I’ve been to Central Texas. North Texas, you are NO Central Texas.
That sad truth out of the way, there are, in fact, a few places where, if you squint your eyes closed just enough, you’ll mistake yourself for being in Texas Hill Country.
If you find yourself in the Dallas area and wanting to hike or run on dirt trails, these are your best bets. Spoiler alert: These are all in Southwest Dallas County, because that’s the closest we get to Hill Country around here.
Cedar Ridge Preserve
- Audubon Dallas’s Cedar Ridge page
- Google map to Cedar Ridge
- Alltrails’ profile of my favorite Cedar Ridge trail, Cedar Brake
- Instagram streams for Cedar Ridge pics
Cedar Ridge is my favorite. It’s is proof that Southwest Dallas County is the loveliest part of North Texas.
There are various trails out there for various levels of proficiency. There’s even a pretty, flat trail near the entrance that’s wheelchair friendly. It’s so pretty, in fact, that Brian and I had a few of our engagement photos taken on it back in ’08.
But for hiking or trail running, you’ll want Cedar Brake Trail. If you want more than the couple of miles that offers, loop in Fossil Valley Trail while you’re at it. You’ll get plenty of roots, rocks, elevation, and near-vertical climbs. At the top, there are a couple of benches, a view of nearby Joe Pool Lake in the distance, and treetops for days.
If you want a less challenging experience that’s still enjoyable and scenic, go for Cattail Pond.
Notes: Good for hiking and running. Great views and well-marked trails. It’s free (donations are accepted in the box up front). NO mountain or any other kind of biking is allowed.
Cedar Hill State Park
- Info on Texas Parks and Wildlife site
- DORBA’s Cedar Hill State Park page
- Google map to the park
- @cedarhillstatepark on Instagram
The Dallas area’s one state park is really close to Cedar Ridge Preserve. But at more than 1,800 acres, it’s more expansive; Cedar Ridge is 600 acres. Of the four hiking trails, the DORBA trail is shared hike/run/bike. At between 10 to 12 miles, it’s also the longest. The shortest option is the .5 mile Duck Pond Trail. This park is gorgeous, and it’s where the mileage is on this list.
Notes: Day use entry fee is $7. On the DORBA trail, bikers travel clockwise and hikers travel counter-clockwise. Be sure to listen for approaching bikers.
Oak Cliff Nature Preserve
- DORBA’s Oak Cliff Nature Preserve page
- Oak Cliff Nature Preserve pics on Instagram
- Google map to the preserve
- Alltrails’ Oak Cliff Nature Preserve profile
- Texas Land Conservancy’s map of OCNP trails
As you drive toward the entrance, you’ll wonder how there could be a “nature” anything in the area. And if you’re not keeping your eyes peeled, you’ll miss the entrance altogether. So, this one gets a special map screenshot:
Once you find it, you’ll see an apartment complex, then the trailhead. Park there and head out.
This preserve, maintained by DORBA, is primarily used by bikers, but it’s friendly to hikers and runners. It’s so natural and beautiful, it’s sometimes hard to believe that it’s located smack in the middle of Oak Cliff.
But the preserve horseshoes around an apartment complex, so when you’re on a perimeter trail and spy units or hear someone on their second-story patio talking loudly on their cellphone, you’re reminded of the preserve’s urban situation. For being the closest of these four trails to downtown Dallas, this spot is still a good bet.
Notes: Listen for bikers. There are plenty of hikers and runners, but bikers dominate the trails. Please know that the series of trails are badly marked, but those of us who like getting lost don’t mind. The White trail is the longest and leads you into some beautiful, wild forest. There are NO water fountains or restrooms. Keep your eyes out for the delightful found-object artwork dotting the preserve. The maps you see out there aren’t oriented like up = north, like you’d think; they’re oriented in the direction you’re facing. Free.
Big Cedar Wilderness
- Alltrails’ Big Cedar profile
- DORBA’s Big Cedar page
- Big Cedar 100 race/ultra info
- Google map to Big Cedar
Oh — you want almost-ungroomed wilderness, you say? Little to no signage? Some of the best views around? Ok, then you want Big Cedar Wilderness Trail.
Full disclosure: I’ve only been to Big Cedar once, this past spring. I’m putting it on this list for its quirk and for the lovely adventure I had making my way through.
To get to Big Cedar, you turn into a forest and up what almost seems like a proper lil’ mountain. The road leads you up to Prayer Mountain/Mountain Creek Community Church (check out pictures in their gallery here). It’s like something out of a fairy tale, for these parts. The playground, especially, overlooks some amazing scenery.
Follow the signs that tell you where you can park for the trail. There are several entry points.
But first I walked past the transformer station in the white graveled area. I entered through a gate into another sylvan setting and was greeted by neat public art, like this:
For the most challenging Big Cedar trail, look around this area for the Texas Sunset trailhead:
Now, it could have been that this trail hadn’t been groomed in a while, on purpose, to retain its glorious wildness. But be prepared to literally fight through gauntlet after gauntlet of this beautiful but grabby, catchy mess:
That stuff is still woven into my tights and top, sitting on my hearth, waiting for me to determine if I’m going to spend hours picking those burrs out or just cut my losses and trash the whole outfit. Even still, I’d go back. It could be that the trail has been groomed by now, but it also could be, you know, that one cousin you have who’s a ratchet mess but still fun to hang out with. Just know that your cousin might arrive with an entire sack full of burrs that inextricably hook into your running attire.
But still. Big Cedar gives you this glory:
A photo posted by Christy Robinson (@christyrobinson) on
Notes: Try not to park in church parking areas. Note that this is primarily a biking trail and a lot of trail stretches are narrow and deeply grooved with tire tracks. Free. And beautiful.