What is a hiking hidden gem? While the DFW Metroplex has many places to hike or bike, not all of them are well known. When you look online for recommendations on where to hike, there are many lists that call out Cedar Ridge Preserve, Fort Worth Nature Center, White Rock Lake, or Katy Trail. Those are well frequented and offer a lot of great terrain to explore and enjoy. This post is focused on those lesser known spots, with great views, that offer something a bit different, and are worth your time. The hidden gems!
The Clear Creek Natural Heritage Preserve contains 2,900 acres of forest, prairie and wetland to explore. Located in Denton, it lies at the confluence of Clear Creek and the Elm Fork of the Trinity River. There are ten miles of trails located in the Preserve that make good use of the varied terrain, including views of the confluence, and a wetland area home to wildlife. Since the trails are in a floodplain, it’s a good idea to check the center’s Instagram page to check if any of the trails are closed.
Part of the Dallas Open Spaces Program, the Spring Creek Forest Preserve in NE Dallas Spring Creek Forest Preserve contains trails along the beautiful Spring Creek. There are two sections to this park, so make sure to do both sides.
The eastern section contains paved trails, a few natural paths, and access to the creek. The creek here is clear, along limestone with white chalk walls.
The western section has trails that hug the creek, but also expand into the forest and a surrounding meadow. The trails along the creek are steeper, but there is still access to the creek floor below in a few sections. Wildflowers grow near the parking lot and in the meadows, depending on the time of year, and informational signs dot the trails telling you a bit about the local flora and fauna. You may notice people across the creek, and wonder how to access those trails? Read ahead, for more on that front!
If you live in Fort Worth, this may not be such a ‘hidden’ gem, but I’m always surprised when I read a ‘best hiking spots in DFW’ list from a site, and Eagle Mountain Park isn’t listed.
When I first read about it, I wasn’t sure if it was worth the drive to get there based on the limited information I could find, or the trail map. I was wrong. This park, located on the shores of Eagle Mountain Lake, has 400 acres to explore. There is quite a bit of elevation here, as the trails will take you down to the water’s edge, or up on hills surrounding the lake giving you expanded viewing. While it may ‘only’ have five miles of trails, these aren’t easy trails, and it feels bigger as you explore the park. Every time I’ve come, I’ve encountered deer, including some on the trail as I rounded a bend. If you haven’t heard of Eagle Mountain Park, or have had any doubts on visiting, you should definitely check it out!
Bob Jones Nature Center was a recent find, and again I find it surprising that it’s not as well known across the area. Located along Lake Grapevine, the Center has over 20 miles of trails to explore. The official parking location has a nature center with a few well maintained nature trails and a pavilion, but beyond those trails lies an expansive equestrian trail network that follow the lake’s shore and into the surrounding woods. Watch where you step, even if you don’t see any horses, you will see evidence of their passing! With expansive views of the lake and a lot of ground to explore, you can easily spend a day here and enjoy the scenery!
You can find the John Bunker Sands Wetland Center just southeast of Dallas in Seagoville. Not a traditional hiking spot, you will still find miles to explore, birds to see, and maybe even spot a Bald Eagle! This man-made wetland serves a vital purpose for the area, cleaning and restoring water, and returning it back to Lake Lavon for re-use. The Center contains educational materials to learn more about the process and how it works.
Once you leave the center, you can explore boardwalks over the water, and then past them, you can walk along the land that separates the various pools where the water cleaning occurs. Beyond hiking along the water’s edge, you’ll also see birds that make this place it’s home. You’ll see pelicans and herons, but you also may catch a glimpse of the bald eagles that roost here in the winter months. This isn’t a walk in the forest, so keep that in mind if you visit and bring water and sunscreen.
Dallas boasts the largest urban hardwood forest, and the Trinity River Audubon Center is often called the Gateway to the Trinity River Forest. The history of this place is unique, as it was once the site of an illegal dumping ground, and then transformed into a beautiful home to local wildlife. There are five miles of trails here, that include walks in the forest, a vantage point to see the Trinity River, and also boardwalks and nature trails that extend through the wetlands. A great place to birdwatch, to learn about the critical need for wetlands, and also a testament to how even some of the worst cases of land abuse can be reclaimed and transformed into something magical.
I debated adding Eisenhower State Park to this list, as it’s really a stretch to say this is part of DFW, but given how fast the Metroplex is growing, Sherman may one day be a suburb! This state park is located along Lake Texoma just north of Sherman, but the views here of the lake are worth the drive! Similar to my comments about Eagle Mountain Park, i had looked at the trail map for Eisenhower, and wasn’t really sure if it was worth the time spend to drive that far. It is.
Unlike many of the trails in the area that border a lake, the borders of Lake Texoma are high and rocky, giving you gorgeous vantage points to look out over the water. As you continue along the trails, you will come down to lake level offering you different views, and the trails offer some elevation changes to get your heart rate up. If you have an ATV, the park also boasts an ATV trail, one of the few (if not only) state parks to offer such an amenity. So yes, this place is worth a drive from DFW!
Calling something a hidden gem is very much a personal choice. It implies that it’s not well known, and should be better known. Some of the places listed here may not be so hidden to everyone, and I’m sure there are others worth pointing out. Any other hidden gems that should be added to this list?