Purgatory Creek Natural Area

10.00 Miles
134 Feet
3point5stars (3.50)9
3stars (3.06)
3stars (3.00)
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.

deer in the brush (Photo by jimmy peace)
Monarch on mealy blue sage
In the valley of butterflies (Photo by plectrudis)
Gnarly oak
Gnarly oak (Photo by plectrudis)
Purgatory Creek - dry at the moment
Nifty, ferny bluff on the left (Photo by plectrudis)
Snake on a tree
Pretty little green snake, hanging out on the trunk of a gnarly old oak tree (Photo by plectrudis)
Dante Trail in Purgatory
looking west from bluff over creek (Photo by fwk2005)
Gnarled Tree along the trail
Just a neat looking tree. (Photo by Eveline)
Trail Head Sign where we started.
Trail head sign at Upper Purgatory Creek Park (Photo by Eveline)
flint along the trail (Photo by jimmy peace)
archeological site (Photo by jimmy peace)
entrance sign
entrance to the hike (Photo by jimmy peace)
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)

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Log Entries
can be an ankle buster
By jimmy peace on 9/2/2019
Rating: 3point5stars Difficulty: 3point5stars Solitude: 3stars
Distance: 5.30 Miles Duration: 4 hours

you have to be careful where u walk,   and some of the trails are confusing,  , lots of folks out today 

Butterflies galore, shady trails
By plectrudis on 10/21/2017
Rating: 3point5stars Difficulty: 3stars Solitude: 2point5stars
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: 4stars Difficulty: 4stars Solitude: 5stars
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: 3stars Difficulty: 2point5stars Solitude: 2point5stars
Distance: 2.60 Miles Duration: N/A
Great place to hike.
By Eveline on 4/6/2014
Rating: 3point5stars Difficulty: 2point5stars Solitude: 5stars
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: 4stars Difficulty: 3point5stars Solitude: 1star
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: 4stars Difficulty: 3point5stars Solitude: 3point5stars
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: 3stars Difficulty: 1point5stars Solitude: 2stars
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: 3stars Difficulty: 3point5stars Solitude: 2point5stars
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.

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