Government Canyon State Natural Area

The Government Canyon State Natural Area is just outside of San Antonio, TX and is home to prehistoric footprints, camping & amazing trails. Click for more!

The Government Canyon State Natural area is not technically a state park, but what it lacks in camping options it definitely makes up for in hiking trails. Scroll down to read more.


Nestled in Helotes, TX just outside of San Antonio is Government Canyon State Natural area. Off the bat I was really impressed with the amount of trails that are here.

On the hiking guide there are nine trails listed, but if you look at the map there are in fact 17 different trails,broken down into Front and Back country, but with loops and spurs that can make this a really extensive hike or a great place to do some great day-hiking.

The Black Hills Loop is the longest at 4.89 miles, and technically the Sendero Travesero is the shortest (.47 mi) but I’m going to state the Little Windmill trail as the actual shorty. It’s mostly a connector trail from the Joe Johnston Trail to the Sendero Balcones trail, but it cuts through some pretty fun scenery.

 Looking up at the Scenic Overlook at Government Canyon State Natural Area
Spot dinosaur tracks at this spot on the Joe Johnston trail at Government Canyon state natural area

On my recent visit to the Government Canyon State Natural Area I hiked the Joe Johnston Route (4.0 mi) up to the Caroline’s Loop (2.45 mi) with a pitstop at the Overlook Trail (1.01 mi). My first recommendation is to wear comfortable shoes. I was wearing my trail runners (Click to read why you should hike in trail runners), but I definitely feel I could have used more padding on my toe cap for all of the rocks I encountered.

Be prepared for some light elevation changes, nothing crazy until you are on Caroline’s Loop. Here I found that some of the steep climbs came with the most rocks.

I wasn’t sure I was going to do the Overlook Trail at first, but once I passed the Zizelmann House point of interest I decided I might as well. When I stopped at the prehistoric dinosaur footprints I was standing below a cliff and I was curious as to whether or not that was the overlook or not. Come to find out it was.

I came down the overlook trail from the north, so just know that the actual Canyon Overlook is closer to the southern entrance. I kept walking through trees wondering how it was even supposed to be elevated, but then I arrived at the clearing and definitely saw the huge drop. Great views of the Texas hill country from this spot.

Overall that ended up being about 10 miles of hiking on three different trails at the Government Canyon SNA This section had plenty of shade, so even when it started to warm up there were a handful of opportunities to pause, catch my breath, and cool off. I don’t normally recommend that as a crutch, but it wasn’t as brutal, as say, Pedernales SP. That place has very little shade. This place reminded me a lot of Purgatory Creek in San Marcos, TX.

The Trails are broken down by activity:

FRONTCOUNTRY is for Hiking and Biking trails:

  • Lytle’s Loop
  • Savannah Loop

BACKCOUNTRY hiking only trails:

  • Discovery Trail
  • Bluff Spurs
  • Overlook Trail


  • Caroline’s Loop (So… carry your bike if you want to do the Overlook trail?)
  • Far Reaches
  • Joe Johnston Route
  • Little Windmill
  • Recharge Trail
  • Sendero Balcones
  • Twin Oaks
  • Wildcat Canyon

PROTECTED HABITAT AREA (Open Sept. -Feb. and Hiking Only)

  • Black Hill Loop
  • Cave Creek
  • La Subida
  • Sendero Travesero
Cliff on the Scenic Overlook Trail
The cliff at the Scenic Overlook Trail


There is camping at Government Canyon SNA, but ‘The principle mission of Government Canyon is protection of the natural environment”. The camp map states that this place needs to be a special place for generations.

So that being said, camping is at a premium. There are 23 walk-in campsites with water and two group campsites. They are all located in the ‘frontcountry’. All of the hiking is located in the ‘backcountry’. Remember the primitive aspect of these sights if you’re wanting all of the amenities of typical car camping. This experience should be more about embracing the natural aspect.

Walk-in sites are $18/ night and the group sites are $40/ night. As far as I can tell pets are allowed at the campsites, but are not allowed in the backcountry. So if you plan on doing extensive camping leave them at the campsite with others.

Government Canyon is located at 12861 Galm Road San Antonio, Texas 78254

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