Government Canyon State Natural Area, which lies along an old military supply route (the Joe Johnston Route) between San Antonio and Bandera, is one of the most recent additions to the Texas state park system. The land was originally set aside for development of a master planned community called San Antonio Ranch, which was supposed to be the San Antonio equivalent to The Woodlands or Flower Mound. San Antonio Ranch went bankrupt during the S&L crisis of the 80's, and the property was foreclosed upon by the RTC in 1991. Some claim that the name"Government Canyon" comes from this foreclosure. In 1991, a group of locals formed the "Government Canyon Coalition" to attempt to preserve part of the land from development, and they were eventually able to secure 6000 acres for the state park system.
Also around this time, mountain bikers began cutting illegal trails through the property. Some of these trails remain in existence as part of the "backcountry" trail system of the state park, but most were lost when the areas surrounding the state park succumbed to tract housing.
Government Canyon contains 20 miles of bikeable trails in the backcountry section of the park. The park has enough intermediate-level obstacles to keep skilled riders interested, but there are several solid green and green/blue trails for the beginners as well. None of the trails should require advanced skill. GC also has some very long, steady climbs and, in general, not a lot of flow. The obstacles mostly take the form of 6-12" ledges, rock gardens, gunsights, a few easy to moderate creek crossings, etc. If you ride it clockwise (see route below), it feels like it's all uphill for some reason.
We rode the trails 72 hours after a big rain, and it was almost unbearably muddy. It really needs 5 days of sun to dry out.
15-mile loop suggestion (mile markers are approximate):
0.0:Start out north on Joe Johnston Route (easy)
2.2: Left on Caroline's Loop (intermediate)
2.3: At Overlook Trail junction, bear left on Caroline's Loop (bikes aren't allowed on the Overlook Trail, but you can park your bike and hike the 1/4 mile up to it. The view is awesome.) Continuing on Caroline's, you begin a long, moderately technical climb, followed by a descent into Gov't Canyon Creek. The trail then meanders near the creek.
4.75: Trail dead ends into Joe Johnston Route. Left on Joe Johnston Route (easy)
5.1: Joe Johnston Route takes a hard right and becomes Sendero Balcones (intermediate.) This section has some of the most technical sections in the park, one of which is a borderline advanced climb.
5.6: Intersection with Black Hill Loop. Keep straight on Sendero Balcones (intermediate.) According to locals, the Black Hill Loop used to be the most epic riding in the park, but unfortunately it is now closed to bikers because it is a habitat for warblers and virioles.
6.3: Right on Little Windmill (easy to moderate)
6.9: Trail dead ends into Joe Johnston Route. Left on Joe Johnston Route (easy.) Ride the wide doubletrack past the Zizelmann House and Government Canyon Springs. After the big creek crossing, look for the Twin Oaks trail on the left.
8.2: Left on Twin Oaks(intermediate.) Twin Oaks is 2 miles of mostly steady, moderately technical climbing. 10.2: Right on Sendero Balcones (intermediate)
10.95: Left on Far Reaches (intermediate.) Far Reaches is a moderate to intermediate trail that mostly rolls along the top of a ridge line, offering some distant views of downtown San Antonio.
13.2: Right on Recharge(easy), a jeep trail that leads back to the backcountry trailhead.
15.2: Back at the trailhead.
20-mile loop (mile markers are approximate):
0.0:North on Joe Johnston Route
2.2: Left on Caroline's Loop
2.3: @ Overlook Trail junction, continue left on Caroline's Loop
4.75: Caroline's dead-ends. Left on Joe Johnston Route
5.1: Hard right, Joe Johnston becomes Sendero Balcones
5.6: Black Hill Loop junction. Straight on Sendero Balcones
6.3: Right on Little Windmill
6.9: Little Windmill dead ends. Left on Joe Johnston Route
8.2: Left on Twin Oaks
10.2: Right on Sendero Balcones
10.95: Right on Wildcat Canyon
12.6: Wildcat Canyondead ends. Left on Joe Johnston Route
13.4: Left on Recharge
14.0: Left on Sendero Balcones
16.4: Right on Far Reaches
18.7: Right on Recharge
20.6: Back at trailhead
Lower loop is fine for someone starting out and a good warm for intermediate/advance riders before hitting the upper loop. It would make your ride smoother if you had a full suspension bike riding the upper. Call before going out to make sure they are open. Right now they are open Friday - Sunday only.
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