Walkers explore a prairie at Spring Creek Forest Preserve in Garland. Photo by Adam Cochran/Wild DFW.
Aug. 18, 2022
Local cities invest millions in paved paths, yet largely ignore the public’s passion for soft-surface trails.
While the quality excels, for a 10,000-plus square-mile metroplex of nearly seven million people, there should be at least twice as much.
But let’s explore dirt-trail options for DFW urban nature retreats while we wait for city leaders to catch up.
This is not a comprehensive list, but rather highlights mostly hikes described at length in my book Wild DFW: Explore the Amazing Nature Around Dallas-Fort Worth, to be released by Timber Press in early 2023.
The book's 25 hiking narratives describe explorations with volunteers and land managers who know the places best.
A great blue heron flies over the West Fork at Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge. Photo by Chris Emory/Wild DFW.
Not covered in this article are the dirt trails, often created and maintained by equestrians, adjacent to US Army Corp of Engineer reservoirs such as Lakes Grapevine, Lavon and Lewisville or trails at Eagle Mountain Lake.
You can find many of these trails simply by entering their names, or even simply “trail” or “trailhead,” into Google maps. To get an idea of the terrain, switch to satellite view. Gain some insight into the trails by reading All Trails and Google maps reviews, although some reviewers can be quite peculiar in their ideas toward nature.
Dirt trails are more intimate and nurturing to the soul, but they do take regular maintenance. If one of these trails captivates you, consider reaching out to the managing nonprofit or municipality and inquire about trail volunteer days. You’ll find no nature work more satisfying.
DALLAS COUNTY: EAST SIDE
There are about six miles on Dallas Parks and Recreation land in the Piedmont Ridge area in four separate parcels, but they can be challenging to find and follow.
Piedmont Ridge boasts beautiful views in the sections around Grover Keeton Golf Course. Photo by Stalin SM/Wild DFW.
In Dallas County, Spring Creek Forest Preserve's three parcels in Garland provide nearly eight miles of excellent dirt-path hiking, including an interpretative path.
The northern parcel has a spectacular prairie and nice creek-edge forest. Dirt trails spin off a paved path in the central section into an awesome forest. Trees are huge in the riparian lowlands of the southern parcel, easy to get wonderfully lost in. Much of it is a Dallas County Open Space preserve.
These parks pair well with those described in the Collin County section.
John Bunker Sands Wetlands Center is on the East Fork near Seagoville in Kaufman County. It has a surprising amount of very sunny dirt trails on the dikes between wetlands cells, plus some delightful boardwalks. Bunker’s Trail goes through woods to the East Fork, one of the few public viewing spots for that river.
DALLAS: GREAT TRINITY FOREST
Trinity River Audubon Center has a series of series of short dirt trails and boardwalks that add up to about four miles. Some of the trails behind the wetlands and ponds are suitable for immersive experiences. Good viewing point for the Trinity. Don’t miss the Forest Trail which flanks the entrance road north of the other trails.
Beautiful Texas buckeyes bloom in early spring, but are imperiled by privet invasion. Photo by Stalin SM/Wild DFW.
The dirt trails in the Ned and Genie Fritz Texas Buckeye Trail complex in the Bonton Woods are lovely and easy to find. Pair with a meal at The Market at Bonton Farms. Some of the trails are plagued by privet. But a volunteer team is working to contain it.
Goat Island Preserve has at least 12 miles of wooded trails through 500 level bottomland acres, all lovingly made by volunteers, including Dallas Off-Road Bicycle Association. Extraordinarily peaceful on weekdays, especially the birdwatchers’ trails on the island. A DCOS preserve.
At the west end of Elam Road on the north side of Loop 12 from Trinity Forest Golf Club entrance is the Holland Trail. The deeply wooded meandering trails off the Trinity River are remote and challenging enough that only experienced hikers should attempt.
Holland Trail was created by equestrians and named for a soldier killed in Afghanistan. Photo by Daniel Koglin/Wild DFW.
McCommas Bluff Preserve has some remarkable trails, especially along Elam Creek. The trails should only be taken in groups. Park only in the parking lot for the Trinity Forest Trail’s AT&T Trailhead, head toward the river, and take the dirt trail when the paved path bends. Go soon, before the planned paved trail connector destroys much of it. A Dallas County Open Space preserve.
DALLAS AND CEDAR HILL: SOUTHWEST ESCARPMENT
The premier dirt trail system in Dallas County is Cedar Ridge Preserve. Its nine miles of trails on 600 acres boast superb views and strenuous rugged terrain. But it can be extremely crowded, especially on weekends, holidays and weekday afternoons. Much of it is a Dallas County Open Space preserve.
Mulberry Trail is one of Cedar Ridge Preserve’s quieter trails. Photo by Michael Puttonen/Wild DFW.
Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center has about three miles of dirt trails perfect for immersive experiences. A wheelchair-capable trail through the canyon bottom, a vigorous trail to the plateau top with overlooks a plenty, and a lovely intimate trail along a little creek to the flowering dogwood grove.
To increase mileage, combine with Cedar Mountain Preserve next door. Head west on a paved trail from the Dogwood parking lot and look for the trailhead tucked behind the pavilion. A DCOS preserve.
Cedar Hill State Park has many miles of DORBA trails on the south end. Look for the central hiking trails that showcase a forested escarpment ridge. Plum Valley and Talala Trails have scenic overlooks and feel natural, with invigorating elevation changes.
ELM FORK: DALLAS TO DENTON
A lack of cohesion leaves the nature potential of the lower Elm Fork untapped. Parks and a few preserves that dot the river from north of Market Center to Lewisville Lake along I-35E are difficult to grasp. The potential is so great that Ned Fritz lobbied to get a state park in this section of the Trinity as well.
A bobcat explores near the boardwalks on the Bittern Marsh Trail at Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area. Photo by Denver Kramer/Wild DFW.
But Carrolton plans to open TC Rice Nature Area to the public someday. Greenspace Dallas (formerly Groundwork Dallas) is tackling trash and privet overrun in one of Dallas’ first natural areas, the beleaguered LB Houston Nature Trail.
See the potential by visiting Greenspace Dallas’s wonderful Frasier Dam Recreation Area. Wide, well-maintained trails lace through lowland forest, past wetlands to the Trinity River at Frasier Dam. Sweet picnic area on the river. So quiet and serene on weekdays. Canoe from there to California Crossing Park.
The variety of trails at Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area is astonishing. There are over seven miles through 2,600 acres of Cross Timber forests, swampy woods, marshes, wetlands and prairies. Once the Stewart Creek and prairie restoration areas opens up, it'll be incredible. Overnight and group camping available.
The Lost Pines Trails at Ray Roberts Lake State Park is short but magical. Photo by Denise Thompson/Wild DFW.
At the north end of the Elm Fork is Ray Roberts Lake State Park, the most remote of the locations discussed. White-tailed deer are everywhere. The park’s shoreline equestrian trails offer days of hiking. The trail to the Kid’s Pond explores a delightful prairie. Lost Pines Trail is a must. Take the equestrian trails to the Greenbelt corridor along the Elm.
Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary is spectacular. Six miles of well-maintained trails wind through 289 acres of forests, prairies and wetlands. Some trees are huge. The dry, spooky Cedar Brake Trail and the wet, riparian Sycamore Trail are the most remote.
Connemara Meadow offers about two miles of easy-to-traverse mowed-grass paths through lovely prairies. Not a get-away-from-it-all experience, but spectacular in spring and fall. Spend time exploring the edge of Rowlett Creek.
Wildflower displays are spectacular at Connemara Meadow. Photo by Daniel Koglin/Wild DFW.
While Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve’s dirt trails are not lengthy and are too busy for a sense of nature immersion, those along Rowlett Creek in forest have some lovely spots. Even more spectacular are the prairies along Los Rios and Acorn. No trails. Just go wandering.
The more than seven miles of dirt trails through Clear Creek Natural Heritage Center east of Denton explore prairies, wetlands and upland and lowland woods. Easy to feel away from it all on its 2,900 acres where Clear Creek meets the Elm Fork.
Clay Thurmond demonstrates how trees grow huge in the deep woods along Clear Creek. Photo by Diane Weatherbee/Wild DFW.
A prime opportunity is the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge, with more than 20 miles of trails through various ecosystems on 3,621 acres, some quite remote.
The prairie trails on the east side of Benbrook Lake — the Sid Richardson tract and Rocky Point area — offer excellent experiences.
It’s easy to disappear into pioneer days on the Sid Richardson tract. Photo by Chris Emory/Wild DFW.
Tandy Hills Natural Area on the east side of Fort Worth offers over four miles in a wide array of dirt trails on 200-plus acres. Their prairie trails are renowned— and recently underwent rerouting and upgrading by S&S Trail Services — but their riparian offerings are surprisingly good and not as frequently trod.
Sheri Capehart Nature Preserve (formerly Southwest Nature Preserve) has just a few miles of dirt trails, but the variety is superb. The perfect 58-acre parcel of Eastern Cross Timbers on a cuesta will give your legs a workout. Enjoy pond views, delightful prairies and the 200-year-old Caddo Oak.
Read part one of the two-part Dirt Trail Series.
The Sheri Capehart Nature Preserve (formerly Southwest Nature Preserve) arose from a rehabilitated farm-building site. Photo by Bob Brennan/Wild DFW.
TRINITY FOREST & AT&T TRAIL SERIES