While visiting family in San Antonio, Texas, we decided to rent bikes and ride the trails to visit four different Missions along the San Antonio River. When missionaries came over to the Americas they attempted to convert the indigenous people to Catholicism. The Missions are the communities and churches built surrounding the missionaries efforts and there are five still standing today in San Antonio. The most notable would be the Alamo, famous for the Battle of the Alamo in the early fight for Texas’s independence from Mexico. We visited the Alamo the day before (read about it here) so we started our bike ride from Mission Concepcion. All the missions we visited on our bike ride are active churches today.
We parked our cars at Mission Concepcion then went to look around. A volunteer named David was super helpful explaining some of the historical aspects of the mission. Mission Concepcion is the most well preserved mission of those in San Antonio. While many other missions have been rebuilt how they were before, Mission Concepcion is the least altered with most of what you see today being original. Visitors can explore the courtyard, church and attached buildings learning the histories of what stood there.
When we were done exploring it was time to figure out how to rent bikes. At each of the missions is a rack of bicycles available for rent from a company called SWell Cycle. The cost for the day is $12 and you have to dock the bikes once every hour along the way. We were able to dock the bikes at each mission so we didn’t have to push them around with us inside. The first leg of our ride was the longest at 3.3 miles from Mission Concepcion to Mission San Jose.
Mission San Jose is probably the best mission to visit if you are only visiting one as it has an (air conditioned) interactive center with a 20 informative minute video on about the origin of the missions and the affect they had on the area. The church is surrounded by a wall of jacales, or small houses, where the Indians the missionaries were able to convert lived. We spent a least hour at San Jose watching the movie and walking around. Behind the church you’ll find the first mill ever built in Texas in about 1794.
After another hot 3 mile long ride we arrived at Mission San Juan. This mission was much smaller than the previous two and we were not able to see the inside of the church. We learned from David at Mission Concepcion that the churches at these missions used to be colorfully painted, a large contrast to the all white facade here at Mission San Juan.
After a quick break we made our way to the the last 1.9 miles to Mission Espada, the final stop on our trip. This mission was not as large as the others on our ride but the church, built in 1756, was quaint and there was a small store connected. Missionaries worked to make life in the missions resemble that of Spanish villages and Spanish culture.
If you are planning to make this bike ride through the missions there are a few things you should keep in mind.
- It’s hot! – We visited in April and it still got to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, so I’d hate to feel it in the dead of summer. If you’re there in the summer consider going early in the morning
- Bring water, drink often!- there are places to fill water bottles at each of the missions but by the end of the trip I was very dehydrated.
- Wear suncreen! – Don’t be like me and realize you didn’t put it on before the first leg and end up very burnt.
- No admission fees!- The only cost we had for the trip was the bike rentals, the missions are free to enter.
- Bring your own helmet! – Helmets aren’t provided so if you’re doing the biking make sure to bring your own.
Even though I ended up as a lobster after our bike ride, I’m very glad we did it. It was a great way to get active and see some history. Plus, the trail follows the San Antonio river walk so the scenery was beautiful.