a multiple-use trail. There are more than 8 miles of trails here. Bike trails tend to have multiple loops for maximum mileage, which can be a tad tiresome for hikers. I found that walking the perimeter trail made for the best hiking experience. By examining the map at the DORBA site (dorba.org), you can get a sense of how to best do that. The trail is shaded, and in places there are huge old pecans and bois d’arc trees. There are old trails that can also be explored. The southern-most tip of the property borders Five Mile Creek.

Bill Holston is a certified Master Naturalist and the executive director of the Human Rights Initiative. Write to [email protected].

Also Worth Exploring
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Twelve Hills
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Big Cedar Wilderness

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Cedar Hill State Park

Connemara Conservancy
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Parkhill Prairie

Heard Museum

Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge
Tandy Hills Nature Area