Paradise in Purgatory: Purgatory Creek Natural Area

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Tony Maples Photography


All photos by Brandee’ Brantly

Purgatory Creek Natural Area is a distinctive natural area in San Marcos, Texas and is a must-visit destination for hikers of all skill levels. Upper Purgatory has the most challenging trails. It has the most extensive trail path including the 4.6-mile long Dante’s Trail which runs north and south connecting Upper and Lower Purgatory.

Dante's Trail

Dante’s Trail

In Upper Purgatory, leading from Dante’s Trail, Malcoda Trail branches off. It leads you to the grotto, the unique limestone rock formation that is shaped by Purgatory Creek. Dante’s Trail in Upper Purgatory is marked by large crushed limestone, expansive tree roots, and sparse dirt paths. This trail is perfect for moderate to difficult hiking and mountain biking. Be prepared in advance: remain hydrated as there are no water stations. Also note, there are no restrooms the lengths of the trails (only near trailheads).



Lower Purgatory is a less challenging hike which has a crushed stone and is only around one mile in length. This portion is an accessible trail. Prospect Park is found in town and around nine acres of land. The park includes three miles of crushed rock trail and one accessible mile of trail. This sits on a more porous portion of the Edwards aquifer, so wetlands and a wide variety of trees and plant life are present. In the lower meadow, there are benches, group seating, and a large compass can be found.

Purgatory Creek

Purgatory Creek

Trail information and maps can be found here. Whatever skill level, one can appreciate what Purgatory Creek Natural Area has to offer. Other notable nearby natural areas are Blanco Shoals, Ringtail Ridge, Schulle Canyon, and Spring Lake.