This post is the next in our series, Hidden Gems, where we visit places hidden in plain view, in and around Dallas, that we have explored this summer and in the past. You can access that series of posts here.
In the southwest corner of Dallas County, across from Cedar Hill State Park, lie 600 acres of land. Home to Cedar Ridge Preserve, this hidden gem is filled with towering trees, flowering meadows, leaves starting to turn color, trails that climb up and slide down, those that meander left, right, and center. As its website states, a nature preserve’s “primary focus is to maintain and/or restore natural ecological conditions to protect native plants and wildlife.” As may be self-evident, preserves provide hiking and educational opportunities but not as many recreational activities or amenities as parks. Audubon Dallas, which manages Cedar Ridge, runs on the backs of volunteers, their time and commitment. From what I learned of its history, this area started as a cattle ranch in the 1960s to 1970s that became an environmental center, then was the Dallas Nature Center from the 1980s to when Audubon Dallas took over in 2002.
I first came across Cedar Ridge Preserve earlier this summer while exploring Dallas hiking trails. A couple of weeks ago, Mr. JJ came across this preserve in another “best hikes” list in Dallas. So, last weekend, we set on our weekly hike only to find that our original hiking location was closed on Sundays until one pm. Cedar Ridge Preserve immediately came to mind and we drove 45 mins from our home to this preserve. There was a long line of cars waiting to enter the preserve, and the line didn’t seem to be moving quickly. Unsure how many parking spots were available inside and how long it would take to get inside, we drove around until we found a safe side street to park in and walked back to the entrance.
A staffer wearing a mask was allowing cars in and out of the preserve. He called out loudly for us to wear our masks (which we already had on) and asked us to stick to the left side of the road as we entered. We might have walked about 3/10th of a mile to reach the Education Center area where the restrooms are located, and many trailheads start. Our friends, the SS family, had joined us on the hike. After studying the preserve’s trail map, we decided to complete the southern section trails and keep the rest for another day.
The weather was just perfect for a hike. The air was cool, and the sun was just enough to keep us warm. We set out on the Cattail Pond trail first. There are thirteen different trails, covering nine miles unpaved hiking in this preserve. Biking is not allowed, which makes sense given the multiple exposed roots, the undulating topography of the land, and the significant gradients in some areas. Pets are allowed but have to be on a leash. There are plenty of color-coded signposts identifying individual trails and marking distances along each one.
The Cattail Pond trail is one mile long and was a joy to hike. We set off in the shade of tall trees and made our way to the observation tower, just past the halfway mark. From here, we had excellent views of the canopy on the other side of the preserve, with the foliage just starting to turn color. We could see Joe Pool Lake in the distance, surrounded by Cedar Hill State Park and the preserve’s valley, in the foreground. Just past the observation tower, the trail started to wind its way down quite rapidly. Over the next 3/10th of a mile, we dropped about 150 feet in elevation. It made the hike very interesting. The steps of the trails are formed by small wooden beams that form the stairs. We had to pay attention to the steps and to the exposed tree roots for the entirety of the trip.
The beautiful meadow we passed in the preserve’s valley along this trail was a pleasure to behold! Wildflowers of yellow, magenta, white, and ochre added joy to the tapestry! Cacti peeked their heads along the way, adding to the splendor of the area. The cattail pond was another treasure to cherish! The water was rippling lightly in the warm breeze, and the cattails were swaying gently. The waters of the pond reflected the hillock beyond perfectly. Even as we were soaking up the moment, a line was forming behind us to enjoy the view, so we hurried on. This area reminded me so much of our Banff trip, even though the two regions couldn’t be more different in every way, except natural beauty!
Next, we followed the Fossil Valley Trail, which was 0.9 miles long. It was only natural that we had to climb up from the valley, almost 120 feet elevation, very quickly. The trails were busy that morning, and we frequently passed others, headed in the opposite direction. Which meant we had to keep our masks on for most of the trip. That made climbing these gradients a bit of a challenge. But very satisfying! We took the Trout Lily trail, just past the scenic overlook, which is a quarter of a mile detour. The paths kept us alert, as they shifted and smoothed, slightly widened and narrowed, all the while making us climb more steps, up one way and down another. Children and parents, couples of all ages, runners and dog walkers, people speaking different languages, of varied skin tones, and ethnicities were hiking that day. The sun, the breeze, the trees, flowers, and plants didn’t care! They let all of us walk past them, without fear or favor, allowing each one of us to explore the surroundings, as profoundly or as little as we wished to.
Once back on the Fossil Valley Trail, we made our way back to the Cattail Pond Trail. We stopped for photos here and there. Once we hit the Cedar Brake Trail, the longest in the southern section at 1.9 miles, we took a break to drink fluids. The rest of the Cedar Brake Trail went rather quickly. By then, we had gotten used to the rhythm of the trail and enjoyed it immensely. This one had a couple of inclines and drops but much less dramatic than the others, topping at about a hundred feet. Since this was the first time we walked this trail, I felt we paid a lot of attention to the actual path, and not as much to the surroundings. Perhaps on our future visits, we can spend more time enjoying the vast diversity that forms the backbone of this preserve. For birdwatchers, this would be an excellent place to spend a day!
By the time we finished the trails and walked back to our car, we might have walked about 4.5 miles, but the gradient and the difficulty of the trails we went on made for a more challenging course than usual. These trails have offered the most challenging and stunning hiking so far this summer. Cedar Ridge Preserve consistently ranks at the top for Dallas hiking spots, and I couldn’t agree more.
Cedar Ridge Preserve is located at 7171 Mountain Creek Parkway, Dallas, TX 75249. The preserve is open Tuesdays through Sundays, 6:30 a.m. to dusk. Closed on Mondays. Phone: 972-709-7784. Check their Facebook page for closures during rainy weather or other situations. Parking is limited, so consider car-pooling. There is no entrance fee but donations are accepted on-site as well as online.
COVID-19 guidelines from their website:
• Do not come if you are feeling ill.
• Wear a MASK and maintain recommended social distancing while at the Preserve.
• Be prepared for limited access to the public restrooms.
• Bring your own water bottle and refill at water station.
• Due to crowds, you may be asked to come back another time.
• We reserve the right to close the Preserve if we feel it is not safe.