Erich Schlegel poses with his mountain bike next to rock cairns in a dry creek bed at the Purgatory Creek trails in San Marcos. Pam LeBlanc photo

I’ve been hammering out miles on my road bike for the past few months, riding loops around Northwest Hills and along Shoal Creek, the Violet Crown trail and that cool bike and pedestrian bridge over Barton Creek.
Yesterday, though, I left the skinny tires at home and pulled out the mountain bike when a friend invited me to join him for a spin at the Purgatory Creek trails in San Marcos. I’d never been, so I loaded up my Specialized Camber, grabbed my helmet and headed south.

I took this selfie on a flat spot at Purgatory Creek. Pam LeBlanc photo

I sometimes have a hard time finding mountain bike trails that fit my ability level. I’m pretty comfortable on knobby tires – until I’m stopped at the bottom of a hill, looking up a daunting escalator of rocks. I like the downhills better – as long as the stair steppy rock doesn’t go on for too long. In short, I like to have fun, but I’m not super good at the technical stuff. I wound up at an emergency clinic a few years ago after throwing myself onto some sharp limestone rock while riding my favorite trail at Slaughter Creek.
My verdict on the Purgatory Creek trails? Love them. They’re just my speed, with lots of single track through groves of oaks and ashe junipers, some stretches through grassy meadows, and some manageable roller coaster ups and downs. The terrain is similar to Slaughter Creek. I have to hop off my bike and walk it in spots, but it’s not as tough as parts of the Barton Creek Greenbelt. It’s less flowy than Walnut Creek.
I didn’t ride all 12 or so miles at the park, located a 40-minute drive from Central Austin, but I sweated buckets in the heat on parts of Dante’s Trail, Beatrice, Ovid and Ripheus. The trails, managed by the non-profit San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance, wind alongside a big rocky dam and parallel parts of Wonder World Drive. There’s a lot of twisty single track, but also some stretches of old double-track road. You’ll find easy flats, a couple of screaming downhills, and some cool rock features, including a grotto in a limestone cliff on Malacoda. Part of the trail goes under the road, and one stretch follows stacked rock cairns through a dry (at least when I was there) creek bed.

A trail runner makes his way through a dry creek bed at the Purgatory Creek trail system. Pam LeBlanc photo

You can access the trail system via any of three trailheads. The biggest parking area is at 2101 Hunter Road, the Lower Purgatory access, where there’s a water fountain and porta-potty. Smaller access points are located at 1414 Prospect and 1751 Valencia Way, also known as Upper Purgatory.
The trails are popular with trail runners and hikers, too, so keep an eye out. And the Paraiso trail is closed from March 1 to May 30, during golden-cheek warbler nesting time.
Bring water and don’t cross fences. For more information and maps, go to
The park includes single track trails and flat easy double track roads. Pam LeBlanc photo

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