You don’t have to drive to Arkansas to have a walk in the woods. We have beautiful slices of nature right here. I started writing about these spots because I was tired of hearing people say there was no nature in our area. We have much more to explore than most people think.
North Texas was once part of a 12-million-acre Blackland Prairie. Most of that prairie disappeared under the plow. One of the best examples of a remnant prairie is at White Rock Lake (close to the Bath House Cultural Center). It is carpeted with wildflowers in the spring. We also have clear creeks flowing over limestone beds, beneath groves of towering old oaks. There are bits of the Hill Country, created by the White Rock Escarpment, covered in eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), bur oaks (Quercus macrocarpa), shin oaks (Quercus havardii), and even flowering dogwood (Cornus florida). And we have the Great Trinity Forest, which, at more than 6,000 acres, is the largest urban hardwood bottomland forest in America. By exploring these gems of wilderness in and around the city, you’ll learn a bit about what the woods have to teach.
There are elements of wildness all around us. I’ve seen a coyote dash out of sight on a snow-covered dirt path. I’ve watched great blue herons glide by in prehistoric splendor. I’ve walked across meadows of little bluestem grass and prairie wildflowers such as firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella), basket flower (Centaurea americana), and horsemint (Monarda citriodora). In meadows, I’ve watched monarch butterflies on their 3,000-mile migration from Canada to Mexico. I’ve sat in the shade of towering chinquapin oaks, hearing the shriek of red-shouldered hawks as they catch a thermal and soar so high I lost sight of them. I’ve heard the chatter of chickadees, the cackle of red-bellied woodpeckers, and the rattle of belted kingfishers. I’ve watched the brilliant red and yellow of a painted bunting against the clear blue expanse of a Texas sky, greeting the day with its beautiful song.Following are my favorite spots to hike in the city. All are within a 30-minute drive of my house in East Dallas. These are natural surface trails, because that’s where you experience nature closest. (We also have some terrific paved hike and bike trails, most notably the Katy, Santa Fe, and White Rock trails.) But, like naturalist Edward Abbey once reminded us, you have to get out of your car and walk to see it.
Spring Creek Forest
This is a unique old bottomland Forest. There’s an impressive overstory of shumard, bur, and chinquapin oaks. Some of these trees appear to be 100 to 150 years old and reach heights of 100 feet on trunks 4 feet thick. Thankfully, early settlers in this area left this forest relatively untouched.There are several trails that meander along Spring Creek. There is a short trail on the west side of Holford. But the best hike begins in a marked parking area on the east side of Holford Road. The short, paved trail leads to an overlook of Spring Creek. A dirt trail starts at the end of the pavement and eventually crosses under Garland Road. More than once I’ve seen red-shouldered hawks in the large trees along the creek here. On the other side of Garland Road, the trail passes the largest trees in the forest. The entire length of the trail is about 3 miles. On your return, you’ll find another dirt trail to the right, just before you return to the paved trail that leads through a remnant prairie, with some native grasses. This trail is not marked, but it’s easy to follow.There are a number of guided hikes here over the course of a year, which is a great way to explore.