Explore the San Antonio Mission Trail

Our time in San Antonio was fun and laid back.  Riding our bikes along the mission trail was a perfect way to spend a day there.

Texas has become our family's favorite end of the year travel destination.  This winter we planned a trip with biking as a main component of our adventure.  San Antonio has a substantial system of bike trails allowing visitors to explore the historical missions and aqueduct systems located along the trail. What do you need to know about the San Antonio Mission Trail?  Keep reading!  I've got you covered. 
The San Antonio Mission Trail is wide and well laid out.

Explore the San Antonio Mission Trail

The City of San Antonio and the National Park System have done an excellent job of creating and maintaining this pedestrian trail that spans more than 20 miles.  Before you head out, grab a map and plan your trip.  The mission trail can be joined at several entry points.  Additionally, you can also view the missions by bus or car.  The map linked above has options for each of these modes of transportation.  

This is the entrance to the Mission Espada.  Located at the south portion of the trail, just a short ride beyond this art installation is the mission.

We chose to start near the Mission Espada.  From there we planned stops at the San Juan Mission as well as San Jose.  When planning your mission tour, be sure allow enough time for stops at each location.  There are places along the trail to enjoy a snack or a picnic.  You can can also just stop to rest or take in the view.  The trail has plenty of benches and picnic tables along the way.  Take your time.  That is one of the things we enjoyed most about riding the Mission Trail in San Antonio.

Renting bikes along the trail is one way that visitors can enjoy this day excursion without bringing your own bikes!

If you don't bring a bike with you, there are bike rental locations along the trail.  There are both electric and traditional pedal bikes for rent.  This makes the mission trail journey accessible to many travelers regardless to the equipment you are able to bring with you.  We brought our bikes on our RV, but bike rentals are great too!

We planned for stops at:
We started mid morning and rode until late afternoon.  This was just the right amount of time for us to stop at each mission and learn a little more about each individual location.  We also took the time to stop for water, snacks and photos too.  Plus, we took a detour for lunch as well!  We ended up biking for around 13 1/2 miles total that day.  One of my goals for our family is to bike more because it is such a fun activity.  But I don't want to burn everyone out so that they don't want to do it again either.  Its a delicate balance at times.

The entry point at Mission Espada is right at the mission itself.  Just a short ride from the trail's start takes you right to the mission at the southern part of the trail.  We chose to visit this location last and rode to Mission San Juan first that morning since we would come back here at the end.  The trail is well marked and easy to follow.  

Each mission on the trail is still a functioning parish where Mass is held regularly.  The congregation at each location varies in size, and each church is a little different.  So, I would recommend visiting each one if you are able.  Each location is a mini history lesson that provides you will a look at life during the settlement of these areas but it also shows how each location has been maintained to preserve the past.  

Mission San Juan was small and beautifully decorated.

The plain exterior is an interesting contrast to the intricate work inside.

The Mission San Juan is a very small church with a narrow row of pews that line the sanctuary.  Since we were there during Christmas, everything was decorated beautifully.  The Mission San Juan had wonderful little museum where you could learn more about the activities that went on within the grounds of the mission during the early years of use.  We enjoyed walking around and seeing the charming interior of the church.  There are also staff members (some paid and volunteers) where you can ask questions if you like.  Ask questions as you go.  We learned a lot this way.

We took our time to play and explore the aqueduct area along the trail.  It is well marked and easy to get there.

The aqueducts are well preserved.

The Aqueduct stop showed the water system that was historically used for growing crops and other day to day activities in this area.  The Aqueduct stop we made was near the Mission Espada and is the perfect spot for a picnic if you plan your trip this way.  We hung out here and enjoyed the view, balancing on rocks and climbing around.  

Mission San Jose is much larger than the other missions and has a sizeable congregation that is still active.

The creche in the church was stunning.

We loved the architectural detail at each stop.

Back on the trail we traveled farther north and along the water to the Mission San Jose.  The grounds and location for this mission was much larger than the Mission San Juan.  Mission San Jose is known at the "Queen of the Missions" and is larger than the other locations.  The ladies working at the gift shop there told me that there are about 250 active parishioners at this location.  You can take advantage of the cell phone tour to learn more about this mission at San Jose.  You can also learn more about the history and culture here.  

Try a San Antonio favorite while there.  The Mangolada is an amazing twist on a traditional margarita!

The enchiladas at lunch were just right.  They are even willing to mix up the ones on the menu.  I had a mole and green enchilada with chicken.  So much flavor!

After leaving Mission San Jose, we went to Nicha's for lunch.  This is the original location of the family restaurant on Roosevelt.  You will have to leave the mission bike trail to arrive at the restaurant.  However, there are designated bike trails that will take you to and from the Mission church where you can rejoin the bike trail and keep traveling.  It was easy to navigate there using my Apple maps.

Nicha's offers wonderful traditional cuisine.  Everyone has their own favorite Mexican fare.  I prefer mole because it something that we don't see on menu's at home.  The chicken mole enchiladas are amazing.  Another item that should not be missed is a mangolada.  This is a mango margarita that is served with chamoy and tajin on the rim.  These are an amazing treat and twist on a margarita.  If you love them as much as I did, you can easily make them when you return home.  I found this recipe from a food blogger for your very own mangolada at home!  Plus you don't have to wait to visit San Antonio to try these!

After leaving lunch, we rode back to the start point for us.  This took us to the Mission Espada location.  By the time we arrived back, there was a group taking photos and getting ready for a quinceaƱera. So, we were not able to see the interior of the church, but we were able to tour the grounds.  And, it was so much fun to see this group of teens all dressed up and taking photos ahead of the 15th birthday party.  

Our final stop was at Mission Espada which the mission farthest to the south.

The grounds were simple and beautiful.

The birthday party was fun to observe while walking around the grounds!

The Christmas season still being observed meant that each mission had beautiful creches out for viewing as well as Christmas decor.  It was fun to see decorate trees, poinsettias, and other festive decorations at each stop.  Plus, the Mission had several pinatas handing along the courtyard.  These may have been for the birthday event going on there that day.  But each place had a different and unique vibe.  

While we didn't ride all the way to the Alamo on our day trip along the trail, we did visit the Alamo on a separate day of our trip to San Antonio.  It is located in the heart of downtown San Antonio.  A ride all the way into the city would provide some additional fun stops that could include the Riverwalk and more.  You can do as much or as little of the Alamo as you would like.  You will need to reserve a free timed ticket to enter the church at the Alamo, so plan ahead to take advantage of this.  

Grab your bikes and head to San Antonio.  It is such a fun trip!

If you ride all the way into the city, I would recommend Pete's Tako House.  It is a short walk from the Alamo and worth every step.  The food is amazing and authentic and just a totally different vibe than being in the tourist stops a few blocks away.  

The mission trail was an excellent way to to spend the day as a family.  Depending on your time, you could travel farther than we did and go all the way to the Alamo or even start at the Alamo and work your way south.  There isn't a right or a wrong way to do this trip.  I do encourage you to do a little homework and planning so that you make the most of this time and really soak it all in.  

Our campsite at Yanawana Camp was just right and close to the Mission Trail.
We stayed at a campground near the Mission Espada.  Yanawana Camp is near this mission entrance and the perfect spot to camp near San Antonio.  You are only about a 15 minute drive into the heart of downtown San Antonio.  However, you feel like you are way out in the country.  I'll be doing a full campground review next week.  

Texas is a huge state with so many different things to offer.  If you love to RV like us, grab your bikes and go.  We have loved every trip we have taken to Texas.  Each one has been unique and provided us with different things to do.  This one might just be my favorite.

Until next time...  Happy Camping!

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