San Antonio Missions National Historical Park: The Complete Guide

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San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Address
6701 San Jose Dr, San Antonio, TX 78214-2715, USA
Phone +1 210-534-8875

The first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Texas, the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park includes the city’s five Spanish colonial-era missions: San Jose, San Juan, Espada, Concepcion, and San Antonio de Valero (okay, the Alamo). The missions are easily accessible, and the Hike & Bike Trail makes exploring them easier and more enjoyable than ever. Read on to find out more about each mission, the trail, where to stay in San Antonio, and other need-to-know info before your trip. 

About the Park

In the early 1800s, the city of San Antonio grew around the five Spanish mission sites strung along the San Antonio River. These mission sites were set up like a mini-city, with cattle and farming operations and ornately structured churches. Today, the churches still hold regular services in these historic buildings, and they’re all open to park visitors during park hours. 

Admission to the San Antonio Missions is free. The Contact Stations at Mission San Juan and Mission Espada are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the Visitor Center at Mission San Jose is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Hike & Bike Trail

The best way to explore the San Antonio Missions is by bicycle—the 15-mile "hike & bike" trail runs along the San Antonio River and connects all the missions. Each mission is about 2.5 miles from the next. The paved pedestrian trail (which is completely separate from traffic) is relatively flat and winds through old neighborhoods, past meadows of wildflowers, under roadways, and through various habitat corridors that support native plants, migratory birds, and other wildlife.

Download a map of the Riverwalk before you go (you’ll find water, restrooms, trail access, picnic tables, viewpoints, and more on this map). The city’s Mission Trail map can be found here, or you can get one at the Visitor Center (it’s right across the plaza from the Alamo).  

You have a couple of options for renting bicycles. The best option is to rent a bike from the Blue Star Bike Shop. They have a wide selection of Electra bicycles, fixed gears, road bikes, and more available for an all-day rental. Technically, you could rent a BCycle bike, which has several BStation kiosks all along the trail—but you would have to remember to check your bike back into a BStation every thirty minutes to avoid additional fees. 

Whether you decide to hike or bike (or drive), be sure to reserve enough time for a couple of pit-stops, aside from visiting the missions themselves: Start the day off by checking out Headwaters at Incarnate Word, a 55-acre sanctuary preserving the cultural and historical values of the headwaters of the San Antonio River. And, when you’re done with the trail, drop your bikes off next door and grab a brew and burger at Blue Star Brewing

Mission San Jose

Also known as the “Queen of the Missions,” Mission San Jose is the most impressive (and biggest) complex of the bunch. Nearly restored to its original design in the 1930s by the WPA, it’s known for its Rose Window and incredibly detailed façade.   

Mission Concepcion

Known as the oldest unrestored stone church in America, Mission Concepcion appears very much as it did over two centuries ago. Some of the original frescoes are even still inside.  

Mission San Juan Capistrano

Once a flourishing trade center for Native American-produced crops, San Juan was a true self-sustaining community. Within the compound, local Indian artisans crafted cloth and iron tools and grew an array of pumpkins, grapes, peppers, beans, squash, and more.  

Mission Espada

This was the first mission founded in Texas, in 1690. It may be the smallest of the missions, but Mission Espada is just as beautiful as its larger sisters. And, its historic aqueduct (the Espada Aqueduct and Acequia System) is still in use today. 

Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo)

“Remember the Mission San Antonio de Valero” just didn’t have the same ring to it, apparently. One of the most visited sites in Texas, the Alamo houses exhibits on the Texas Revolution and Texas history, and visitors are invited to experience guided tours, interactive history lessons, and a stroll through the beautiful, well-kept gardens.

Where to Stay

San Antonio is replete with great lodging options, from upscale hotels to quaint B&B’s. Here are (just a few) of the best places to stay in the city:

  • Hotel Emma. A destination in its own right, the immaculately designed Hotel Emma is located in the Pearl District’s restored brewhouse. 
  • Mokara Hotel & Spa. This is easily one of the swankiest hotels in the city, just steps away from all the main action on the bustling Riverwalk.
  • Hotel Contessa. Palm trees, a prime spot on the Riverwalk, and a heated rooftop pool: Need we say more?   
  • Hotel Havana. Designed by the uber-hip Bunkhouse Group, Hotel Havana boasts cozy Cuban flair and a tranquil Riverwalk setting away from the crowds.   
  • The Oge House - Inn on the Riverwalk. This B&B is an exquisitely restored antebellum mansion in the heart of the King William Historic District. 

How to Get There

The central location of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park makes visiting easy, no matter where you’re coming from. The mission trail is about 20 minutes from San Antonio International Airport (SAT). By car, the park is five hours south of Dallas, three hours east of Houston, and 1.5 hours southwest of Austin.  

Accessibility

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is committed to making everyone’s visit as enjoyable and accessible as possible. Each of the major sites in the park is partially wheelchair-accessible, and a wheelchair is available for loan at each site. Restrooms are wheelchair-accessible. There are also ranger-led tours at Mission San Jose on the paved paths of the mission. The San Juan Farm area of Mission San Juan Capistrano is composed of packed dirt paths, and at Espada Dam, the dam is visible from the parking lot.

Those in need of ASL interpretation should plan to email the park staff ahead of time to notify them of your visit. Blind or sight-impaired visitors are encouraged to ask the Visitor Center staff for a copy of the park brochure in braille or large print. The Visitor Center museum also has a relief map of the San Antonio River Valley and tactile exhibits of each mission church façade and compound. Audio recorded information is available through your cell phone, anywhere and anytime, by dialing 210-852-2407 for English or 210-857-2408 for Spanish. 

Note that VIA, the San Antonio Transit Authority, provides accessible transportation throughout the city (busses are wheelchair-accessible). Regularly scheduled service between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. will take you to Missions San Jose, San Juan, and Concepcion. Bus #40 and #42 can also bring you within one block of Mission Concepcion and Mission San Jose. 

If you have questions or suggestions about accessible facilities, the National Park Service recommends contacting the park’s Accessibility Coordinator via email

Tips for Visiting

  • Free parking is available at each of the mission sites.
  • Print out the Mission Trail map before you go, or simply get one from the Visitor Center. 
  • Texas summers are very, very hot. If you’re planning to bike the trail, you’re better off doing so in early springtime, late fall, or winter. Bring plenty of water and wear strong SPF, no matter the season.
  • Look over the Things To Know Before You Come page on the National Parks site.
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San Antonio Missions National Historical Park: The Complete Guide