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

San Antonio River Walk

San Antonio River Walk


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


Length:  1.75 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 Juan Capistrano, so you must travel a short distance from the mission to connect to it. One route is along Mission Road on the north side of the mission, and the other is a paved multi-use connector trail on the south side. When deciding which way to go, there are two things to consider. One, do you want to travel north to Mission San José or south to Mission Espada? Two, do you want to see the Espada Aqueduct, a pretty neat feature that lies along a .6-mile stretch of trail between the two entrance points on the River Walk.

San Antonio River Walk near Mission San Juan Capistrano

San Antonio River Walk near Mission San Juan Capistrano

If you want to head north, Mission Road is the best way to go. Head towards the main parking lot at Mission San Juan and find the bike rental station. Next to it is a paved multi-use path that leads to the Mission Road bridge over the San Antonio River. There is a sidewalk on the bridge, so you don’t have to actually travel on the road. The River Walk is on the other side. Take a right to head north to Mission San José or a left to head south to Mission Espada and the Espada Aqueduct.

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

Mission Road bridge over the San Antonio River near Mission San Juan Capistrano

If you are traveling south and don’t care to see the aqueduct, head to the southwest corner of the mission. Just outside the entrance near the convento is the Yanaguana Trail, a .3-mile nature loop trail. Take this, and when it forks at the start of the loop, stay left (if you are on a bike, you must push it along the boardwalk). Just a little farther ahead is a paved multi-use path. Take this for .4 mile and you’ll end up at a pedestrian bridge over the San Antonio River. On the other side is the River Walk. A left takes you south to Mission Espada. A right takes you north to Mission San José, passing the turnoff for the aqueduct along the way.

Pedestrian bridge and trail that leads to Mission San Juan Capistrano from the San Antonio River Walk

This review of the San Antonio River Walk covers the journey south to Mission Espada. For the record, I arrived by bike at Mission San Juan Capistrano from the north and took Mission Road to get there. Since my plan was to head south and see the Espada Aqueduct, I also departed on Mission Road so that I didn’t have to backtrack.

As soon as you cross the Mission Road bridge and turn left to head south on the River Walk, you will see a small canal on your right (the San Antonio River is on your left). This is the Espada Acequia that was built by the mission congregation in the 1730s. The water flowed through the hand-dug ditches from the Espada Dam farther north all the way to the farms at Mission Espada for use as irrigation. There were acequias at all missions, but the Espada Acequia is the only one to survive largely intact (a section of the San Juan Acequia was restored in 2011).

Segment of the Espada acequia along the San Antonio River Walk.

Segment of the Espada acequia along the San Antonio River Walk.

The turnoff for the Espada Aqueduct is a third of a mile from Mission Road. The detour is a quarter mile, but the trip is well worth the effort. A sign marks the exit.

An aqueduct is a nifty little feat of engineering that solved the problem of what to do when a canal crosses paths with a creek or river. Both are waterways, but the canal is a self-contained channel and cannot temporarily merge with the river because there would be no way to control the amount of water that continued to flow down the canal. The solution is to elevate the canal over the waterway via a bridge called an aqueduct. In essence, a large, elevated bathtub must be built—water cannot be leaking out of the bottom and sides. This is typically done by building a structure with a thick layer of clay and stone on the bottom and solid stone walls for sides.

The Espada Aqueduct, the only surviving Spanish aqueduct in the United States, was built between 1740 and 1745 for the purpose of carrying water over Piedras Creek (aka Six-Mile Creek). Prior to this, hollowed-out logs carried the water, but these were not very efficient due to leakage and were easily washed away during flooding.

Espada Aqueduct near Mission Espada in San Antonio

Espada Aqueduct near Mission Espada in San Antonio

Espada Aqueduct near Mission Espada in San Antonio

Espada Aqueduct near Mission Espada in San Antonio

Espada Aqueduct near Mission Espada in San Antonio

Espada Aqueduct near Mission Espada in San Antonio

Once back on the San Antonio River Walk and heading south, you’ll pass a couple of roadside picnic areas before coming to the pedestrian bridge and trail that leads back to Mission San Juan Capistrano. The photo below was taken from this bridge.

San Antonio River near Mission San Juan Capistrano

San Antonio River near Mission San Juan Capistrano

Mission Espada is .9 mile from the pedestrian bridge. When you pass under I-410, a major interstate, you are almost there. Stay right when the River Walk forks just beyond the bridge to get to Mission Espada. The trail passes under an interesting outdoor sculpture by artist Margarita Cabrera from San Antonio.

Sculpture near Mission Espada in San Antonio

Sculpture near Mission Espada in San Antonio

Sculpture near Mission Espada in San Antonio

Sculpture near Mission Espada in San Antonio

The River Walk ends near the parking lot on the northwest side of Mission Espada. Plan to spend up to an hour for your visit. See the Mission Espada web page here on National Park Planner for details on the mission and its history.

Mission Espada, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Mission Espada, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

For information about other segments of the San Antonio River Walk that connect together the missions at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, see the Hiking and Biking web page.

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Last updated on June 17, 2022
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