About this Itinerary
The nearly 9-mile long Historic Battlefield Trail in Brownsville is the ideal way to experience the cultural, historical, and natural beauty of southeast Texas. The trail travels from the heart of the downtown, within close proximity to many of the city’s cultural highlights, and heads north through residential areas and in to the prairie before ending at the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site. The ride is flat, the trail is paved, and water fountains and benches are scattered along the route. The only thing not provided is shade for those intense south Texas summers.
Begin your adventure at one of the most spectacular natural settings in the area. This region of the state is a haven for birders due to its coastal location and path along the migratory route. Our recommended lodging, The Inn at Chachalaca Bend, is the ideal place to see a wide variety of bird species. Located in Los Fresnos, about 6 miles away from the northern terminus of the trail, this inn truly takes you away from it all. Situated on lovely grounds along a curve of La Resaca de las Antonias, the buildings are set amidst lush palms and wild olive trees and surrounded by wildlife. The property attracts birders from all over given its prime location along the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, and its close proximity to downtown Brownsville and South Padre Island. The Inn offers five luxurious guest rooms with private baths and gourmet breakfast daily. A separate luxury cottage with private accommodations for two is also available and has hosted such VIP guests as President and Mrs. Carter, who stayed here on a birding tour of the region. The 27-acre property features more than 14 acres of hiking trails with birding stations and a pond where visitors might spot species such as green jay, buff-bellied hummingbird, ringed kingfisher, roseate spoonbill, and chachalaca. For birders and non-birders alike this is truly a spectacular destination and the perfect base from which to explore the Historic Battlefield Trail, the city of Brownsville, and the surrounding region.
Bicycle rentals are available at J T Cycling Inc. This shop is located along the trail, at the intersection with E. Alton Gloor Boulevard, about 2.5 miles from the northern terminus. Call head to make a reservation. Note that if you are renting a bike here, there is no trailhead parking available; however, when school is not in session trail users can park in the Burns Elementary School parking lot, which is located across E. Alton Gloor Boulevard and west about one block.
While the trail is a relatively short distance, our itinerary includes visits to sites in downtown Brownsville, as well as time exploring the Palo Alto Battlefield. We therefore suggest planning for a full day’s excursion with a morning start to best take advantage of everything accessible from the trail.
After a hearty breakfast at the Inn, drive to the northern trailhead. The trailhead is not far away, however, a portion of the route is on a relatively busy four-lane road, which we do not recommend biking along. From the Inn, take a right on Old Port Road and a left on Paredes Line Road. After traveling about 3.5 miles, take U-turn on TX-550 Frontage Road and look for the park visitor center and parking lot on your right (you will see it as you pass by heading south). There is ample parking and the trail begins right off the parking lot. As noted, the Historic Battlefields Trail is a well maintained route with smooth asphalt, covered benches, and water fountains located along the way. Despite this, we still recommend setting out with full water bottles, as the heat in this area can really sneak up on you.
The trail is popular with locals, so expect to see heavy usage during peak times. In addition to connecting the Palo Alto Battlefield to downtown Brownsville, and providing a commuter path for residential neighborhoods along the way, the northern end of the trail also offers an opportunity to experience the unique natural landscape of the region. Enjoy a tranquil ride through open prairie when you first set out, and keep your eyes open for great kiskadees, Altamira orioles, and other wildlife.
This corridor was once the route of the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railroad, which opened in 1904. The original rail line ran between Brownsville to near Corpus Christi, and was the first land connection between these two cities (previously there were only accessible via water). Find relics from the trail’s railroad past in the form of trestles, which the trail crosses over, and see an active rail line at the north end. Near the trail’s southern point also visit a restored former railroad depot, now housing the city’s history museum.
Most of the Historic Battlefield Trail travels through the back of several residential neighborhoods, but it is a pleasant ride along a green corridor. There are several road crossings along the way, some across busy streets. Be cautious crossing and obey all traffic signals. The trail ends at the Southern Pacific Linear Park in downtown Brownsville, within easy reach of several noteworthy sites in the city. As the trail enters the park it crosses over Ringgold Street, where you will pass in front of the Brownsville Museum of Fine Arts. Stop to explore this museum which offers a changing exhibition of regional art of South Texas and Mexico, as well as a permanent collection that includes over 350 paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, and photographs of regional, national, and international significance including works by Chagall, Wyeth, and Calder.
