San Antonio Missions National Historical Park was established in 1978 to protect four remaining Spanish missions in the San Antonio area. Along with the most famous mission, the Alamo, these sites preserve some of the earliest architecture in this area and the efforts of Spain and the Catholic Church to colonize the Native Americans in this region.
Visitor Rating (write your own review below)
Well preserved and worth seeing!
ILNP Park Review
Our Weather Mostly clear and mid 40s.
Our Visit I visited San Antonio Missions NHP while on a business trip to San Antonio in December.
Overall Impression San Antonio Missions NHP is a small park full of rich history that can easily be visited in a day. The most famous mission in San Antonio is the Alamo (the Mission San Antonio de Valero) which belongs to the state of Texas, but the best preserved in their historic state are the four within the NHP. The Alamo experience is more focused on the battle during Texas’ war of independence from Mexico in 1836, but the NHP gives visitors a much better feel for the Spanish mission architecture and life within a mission in the 18th and 19th centuries.Each mission site is unique and has a different feel, and each is worth visiting.
Visiting The park is actually a series of geographically separated units connected by roads collectively known as the “Mission Trail,” and following the trail will allow you to visit each of the mission churches (all four are still active), tour ruins of dwellings and walls, and spend time in the park’s visitors center at Mission San Jose. I visited all four mission sites in about three hours, so it would be easy to combine the NHP with a trip to the Alamo, just a few miles north. From north to south, the NHP missions are Conception, San Jose, San Juan and Espada. I recommend visiting them from north to south with an extended stop at San Jose, the largest and best restored of the missions and site of the park’s visitors center.
Mission Concepcion was established in 1731, and the church still contains some of the original artwork from the mid-1700s. Unlike the other three missions, the walls have mostly been lost here, so the centerpiece at this site is clearly the church building. It’s an imposing structure, and the interior is beautiful. The parking lot is a very short walk from the church, and if the front door is closed, look for a door on the side around the broken wall. Plan on spending 15-20 minutes at this site.
Mission San Jose
Mission San Jose is the crown jewel of this park. Founded in 1720, it’s the largest of the missions in the area, and it’s the only one whose walls, gates and rooms have been restored. It’s also the site the park’s visitor center and gift shop. You can walk all throughout Mission San Jose’s large courtyard including the imposing church with its large and picturesque arches. Don’t miss the impressive model in the northwest corner which shows the mission as it looked during a typical day in the colonial era. If you’re only going to stop at one site, make it San Jose. Plan on spending 45-90 minutes to tour the site.
Mission San Juan
Mission San Juan is situated in a more open rural area. Founded in 1731, t’s much smaller than San Jose, and its walls are in ruins but clearly visible. The church here is white adobe instead of stone and is more of a chapel with a low wooden interior roof instead of the ornate curved ceilings of Mission Conception and San Jose. In addition to the mission, trails lead off into fields and past “acequias,” the irrigation ditches that were key to the farming lifeblood of the missions. Plan on spending 20-30 minutes here.
Mission Espada was also founded in 1731 from a mission that moved from east Texas. Like San Juan, it’s more remote. Also like San Juan, its walls and rooms are in ruins while the church remains in excellent shape. Inside, the church is simple but beautiful with wooden beams for a roof. Plan on spending 15-20 minutes here.
Suggestions These sites are all active Catholic churches, so be respectful and quiet, especially during services and events. Having said that, don’t be afraid to open the front door as long as there’s no sign telling you it’s closed. When I was there, all of the front doors were closed making the churches look closed to visitors, but they weren’t. Check the park hours before you go, as gates and doors may close early. Even if you drive the Mission Trail after hours, you’ll still be able to get a good look at the outside of all the missions as all are clearly visible from public roads.
Driving the Mission Trail was a little more confusing than I would have thought, and at times, I trusted my map more than I trusted the signs, and I didn’t go astray. I found the map in the park brochure to be sufficient to find everything.
If you’re into National Park passport stamps, San Antonio Missions NHP has a little extra for you. In the visitors center, there were tiny stamps for each mission (as you can see above) in addition the normal site stamps.
Nearby Towns San Antonio (TX)
Other Nearby Attractions The Alamo
Official NPS Website San Antonio Missions NHP
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