Government Canyon State Natural Area

History of Government Canyon State Natural Area (GCSNA)

The history of Government Canyon state natural area could go back hundreds of years to a time where Indigenous people were living here. According to the Texas Mission Indians site: “These people are known collectively as the Coahuiltecans (kwa-weel-tay-kans), derived from the name of the northern Mexican state of Coahuila.” The Payaya Indians, a Coahuiltecan-speaking group first reported about 1690, originally ranged an area that extended from that of San Antonio southwestward to the Frio River and beyond. If you would like to read more on this you can go here about the Payaya Indians, a Coahuiltecan-speaking group first reported about 1690, originally ranged an area that extended from that of San Antonio southwestward to the Frio River and beyond. You can also go the Texas Mission Indians site for a more expanded story on the Coahuiltecan people.

For the sake of brevity, we will talk about the more recent past, right before Government Canyon was known as Government Canyon SNA and rather as ranch land. From TPWD magazine: “Most of the land that today makes up Government Canyon state natural area was at one time owned by Jacob Hoffmann, who as a child came with his parents to Texas from Prussia in 1845. The Hoffman’s were among 2,000 European immigrants to settle on the empresario Henri de Castro’s visionary land grant, 25 miles west of San Antonio, in what is now the town of Castroville.” Nathan Kallison, another young immigrant later acquired a portion of the land for cattle ranching from the Hoffman’s after Jacob Hoffman passed away. This is why you will see the namesake in the nearby subdivision.

Much of the land would have most likely been swallowed up by urban development without the cooperation of 40 citizen groups that worked together to protect this fragile preserve of land and from a combination of gift and sale by the Kallison family. Thanks to the foresight of these partners in preservation, Government Canyon state natural area was created in 1993 and later opened to the public in 2005; the third-largest Texas Parks and Wildlife Department state natural area. For the larger story, you can click here and check out this video:

The following source material about Government Canyon State Natural Area can be found from their official website here

Things to Do

Government Canyon state natural area has more than 40 miles of hiking and biking trails that range from remote rugged canyon lands to gently rolling grasslands. Natural area visitors may enjoy a variety of outdoor activities including, picnicking, hiking, biking, trail running, geocaching, regularly scheduled guided hikes, and ranger programs. Some of the monthly hikes/programs include: Hike the Canyon, Explore the Canyon, and Family Fun. For those looking for a place to go bird watching, Government Canyon is a good place to find the elusive and endangered golden-cheeked warbler. Take a virtual tour with our Interactive Trails Map.


Plants and animals

Trees such as mountain laurel, Ashe juniper, mesquite and live oak abound, as well as Mexican buckeye, Lindheimer’s silk-tassel and escarpment black cherry. Steep slopes provide scenic overlooks of the surrounding Bexar County and glimpses of San Antonio. Rare birds such as the golden-cheeked warbler can be found.

Download the Birds of Government Canyon State Natural Area (PDF).


The natural area lies on the Balcones Escarpment, an area of deeply entrenched canyons that defines the eastern boundary of the Edwards Plateau. Approximately 88 percent of the natural area overlays the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. The remaining acreage overlies the transition zone for water recharge.

The natural area is home to the only known dinosaur footprints on public land in Bexar County. The 110-million-year-old tracks are believed to have been left by Acrocanthosaurus and Sauroposeidon dinosaurs. Read about the collaboration between Texas Parks & Wildlife and the Witte Museum to showcase these tracks in our news release, Unique Collaboration Reveals Dinosaurs Once Roamed San Antonio. You can also watch this video from Inspired Race events:


***Government Canyon state natural area is a highly sensitive ecosystem that needs your help to remain pristine. To reduce the human impact on the natural area please follow the Leave No Trace principles of outdoor ethics. Government Canyon State Natural Area is an official Leave No Trace partner.

Endangered Species of the Edwards Aquifer

from the Edwards Aquifer website by Gregg Eckhardt

Aquatic species

Over 40 species of highly adapted, aquatic, subterranean species are known to live in the Edwards Aquifer. These include amphipod crustaceans, gastropod snails, and interesting vertebrates like blind catfish (Longley, 1986). Seven aquatic species are listed as endangered in the Edwards Aquifer system, and one is listed as threatened. The main problems for all the species are reduced spring flows caused by increased pumping, elimination of habitat, and degradation of water quality caused by urban expansion.

The World Wildlife Fund has produced a must-have, authoritative reference work for anyone interested in endangered species. It describes 540 endangered or threatened species, including their habitat, behavior, and recovery. Excerpts from their Guide to Endangered Species and other sources were used to prepare this section. Information on the aquatic invertebrates was prepared using the US Fish and Wildlife’s published final rule on listing the species.

The seven endangered species of the Edwards Aquifer system are:

  • Fountain Darter (Etheostoma fonticola)
  • Texas Blind Salamander (Typhlomolge rathbuni)
  • San Marcos Gambusia (Gambusia georgei)
  • Texas Wild Rice (Zizania texana)
  • Comal Springs Riffle Beetle (Heterelmis comalensis)
  • Comal Springs Dryopid Beetle (Stygoparnus comalensis)
  • Peck’s Cave Amphipod (Stygobromus pecki)

The threatened species is:

  • San Marcos Salamander (Eurycea nana)

Karst-dwelling species

In addition to the aquatic species that depend on Aquifer water itself, nine cave-dwelling invertebrates that live in the Aquifer’s karst formations were listed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service as endangered in December 2000. There are three beetles, one daddy long-legs, and five spiders. In May of 2008 the Service released a Draft Recovery Plan (download it). For a general discussion on all these creatures see the section below on the cave-dwelling invertebrates.

  • Rhadine exilis (no common name)
  • Rhadine infernalis (no common name)
  • Helotes mold beetle (Batrisodes venyivi)
  • Cokendolpher cave harvestman (Texella cokendolpheri)
  • Robber Baron Cave spider (Cicurina baronia)
  • Braken Bat Cave meshweaver (Cicurina venii)
  • Madla Cave meshweaver (Cicurina madla)
  • Government Canyon Bat Cave meshweaver (Cicurina vespera)
  • Government Canyon Bat Cave spider (neoleptoneta microps)

More on the endangered species of the Edwards Aquifer