Finding Hills in the Flatlands

Dallas, Texas isn't known for its access to the outdoors... unless you open your mind and know where to look.

By: Jillian Mock

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Dallas, Texas is a lot of things but “outdoorsy” is not one of them.

As a major metropolitan area, Dallas-Fort Worth is far better known for it’s expansive shopping malls, diverse restaurant scene, and highway overpasses than it is for hiking, camping, or any other kind of outdoor activity.  If you’ve ever traveled through DFW Airport you probably understand why. I have lived in Dallas most of my life and every time I fly home I am struck by north Texas’s overwhelming flatness. It is great for building office buildings and new apartment complexes, I’m sure, but not for developing an outdoor industry.

There is a beauty here, albeit a more humble one than the likes of Yosemite or the American Rockies. And even though I am just coming to appreciate it, others have recognized it for decades. Local chapters of the National Audubon Society are deeply involved in protecting pockets of nature around the metroplex and making them accessible to the public. The city government is trying to turn our urban forest, one of the largest in the world, into a usable amenity. And there are at least 6 great hikes around here, according to D Magazine. That might not seem like much but not long ago I didn’t think there were any.

Here it is easy to ignore the scrubby prairie land and regard spending time out of doors as something special, to be done on vacation in more exotic locations. I have done this for years, convinced that Dallas did not have an outdoor scene I could join. 

I could not have been more wrong.

This weekend I set out to explore one of the hikes on the aforementioned D Magazine list, a place called Cedar Ridge Preserve. CRP is thirty minutes south of downtown Dallas in a suburb called Duncanville, which is still technically part of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Audubon Dallas manages the 9-mile trail system (like I said, Audubon is all over North Texas) and it is free to access the trails (a 3-dollar donation per visit is encouraged).

Two things surprised me about CRP. First, it was actually hilly. “Hikes” in north Texas should normally be written in quotation marks, as they are actually glorified walks up and down a gentle incline. Cedar Ridge has hills worthy of the Texas Hill Country, which technically starts about another hour south of CRP, and the steep, stair-like trailheads left me tired and sputtering much more quickly than I would care to admit.

Second, it was bumping! When we arrived at 9:30 AM, the parking lot was completely full and we had to park on the access road. During the two hours we spent on the trails we passed couples walking their dogs, runners wearing ridiculous neon yellow beanies and sweat-insulating wind breakers (it was 90+ degrees before noon), whole families laughing and conversing in English and Spanish, and what appeared to be a monk in yellow and maroon robes helping lead a weekend field trip.

The trails were busy but not crowded and, even though I normally dislike encountering many other people on my hikes, it was refreshing to see so many North Texans using their Saturday to enjoy the outdoors instead of hitting up the mall or starting the ever-popular brunch places.

Once I set aside my unrealistic expectations – Dallas hiking is obviously not the same as Yosemite – I found there is activity enough to keep my soul fed and hiking boots dusty. 

As it turns out, a place is as outdoorsy as you make it. 

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.