San Antonio Missions National Historical Park | RIVER WALK: MISSION SAN JOSE TO MISSION SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO

San Antonio River Walk

San Antonio River Walk


This article provides a detailed report for hiking or biking door to door from Mission San José to Mission San Juan Capistrano via the San Antonio River Walk.


Length:  3.2 miles
Difficulty:  Easy

The San Antonio River Walk, a paved multi-use trail that is open to hikers, bikers, and skaters, does not pass directly in front of Mission San José, so you must travel a short ways from the mission to reach it. If you are heading south towards Mission San Juan Capistrano, it is best to start at the parking lot of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park Visitor Center. Across the street is a picnic area. Take the road that runs beside it, and when it merges with Napier Avenue, turn left. Napier is a city street, but it sees very little vehicle traffic. Follow Napier for a quarter mile until it dead ends into Padre Drive. The River Walk is on the other side of the road. Prior to the intersection is a pedestrian path on the left that leads to a crosswalk. The trail is not identified at this point, but it is the River Walk.

Pedestrian crossing at Padre Drive to reach the San Antonio River Walk near Mission San Jose

Pedestrian crossing at Padre Drive to reach the San Antonio River Walk near Mission San José

If you are heading north towards Mission Concepción, the best way to go is to take the paved connector trail that starts behind the Mission San José church. This is actually the official route to the River Walk, and the trailhead is identified with signage. The path cuts through the woods and comes out on Padre Drive. Take a left and travel a tenth of a mile to Mission County Park (there is a bike lane and a sidewalk). You do not need to go all the way to the vehicle entrance, as there is a pedestrian path just beyond the gated Rancho del Charro rodeo arena. Take this to the picnic pavilions and work your way down to the River Walk. Signs point the way.

This trail report covers the trip south using the Napier Avenue route to the River Walk. For the record, I rode my bike, and if you plan to see all missions in one day via the River Walk, a bike is the only way to do it.

When you get to the San Antonio River Walk from Napier Avenue, take a right to head south towards Mission San Juan Capistrano. At this point the River Walk is not near the river, but it will be after a little over a half mile. The path follows alongside Mission Parkway, and once at the river you’ll find a roadside picnic area with two parking lots and five tables, each with its own grill. There is also a bike rental kiosk where you can rent standard and electric bikes with a credit card.

Roadside park on the San Antonio River Walk

Roadside park on the San Antonio River Walk

A quarter mile farther south, just after passing under the SE Military Drive bridge, is a paved pad on the riverbank. You can fish from here, launch a hand-paddled watercraft, and have a bite to eat at the picnic table. A small parking area for eight vehicles is on the opposite side of Mission Parkway.

San Antonio River launch for hand-paddled watercraft along the San Antonio River Walk

San Antonio River launch for hand-paddled watercraft along the San Antonio River Walk

The next points of interest are the Espada Dam and Espada Park. Dams have been built on the San Antonio River ever since the mission era in order to divert water into the acequias, which are hand dug irrigation ditches. The Espada Dam was built in the late 1950s to ensure that water continued to flow into the acequias, for these are still being used to this day. The Espada Acequia is the only continually operated acequia system in Texas.

Espada Dam in San Antonio built in the 1950s

Espada Dam in San Antonio built in the 1950s

Espada Dam in San Antonio built in the 1950s

Espada Dam in San Antonio built in the 1950s

Across the street is Espada Park. There are eight picnic tables, each with its own grill, and another cement pad on the riverbank for fishing and launching hand-paddled watercraft. Parking lots are located on either end. You can also see the original Espada Dam that was built in 1735.

Original Espada Dam c. 1735 (Photo by National Park Service)

Original Espada Dam c. 1735 (Photo by National Park Service)

At the dam, the San Antonio River Walk breaks away from following Mission Parkway, so from here until the trail ends at Mission Espada, civilization is left behind other than at a few road crossings. However, it is often quite far from the San Antonio River, so you can’t always see the water. Features of note on the segment between the dam and the turnoff for Mission San Juan Capistrano are a trailside picnic area and an outdoor sculpture, one of a handful of artworks along the River Walk.

Outdoor sculpture on the San Antonio River Walk

Outdoor sculpture on the San Antonio River Walk

The exit for Mission San Juan Capistrano is Mission Road, 2.7 miles from Mission San José. Take a left to cross the San Antonio River via the Mission Road bridge. There is not a lot of traffic on this road, and there is no bike lane, but there is a sidewalk on the bridge that you can walk or ride on if you want to stay off the road. As soon as you get across, look to the right for a paved hiker / biker path. The mission is just a quarter mile down the trail.

Cross the Mission Road bridge to get to Mission San Juan Capistrano

Cross the Mission Road bridge to get to Mission San Juan Capistrano

The paved path leads to the back of the Mission San Juan Capistrano church. There is an entrance into the mission compound near the far end of the building. Total distance from mission to mission is 3.2 miles.

Back side of the Mission San Juan Capistrano church at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Back side of the Mission San Juan Capistrano church at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

It takes about an hour to see everything at Mission San Juan. Once done with your visit, if you wish to travel farther south to Mission Espada, check out the River Walk: Mission San Juan Capistrano to Mission Espada web page here on National Park Planner.

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Last updated on June 17, 2022
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