Are you visiting San Antonio? Are you interested in visiting the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Texas? If so, this is for you! I am sharing 5 simple tips for exploring the San Antonio Mission Trail.
After traveling to San Antonio many times for work, I finally visited the city as a tourist in December. At the top of my list was exploring the San Antonio Mission Trail. I was excited for what I envisioned to be a hike in the city. For that reason, I dedicated a full day to explore the San Antonio Mission Trail.
Unfortunately, this short trip to San Antonio was an anniversary trip so Buddy did not join me on this adventure. But you can find his advice on this blog post.
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San Antonio Mission Trail
The San Antonio Mission Trail is a 13.9-mile loop trail listed as moderate. The trail, some of which follows El Camino Real de los Tejas, is mostly paved.
The San Antonio Mission Trail connects San Antonio’s five Spanish missions: Mission San Antonio de Valero (more commonly known as the Alamo), Mission Nuestra Señora de al Purísima Concepción de Acuña, Mission San José y San Miguel De Aguayo, Mission San Juan Capistrano, and Mission San Francisco de la Espada. Each mission is located approximately 2-3 miles from the next on a North-South route following the San Antonio River.
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park maintains four of San Antonio’s five Spanish missions, all but the Alamo. When exploring the San Antonio Mission Trail, you can stop and explore each mission. At all these locations, you will find facilities and bike rentals. The bookstore and gift shop are located at Mission San José.
Please note that the missions are active parishes. Mass and other religious activities may be taking place when you visit. For example, we visited on a Sunday afternoon in December and saw a rehearsal taking place for an upcoming Posadas. We also saw many holiday family photo shoots and quinceañera photos shoots taking place at all the missions except for the Alamo. Please be respectful of the local community when entering these spaces.
During our trip, we walked from our hotel to Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo), and from the Alamo to Mission Concepción. We later biked from Mission Concepción to Mission San José to Mission San Juan Capistrano to Mission Espada and then back up to Mission Concepción. By that time we returned to Mission Concepción, it was dark. We parked our bikes and took a Lyft to the Pearl. I would not recommend biking in the downtown area of the San Antonio Riverwalk as it is very congested with pedestrians.
And while we did a self-guided tour, there are highly rated guided mission tours available. Please note that guided tours do not include the Alamo.
5 Simple Tips for Exploring the San Antonio Mission Trail
1. Rent a bike
The San Antonio Mission Trail is a very long walk. If you want to see all five missions and experience the outdoor beauty of this urban river park, but are short on time, renting a bike is your best option. At each of the four National Park missions, there are BCycle bike stations where you can rent a bike. Bicycles can be rented in 30-minute increments or for a full day.
When we visited, I thought that we would walk the entire trail. What I did not consider was the time spent exploring each site. After visiting the Alamo in the morning, we stopped by the Friendly Spot for a quick bite before walking to Mission Concepción. By that time, it was nearly 1pm!
Given that we visited in winter and that the sun set earlier, I realized that there was no way we could walk to each mission and take our time to look around before sunset when the National Park closed. The solution was to rent bikes at Mission Concepción. We opted to pay for a full day rather than 30 minute increments, to allow for more time to explore the Missions at our leisure.
Even though renting a bike is a great way to experience the San Antonio Mission Trail, there are some downsides. One downside is the lack of bike helmets. During the moments where bikes needed to exit the trial to ride on the street, it did feel quite dangerous to ride without a helmet. Another downside, there are no bikes for children. Something to keep in mind if you are traveling with littles.
2. Be careful when exiting the trail for a Mission
Exiting the Mission Trail to visit a Mission can be a bit tricky. Some of the trail markings are few and far between on the way to the Missions. Depending on your route, the map might send you off onto busy streets or residential areas. Keep your eyes on the path and keep a lookout for signs when entering and exiting the Mission Trail for the Missions.
During our adventure on the San Antonio Mission Trail, we did not get lost. But there were a few times when we needed to pull over and check our maps to make sure we were on the right path, specifically near Mission Concepción and Mission San José. Stay alert and watch out for traffic.
3. When to visit the San Antonio Mission Trail
If you are looking to avoid the crowds and get the best deal on your accommodations, in general, the best time to visit San Antonio is November through April. Visiting during this time frame, you will avoid summer’s heat and crowds, as well as some rainier months.
