Thursday, March 17, 2011

McCommas Bluff Preserve and Trails

McCommas Bluff Preserve on Trinity River Dallas, Texas

The McCommas Bluff Preserve, in South Central Dallas County, is in a historical area, where Native American tribes, outlaws and folk heros once camped, and where boats attempting to bring commerce to Dallas from the Gulf of Mexico were hampered by curves in the Trinity River and low-water shoals. From the south part of the preserve, a dam and locks are visible, a testimony to long-abandoned attempts to navigate the Trinity. Shattered dreams of Trinity City are here too, the only ghost town site in Dallas. Belle Star, Cole Younger, the James Brothers called this their home after the Civil War. Much of it looks the same today as it did then.

McCommas Bluff Lock and Dam #1 circa 1910

South of Loop 12, the Trinity River crosses a boundary between two worlds, leaving behind the barren chute of the Dallas floodway to slide beneath a leafy canopy of trees, sloughs and dramatic limestone cliffs. It's McCommas Preserve that holds the distinction of being the only true wilderness one can find within Dallas. Abandoned, forgotten and ignored for decades it is literally the land that time and humans forgot.


Riverwood Road

Note on parking: This area is a notorious dumping area for stolen vehicles. I would not suggest parking at the actual bluffs unless you intend to stay close to your vehicle. You would be better off parking further up Riverwood in front of a home there and then hiking the rest of the way in.

Trail map:

McCommas Preserve Map, park at Riverwood Rd Trailhead or Trinity Audubon Center

The trails at McCommas Bluff are primitive. The trails are easy to follow in the winter and early spring. They can become difficult to follow in the summer as they are not marked with signs, tape or blazes. A primitive trail exists from Riverfront Road west following the river to a back gate of the Trinity Audubon Center. Above this trail you can see a large dirt bluff that sits about 25 feet above the river. The flat area above on the high ground was the platted site of Trinity City. Little remains. Beyond Fairport Road is Woodland Springs. This was once a popular summer camp for kids in the 1930s-50s. The spring still flows.

Trinity River rapids at McCommas Bluff

McCommas Bluff as viewed from the middle of the Trinity River

Spring wildflowers on the bluffs overlooking the Trinity River

Whitetail Deer at Trinity City ghost town May 2010

McCommas Bluff is a great place to see deer in the late spring May-June. There is an abundance of Mustang Grapes on the high ground on the Trinity City site and the deer forage for them. Quite a few feral hogs too.

Trinity City was promoted by the Peters Colony but was never substantially developed. It was envisioned as the northernmost of twenty-nine port towns that were to be laid out every twenty miles on the banks of the Trinity River, in the hope that the river could be made navigable from the Gulf of Mexico to the most northern port town. Though indicated on the Peters colony map of 1852 as a sizable town, it was probably never more than a small frontier community.

The old lock and dam # 1 built in the late 19th century and later improved upon over the next 20 years still exists as a concrete structure just downstream of the McCommas Bluffs. Above the bluffs sits a century old lock keeper's house that was built as a residence for the man in charge of the McCommas Lock system. The home is still there and is occupied today. The home is on private property and no trespassing signs are up.

Lock keeper's residence at McCommas Bluff
The building materials for the home were floated by barge on the Trinity River to the site.

Lock Keeper's home in 2010
Methodist Chapel at Trinity City


  1. Visited this area Saturday and the trails are already getting hard to see after the last rain. If you want to go peak at the wildflowers, better hurry. They are just about full bloom now.

  2. I've heard that the City of Dallas bulldozed a large chunk of McCommas Bluff for a utility line. Any pix of what McCommas Bluff looks like right now?

  3. The city contractor bulldozed two large sections of the bluff, which is still under construction almost a year later. The bulldozing occured near the preserve entrance and can be easily seen from the gate. I was told they are supposed to be finished in December.

  4. What is the point of having a preserve and having this web site giving information about the bluffs only for the city to have a contractor bulldoze the bluff. This has to be a joke right?

  5. @ Anonymous,

    Many people share your views with the ongoing construction. Hard to justify any of it, really. The construction was supposed to have been completed half a year ago. For whatever reason it continues to drag on.

    1. Politicians always — for self profit and self glory!

  6. I would love to have more information about the city construction. I believe my ancestor donated the land for the preserve. I want to know if the city is living up to their side of the bargain.

    1. What did you find with your research? We all would like to know!

  7. What is being constructed