After spending time perusing the museum’s collection, follow Ringgold four blocks south to E. 12th Street and grab some lunch at Famous Original Louie’s NY Pizzeria. Or continue down E. 12th Street for two blocks and turn to right on E. Tyler. Across from the courthouse find the popular Keko’s Bistro. This small bistro serves innovative soups, salads, and sandwiches, but has a fickle schedule, so call ahead to check if they are open before heading over.
After a filling lunch, continue along E. Tyler back towards Southern Pacific Linear Park, take a left on E. 7th Street, and follow this for five blocks until you reach E. Madison. Here you will find the Historic Brownsville Museum. Located in a former Southern Pacific Railroad Depot built in 1928, this museum features exhibits highlighting Brownsville’s past. Stop by to see the exhibits as well as the building itself, which is an example of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and is recognized as a Texas Historic Marker, as well as being on the National Register of Historic Places. If you have not yet had lunch, in this area you’ll find Anita’s Gourmet Tortilleria y Comida, featuring authentic Mexican cuisine with such lunch specials as flautas de pollo, chiles rellenos de queso o carne, and asado de puerto arroz y frijoles. Anita’s is located one block down E. 6th Street on the corner of E. Jefferson.
Return back to the Southern Pacific Linear Park and rejoin the trail from its southernmost point. At the Museum of Fine Arts, take a left on Ringgold to visit the Gladys Porter Zoo. Home to 377 species of animals and 225 species of plants, the park is divided into four zoogeographic areas including Asia, Africa, Tropical American, and Indo-Australia. After spending time exploring some of Brownsville’s cultural attractions, retrace your route and head back north.
Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park, the trail’s northern terminus, is the site of the battle that began the two-year Mexican-American War. This was the first conflict that took place on foreign soil, and the result was a significant change to the maps of U.S. and Mexico. Tour the visitor center to get background on the battle that took place here and see various exhibits, artifacts, and military uniforms for the Mexican-American War era. Watch a video, ‘War on the Rio Grande,’and take a short walk to an overlook of the battlefield, which features interpretative panels and a replica canon. Depending on the time of your visit, you may also be able to catch a living history program, which includes reenactments from the war.
Return to the Inn at Chachalaca Bend and relax in the peaceful surroundings or wander along the nature trails in search of wildlife. Tonight, enjoy dinner at Dirty Al’s Seafood Market & Cajun Kitchen. A local favorite, this restaurant features fresh local seafood and serves such popular dishes as seafood botana, Cajun mixup, crawfish etoufee, and New Orleans-style shrimp. Enjoy the casual atmosphere, good food, and delectable desserts. If barbecue is more to your taste, try Buddy’s BBQ & Grill. Featuring seasoned, slow-smoked chicken, turkey, pulled pork, pork ribs, and house-made sausage, as well as tasty homemade sides such as baked beans and potato salad, this classic barbecue restaurant is a must-stop.
While you are in the area, consider visiting Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Located north of Los Fresnos, at 98,000 acres, this is the largest protected area of natural habitat in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. The unique mix of temperate, subtropical, coastal, and Chihuahuan desert habitats supports an incredibly diverse range of plant and animal species. Visitors may have an opportunity to spot unique species such as ocelot, aplomado falcon, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, and redhead duck. Participate in an interpretative program, meander the walking trails, or ride your bike through a beautiful ecosystem that encompasses freshwater wetlands, coastal prairies, mudflats, and beaches.
Also consider exploring nearby South Padre Island. South Padre Island is only a half-mile long but features some of the best beaches in the country, and is situated on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico. U.B. Captain Kayaks provides the ideal way to experience the natural beauty of this barrier island. Rent a single or tandem kayak, a pedaling kayak (which just as it sounds, you pedal like a bike), or a fishing kayak complete with rod holders and anchors. The outfitter will recommend places to go based on your interest, drop you off there, and pick you up when you are done. If you prefer to be in the water, experience the pristine waters of the island on a dive or snorkel trip with American Diving. Divers also have the option of diving around a reefed ship. For those who prefer to stay out of the water, this outfitter also offers whale-watching tours. Also available are horseback riding excursions. The Stable offers lessons and rides on the beach and near the bay, seven days a week. Call ahead to reserve a place.