Purgatory Creek Natural Area

10.00 Miles
134 Feet
1414 Prospect
San Marcos
More Info

Getting there: Getting to the upper Purgatory trail head can be a little tricky if you just print out the upper Purgatory trail map since it doesn't indicate the intersection at which to turn to get to the access road. That road turns out to be Craddick Ave. Coming from I-35, turn left at the Craddick intersection and then turn right at the T intersection onto the dirt road for half a mile to the trail head.

I was disappointed that most of the Paraiso Trail was closed during my visit. Much of the trail is closed from March 1 through May 31 each year for Golden Cheek Warbler breeding season. Still, there is plenty of other trails to take up an entire day even with that section closed off.

The official trails are typically wide single track surfaces. A general rule of thumb when coming to an unmapped intersection with trails is to take the single track option and not the double track or jeep trails that probably are used by maintenance vehicles.

The spot marked "Overlook" provides a nice vantage point over the creek's canyon. Though not terribly high, it's plenty steep and provides a bird's eye view of the Malacoda Trail section below.

Later, when hiking the Malacoda section you might be surprised by the very large cavity sitting beneath what seemed to be solid Overlook above. The rock overhang must have been a handy place for Native Americans to seek shelter from storms.

Plenty of birds call the area home, but there's also white trail deer and wild turkey that can be found along the trail. A couple of snakes also slithered off trail and into the brush and up a tree. My best guess was that they were something like a rat snake.

When Dante's Trail comes into contact with the Ovid Trail section things get more complicated in that some unmapped trails seem to proliferate. On this, my initial visit to the area, I turned back and called it a day.

A typical view on the trail. There are plenty of rocks on the trail so you often have to pay attention to foot placement. Hiking boots are recommended! (Photo by Austin Explorer)
A view along the trail leading up to the "Overlook". From here there's a vertical drop into the creek canyon and one of the trails below. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
From the overlook, looking down on the Malacoda Trail. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
In addition to two deer, I also spotted this wild turkey along the trail. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Under the Overlook, there's a overhang. This large rock cavity may have served as a welcome relief from heavy rainstorms in the past. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
entrance to the hike (Photo by jimmy peace)
archeological site (Photo by jimmy peace)
flint along the trail (Photo by jimmy peace)
Trail head sign at Upper Purgatory Creek Park (Photo by Eveline)
Just a neat looking tree. (Photo by Eveline)
looking west from bluff over creek (Photo by fwk2005)
Pretty little green snake, hanging out on the trunk of a gnarly old oak tree (Photo by plectrudis)
Nifty, ferny bluff on the left (Photo by plectrudis)
Gnarly oak (Photo by plectrudis)
In the valley of butterflies (Photo by plectrudis)
Log Entries
Butterflies galore, shady trails
By plectrudis on 10/21/2017
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 8.90 Miles Duration: N/A

Like a lot of trails in Texas, this one's enjoyability depends heavily on the weather.  Today it was a solid 4, but when it's hot and humid out, it's more of a 3.

Highlights--a poop-ton of butterflies!  It's October, and there are butterflies all over the place.

Nice lunch spot in the bed of the now-dry creek, under a rocky, ferny bluff.

Good shade coverage for much of the hike.

Saw a neat green snake climbing an oak tree.

Another big oak totally festooned with Spanish moss.

Nice scenic overlook.

Plenty enough trail to get a nice, long hike.


When you're hot and tired, the hike up from the creek to the hilltop can be a chore.

A lot of ankle-twisty rocks.

Gnats and mosquitos can be bad in the creek valley.

very rocky
By fwk2005 on 5/20/2016
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 4.10 Miles Duration: N/A

I hiked 4.1 miles of the Dante Trail in Purgatory Creek today, from south to north. Water on trail from recent rains made things difficult. Trail along creek is under water in one loaction, so hikers must deviate from established trail. The trail is NOT well marked. GPS essential. Sharp rocks most of the way, so watch your step. Beautiful trees and a gorgeous field of wildflowers almost shoulder high to me. Some parts of trail closed due to Golden Warbler nesting.

it was hot out today but.. it was not a bad trail
By jimmy peace on 7/12/2014
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 2.60 Miles Duration: N/A
Great place to hike.
By Eveline on 4/6/2014
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 3.00 Miles Duration: N/A

We started at Upper Purgatory Creek Park and only hike in for approximately 1.5 mile then turned around and hiked back out.  We saw one other hiker on this section of the trail.

By ValEpiscopo on 11/17/2013
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 8.20 Miles Duration: 3 hours, 30 minutes
Started at Upper Purgatory Access Road. Hiked Dante Trail 4.1 miles to Hunter Road. Crossed road for a smoothy break, then went back.
By ValEpiscopo on 9/28/2013
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 8.50 Miles Duration: 4 hours, 30 minutes
Hiked in from north, on Dante's Trail. to south entrance. Went across highway for snack break. Then hiked back out. Enjoyable.
By ValEpiscopo on 6/6/2013
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 2.00 Miles Duration: 1 hour
Walked two miles on lower Purgatory area.
Plenty of people enjoying the trail.
By Austin Explorer on 5/12/2013
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 8.40 Miles Duration: 4 hours, 4 minutes

I hiked most of upper Purgatory Creek today.  The one exception was the Paraiso Trail, which is closed through the end of May for Golden Cheek Warbler nesting.  I'll come back another time to mark that part off.

The weather was pleasant today and not too hot.  There were some muddy sections to navigate given the recent rains but much of the trail is rather rough and rocky so the was not much of an issue.

During my hike I spotted two white tail deer and even a wild turkey.  Unlike the deer, the wild turkey didn't seem too disturbed by my presense.