We visited San Antonio in December and it was a bit chilly on the Mission Trail. Especially on the bike when gusts of cool wind swept over us as we traveled downhill. Luckily, I wore multiple layers of clothing.
That said, winter can be warmer in San Antonio, it just depends on the weather during your visit. I have also visited San Antonio in spring, summer, and fall and except for some rain and humidity in July, the weather was quite pleasant across the seasons.
4. Bring your Passport to Your National Parks® passport book
If you have a Passport To Your National Parks® passport book, make sure to pack it for your trip to San Antonio. There are passport stamp stations at each mission within the National Park. Each mission has their own unique stamp in the shape of its façade. You can collect four stamps for your passport book at one national park. Unfortunately, there are no stamps at the Alamo as it is not a part of the National Park.
As Buddy did not join us on this trip, we did not have a book with which to collect stamps. However, Sal, being so used to looking for passport stamp stations at National Parks, stamped a piece of paper at the stamp station for us to bring home and share with Buddy.
5. Get your Alamo tickets early
If you are planning on starting your tour of the UNESCO World Heritage Site at the Alamo, consider getting your tickets early. Tickets are free but timed and limited. Tickets are available at a kiosk onsite or reserved online. To avoid disappointment, it is best to reserve online as tickets can sell out.
We visited the Alamo a day before exploring the Mission Trail, but tickets were sold out for the day. We then booked our tickets for the next morning and began the San Antonio Mission Trail at this historic site and mission.
Please note that photography is not allowed inside the Alamo. However, we did film this Movement Postcard outside of the old mission.
Overall, we had a lovely time exploring the San Antonio Mission Trail. It was a nice quiet walk and ride through the heart of San Antonio. The sun was bright, there were a few tourists and locals biking and walking the trails, and a handful of locals fishing in the San Antonio river.
The San Antonio Mission Trail was a nice contrast to the bustle and crowds of the Riverwalk. Consider spending a day exploring the San Antonio Mission Trail on your next trip to Texas. And while we did not do a guided tour of the missions, this is a mission tour if you prefer not to bike around town on your own!
Have you visited the San Antonio Mission Trail? If so, what was your experience? What tips would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments below.
Do you have questions about family travel or traveling with teens? Feel free to reach out! We are happy to chat and share our experiences! We look forward to connecting with you.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:
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14 thoughts on “5 Simple Tips for Exploring the San Antonio Mission Trail”
Oh biking this trail is such a good idea! I’d never even thought of doing that, but so smart. What an amazing day!
This looks like a fascinating trail with so many historic sights. I’d love to do it someday.
San Antonio is the one major Texas city I haven’t explored yet. This looks like such a great way to visit all of the historic missions! Thanks for sharing!
Great info! I wanted to visit the Mission Trail during a 2020 work trip, but it got cancelled. Maybe I’ll make it back on my own!
Wow, looks like you experienced lots of cultural experiences on this trip. I love that they have bike rentals too.
Great tips, I wouldn’t have thought about a bike but that makes total sense – and a great way to spend more time exploring the missions and less time getting between them.
I visited Santo Antonio when I was on a business trip, and I was surprised how much I loved it. I need to go back and explore more and I love your list of things to do, thanks for sharing all the tips.
I love exploring Spanish missions here in California. I find it interesting to hike the San Antonio Mission Trail and see five Spanish missions which is also a UNESCO world heritage site. The golden hour picture of Mission Espada is beautiful.
What an interesting place. I love reliving history!
Wow i love exploring Heritage sites a d this trail looks very interesting.i agree with you that we should respect the places and local communities while travelling
I’d love to visit San Antonio again, I just did the riverwalk, and missed the San Antonio Mission Trail.
I had no idea such a big hike was involved in visits to the Alamo! Thanks for a wonderful read, I have bookmarked for my future travels!
Thank you!! The big hike on the Mission Trail is to visit the other four missions that make up San Antonio Missions National Park. You can definitely visit the Alamo without visiting the other four missions. If you chose to go that route, there will not be a big hike. Perhaps just a short walk from your hotel if you are staying on the Riverwalk. I hope you enjoy the Alamo and the San Antonio Missions in your future travels!