Cycle San Antonio’s Mission Reach Trail and visit iconic missions such as Mission San Jose. (Photo: Getty Images)
Remember the Alamo? If you don’t, here’s a quick refresher. The Alamo was the site of a battle — a siege, really — during the Texas Revolution. Texas wanted independence; Mexico had other ideas. The American hero Davy Crockett died here, as did hundreds of others on both sides of the battle.
But before it became the site of this terrible, historic event, the Alamo was Misión San Antonio de Valero, established by Spanish colonists to minister to and educate converted Native Americans. Or to protect colonists’ interests in the New World. Or both.
Located in the heart of San Antonio, the Alamo is the most visited site in Texas. It’s absolutely worth taking a tour to review this period in American history. But it’s not the only mission in the region. There are four more, siblings to the Alamo, with their own character. They’re monuments to the tangled relationship between Texas, Mexico and Spain — sites where history is still very much alive.
It’s as easy as …
The Mission Reach trail system is approximately 15 miles of bike-friendly path, completely separated from traffic. It’s well marked, and there are services along the way — restrooms, water fountains and picnic tables.
Texas summers can be very hot — peaking in the 90s in June through August. If it’s over 75 degrees and you’re not used to cycling in heat, early mornings are best. San Antonio doesn’t have a helmet law, but you may want to wear a one just to keep the sun off your head.
As with any outdoor adventure, you’ll want sunscreen, water and fuel for your body. Basic bike etiquette applies — stay to the right, let other riders know when you’re passing, and be mindful of the pedestrians on the trail. Bikes come equipped with baskets, but you may want to carry a daypack for your camera or extra snacks.
Pick up your bicycle from a San Antonio station near to the Alamo — the B-cycle app shows where all available bikes are parked. If you want more freedom, grab a gray bike, they’ve got locks. But if you can’t find a locking bike, don’t worry — there are B-cycle stations at the missions where you can dock your ride.
Download a San Antonio bike trail map or get one at the San Antonio Visitor’s Center — it’s right across the plaza from the Alamo. The map shows you not just where the missions are, but also the important stuff like where to find restrooms, water fountains and picnic spots. The National Park Service has an interactive trip planner, too.
The trail itself is mostly flat, tracking with the banks of the San Antonio River. You’ll zigzag across bridges, under roadways and past meadows of wildflowers, serenaded by birds sheltering in the sprawling boughs of live oak. A full day covers some distance, but there are no big hills, making the trail accessible for almost any rider.
Now, choose your mission.
Of course, you’ll visit the Alamo, the cornerstone of the Mission trail. Museum guides lead tours of the site, but you may choose to wander the grounds at your own pace. Heads-up: While it’s totally worth seeing, the Alamo can be quite crowded. Go right when it opens or late in the day if you’d like to avoid the crunch.
If you want a short ride, head for Mission Concepción. This sturdy stone church has remains of a few delicate frescoes. Thanks to its solid construction, it maintains much of its original character; it’s had the least restoration of any of the missions on this trail.
For the most impressive complex, go to Mission San José. The cloister walls still stand, there’s an ornate facade, and the elaborate Rose Window refuses to give up the secret of its name. There’s a visitor’s center here with exhibits and a movie, and you can join a guided tour of the grounds.
Mission San Juan Capistrano, the next stop on the trail, was once a flourishing trade center for Native American–produced crops. There are remnants of the irrigation system as well as a picturesque bell tower.
Tip: If you’re not up for the full round-trip ride, you can drop your bike here and take the #40 bus back into downtown San Antonio. The last bus leaves around 5 p.m.; check the schedule to be sure.
At the end of the trail, there’s Mission Espada, a sturdy little chapel with a nearby dam and an aqueduct that once supported a thriving agricultural community. Now it’s a quiet place to rest your legs and prepare for the return ride back into downtown.
If you’ve done the full round-trip and want to celebrate, Blue Star Brewing is only about a mile away from the Alamo, where you started your day. The beer is brewed on site, and the menu is full of Tex-Mex flavors like sausage tacos and Frito pie.
Don’t fret the calories; you’ve earned it.