Madla Park (officially Senator Frank L. Madla Natural Area: Park Info ) is nestled between Helotes and San Antonio in Grey Forest.
You can only reach the park by Scenic Loop Drive, the address is: 9788 Menchaca Rd, Helotes, TX 78023
This park is on the smaller side, just 42 acres, but offers a secluded experience away from the main parks in San Antonio. With roads and creeks in the area with names like Madla, Menchaca and Chimena, this park gives a glimmer into the area’s deep past.
Madla Ranch History
Strangely, the Park History sign in the park mentions that John Conrad Beckmann established a ranch at this site in 1852 (320 acres), but it does not mention some of the surrounding history.
Just up the road, Polish mercenary Juan Menchaca obtained a land grant in 1821 with his Aztec wife. Now that site hosts the Grey Moss Inn.
Then, in 1889, Frank Madla, sons of Polish pioneers, married Fransisca Menchaca. They acquired about 1,200 acres to form the Madla Ranch. The ranch reached all the way from the park to Bandera road, and over to the edge of Helotes where the Martin Marietta Quarry is. (Just past the Zip Lines, also on the former Madla Ranch).
Post-ranch era, the site became Scenic Loop Playground during the 1930s – 1950s. The Madla’s improved the land with roads and even created a swimming area by building a dam called Twelve Foot, on Helotes Creek, about ¼ mile from the park. This campground took in 1000’s of guests over the years that wanted to vacation in the country, away from the city. The current park was established in 2009.
Fairweather Steve and I ran the trails at Madla Park on 11/24/2021, 1 day before the 15th anniversary of Frank L. Madla’s tragic death in a house fire.
The Park’s Trails Today
The trails at Madla are not long, and are great for a short hike with your family or a few laps on the off-road course. We did both. Fairweather Steve arrived and provided the family, then we proceeded for a family hike and then a short run.
For a nice walk, start in the parking lot and read about the park’s history and a little about Senator Madla in the entry pavilion. Then head back across the field (either right or left side, doesn’t matter), and then straight through to a small hill up to the historic Beckman Cabin (available for event rental!). There is a good overlook where you can see across a few valleys, and if you know where to look, you can even see the distant Zipline towers at the far edge of former Madla Ranch.
For a run, the trails are two loops with some adjoining trails. GPS track below shows the left side loop:
If you walk the outer look (above), you will need to head back out of the parking area toward the entrance first. Go about 20 yards, and the start of the trail will be on your right. Halfway through the loop, at the top of the hill by the cabin, go to the overlook and back, the whole loop will be just about a mile.
For a run, start out either way on flats and single track. We started out to the road, then back into the East Bend trail. Starts out on a nice single track trail, then a quick descent over a stream and up the other bank. Not a lot of elevation, but you definitely need to watch your step. Get to Warblers Way and keep left, and just keep on keeping left as you run.
This is a nice spot. You run under a canopy of trees, on decent trails, with just enough rocks, roots, and elevation to make it a bit of a challenge.
This might be a small park, but I honestly got turned around a few times. We went to the Amphitheater (maybe for something the size of squirrels) twice, and I am not sure how we got there. The Amphitheater is an in and back out to the main loop. We shouted into the amphitheater to see if there is an echo. There was not. I wonder if the park’s neighbors are used to that?
The good think is that if you get turned around, the place is not that big: just keep going. If you pass the same rock twice, turn the other way next time.
At the end of our run, we hung out at the picnic table in the Pavilion. This is a great place for conversation, and we talked about running, life, and the medical/ethical implications of Dog Man.
- A quiet place away from the city
- The trail is not normally crowded
- Porta-potties are by the entrance pavilion.
- Nice historic spot – great place to just go walk and contemplate
- Good for an easy but authentic trail run, doing laps.
Credit where Credit is Due:
Massey, C. (2010) Images of America – Helotes
Gutiérrez , J. (2003) Oral History Interview with Frank Madla. Tejano Voices | Interviews (uta.edu)
Cuilar, Perez, Ruiz, Caviness. (2019) Small town Boy to Texas Senator. Small Town Boy to Texas Senator
Cary, M. Grey Moss Inn History. (2020) History of the area