Just Around the Corner: Purgatory Creek

San Marcos is increasingly known for its growing network of natural areas, many of which follow natural waterways that run through the city. One of the most visited and scenic is the Purgatory Creek Natural Area, which is just a short walk from Lively Lane. This natural area is comprised of three distinct trail heads in over 700+ acres, including Prospect Park (accessed off of Prospect Street), Lower Purgatory (accessed of Prospect Street), Lower Purgatory (accessed off of Hunter Road), and Upper Purgatory (accessed off of Valencia Way).  

Prospect Park is the original parcel that catalyzed the creation of the Purgatory Creek Natural Area. This area sits on a porous section of the Edwards Aquifer with prominent karst features – where rainwater flows into the ground through limestone rocks. You will find grassland meadows, ephemeral wetlands, and benches with interpretive signage along the trails. 

Lower Purgatory is known to be the most popular trailhead and a serious destination for mountain bikers and trail runners. 12 miles of trails connect northwards to Upper Purgatory, and features a large grotto carved in the limestone cliff as well as the Purgatory Creek Dam. Upper Purgatory is a frequent destination for birders and natural explorers, as well as general recreational users.  

Grotto at Upper Purgatory – Image by Brandee Brantly via texashillcountry.com

Conveniently located near Lively Lane, Purgatory Creek Natural Area is just a 10-minute walk / 4-minute bike ride away: 

Map showing routes from Lively Lane to various Purgatory Creek trailheads.

To learn more about the trail system and see maps of the Purgatory Natural Area, visit the San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance website

Upcoming Improvement Projects

To better connect the Purgatory Creek Natural Area with the San Marcos River and Downtown, the City of San Marcos is currently working on the Purgatory Creek Improvement Project – which will include natural channel modifications, drainage improvements, greenway trails, and more. The project is set to begin in the next couple years and when finished will expand the Purgatory Creek Natural Area.

Habitat for endangered species will be expanded, more water quality zones will be brought into the trail system, and recreational activity areas for hiking, biking, camping, and picnicking will be increased generally. 

The project area extends along Purgatory Creek between the San Marcos River all the way to the existing Flood Control Dam #5 located in the Lower Purgatory trailhead area and is divided into two phases. Phase 1, which is scheduled to commence construction in the next year or two, covers the area between the San Marcos River to Johnson Avenue; and Phase 2 covers the remainder of the project area from Johnson Avenue to Wonder World Drive. View the City of San Marcos Phase 1 Presentation for more information. 

Map derived from City of San Marcos and San Marcos River Foundation information.

In addition to this City-funded project, the San Marcos River Foundation in collaboration with the City of San Marcos and San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance, was recently awarded a $200,000 Texas Parks & Wildlife Urban Trail Grant to build a trail connection between Wonder World Drive and Dunbar Park. Construction for this may begin within the next year or two and when completed would enhance trail access at Lively Lane even further to within just a few hundred feet!

To learn more about the existing trail system and see maps of the Purgatory Natural Area, visit the City of San Marcos Natural Trails website

Please also check out the San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance, a local volunteer-based non-profit that has been instrumental in the creation and maintenance of the city’s growing network of hike and bike trails. 

Have any questions about Purgatory Creek or need a recreation recommendation? Give us a call at (512) 392-3322 or message Live@LVLYLN.com and we can point you onto the right trailhead.

Cover image by Brandee Brantly via texashillcountry.com