For my first review I wanted to introduce you to the joys of Cedar Ridge Preserve, managed by the Audubon Society of Dallas. This preserve is south of Dallas, near Joe Poole Lake, and is a true gem of nature. I have read that it is a slice of the Hill Country in Dallas, but this statement does not do the park justice. As you turn in to the park you are greeted by the sign you see to the left, and wind your way through the woods to an unassuming gravel parking lot. As usual on a Saturday morning, the lot is near full and people are coming and going around the entrance to the trails. Many parks around the city have better parking and bathroom facilities, but keep going and you will find trails that are unrivaled in the DFW area.
An information kiosk with a large map of the trails stands in the center of the entrance, and copies of trail maps are also available for your convenience. I failed to notice these maps during my first visit, but fortunately the trails are very well marked along the way. There are signs at almost every trail intersection to help keep hikers on the right path, and a large sign by the bulletin board points the way to each trailhead. There are five main trails through the preserve, ranging from moderate to difficult; based on Dallas standards, of course. You will notice immediately that these are not your ordinary Dallas trails. Each trail is very well maintained and offers challenging climbs and descents. As I remarked to my wife, it is clear that someone truly loves these trails and cares about maintaining them for all of us to enjoy.
Of the main trails, the most challenging are Cedar Break and Fossil Valley. I have lived in Dallas for 25 years, and had no idea that we had elevations such as one will experience on these trails.
The aptly named Cedar Break trail is a 1.7 mile loop that breaks off from Cattail Pond trail and meanders though a lush canopy of Cedar trees. As you start the trail you will immediately begin your descent down the side of the hill, but do not be fooled, there are many ups and downs for the full 1.7 miles. As you can see in the picture, this trail is almost entirely shaded, which makes it tolerable even during the scorching heat of the summer sun. And of course, what goes down must come up. As you complete the loop, you will find a challenging climb back to the intersection with Cattail Pond.
The Fossil Valley trail is only about one mile long, but it definitely has the most difficult climbs and descents of all the trails at the preserve. This trail breaks off from the Cattail Pond trail, and leads you through an alternate path to the pond. There are very few flat surfaces to this trail, as you are either climbing or descending for most of the .9 miles. As with the Cedar Break trail, most of Fossil Valley is in the shade, and affords some minor relief from the heat of the sun. There are also benches dispersed along the trail, which are a needed respite after some of the more challenging climbs. Finally the trail settles down and levels out as you approach the pond and the intersection with the Escarpment trail.
On the Western edge of the pond is a small pier, and a view of the hill which you have just hiked. The only bad part about this view is that you still have to go back up to get back to the car. From here, there are two ways to ascend the hill; follow the Escarpment trail all the way back, or break off and follow the Cattail Pond trail. The Escarpment trail is essentially a gradual climb for an entire mile back to the parking lot. It is akin to a war of attrition, and will wear you down after three quarters of a mile. Or you can take a right at the Cattail Pond intersection and make a steep climb followed by much flatter surfaces for most of the remaining one mile trek. At the crest of the Cattail Pond climb you will find an observation tower that offers views of the lake. It’s rare to find such views in Dallas, unless you are in a downtown office building or the Reunion Tower.
Overall, Cedar Ridge is an amazing hiking adventure. The terrain is challenging, beautiful, and very peaceful. On a Saturday morning there can be quite a crowd, but everyone is friendly and ultimately adds to the experience. The Audubon Society and everyone involved does a tremendous job maintaining the trails. There is no charge to use this preserve, but they do ask visitors for a $3 donation; which is a small price to pay for such a luxury to have in our city. If you have never visited Cedar Ridge Preserve, I highly recommend you make plans to do so as soon as possible.