Our family loves going on hikes, camping together, and fun adventures. Every so often we revisit some of the more local spots for a few hours (or a couple days) of excitement and family time. In fact, this last Saturday we did just that revisiting the Pilot Knoll trail near the Old Alton Bridge (Goatman’s Bridge) in far north Copper Canyon with our eldest son’s cub scout troop. Legend has it that this bridge is haunted by The Goatman, so you know I had to tell the cub scouts and their siblings the scary tale–in keeping with my favorite holiday, Halloween.
Of course, this bridge is also the subject of less haunting historical accounts. It was first constructed in 1884 and served foot and cattle traffic of the now nonexistent town of Alton. Alton was once the seat of Denton County, but was deemed unfavorable due to frequent local flooding. It is also the spot of a shoot out between Texas Rangers and the infamous outlaw, Sam Bass. Legend has it that Sam Bass buried stolen money here and never recovered it.
Some of the things that I love so much about hikes have a lot to do with the mystery and unknown. I find hikes and other outdoor activities highly unpredictable, which is why you probably won’t find me at a big city museum unless someone else is buying and driving. Quite contrary when you consider that I am an artist myself. For me, the great outdoors is magical and awe-inspiring, yet also unpredictably ever-changing. I may hike one trail and come back a few days later and find the scenery changed, the sounds completely different, and the weather 180-degree turn around.
With proper preparation and a little know-how, hiking can be a fun adventure for the entire family. The Pilot Knoll trail is a great starter trail, because the portion we hike is short and easy for children or beginners. We ensure we bring a backpack filled with drinks and granola bars. It is always a good idea to bring a cell phone with you just in case (and in this case it works, because we’re still close to cell towers).
To get to the Pilot Knoll trail, you will need to follow these easy directions from Flower Mound: Take FM 407 (Justin Road) west to Chinn Chapel Road; turn right (north). Travel a few miles down the road where the road will make a split at the railroad tracks. You will need to merge to the right and go over the railroad tracks (you will be now on Old Alton Road). The road will go into a low area and you’ll travel for a short ways until you see a concrete bridge ahead. Next to this bridge you’ll also see the Old Alton Bridge, a red colored steel truss bridge. Go over the concrete bridge and immediately turn right into the gravel parking lot and park. MAP
There are a few fun things that you can do at the Old Alton Bridge:
- Fish in the Hickory Creek below the bridge or downstream. There are several fishing spots. You will need a fishing license and follow regulations. I once saw an alligator gar in there.
- Hike the first trail (Elm Fork Trail) that goes past the benches and is straight ahead. This is a short hike, and in my opinion not as pretty as the the next one.
- Hike across the Old Alton Bridge which will become the Pilot Knoll trail. Watch ahead for interesting spiders like this garden orb spider
and this ornate orb:
Keep looking below, because like most woods in North Texas it is also home to venomous water mocassins and copperheads. If you don’t know what kind of snake it is, don’t touch it. Be careful of fallen leaves on the sides of the trails as copperheads blend in well with them. I DO NOT RECOMMEND PICKING UP SNAKES. It is possible you may also come upon a rattlesnake, although I have never seen one out here before.
Now that I’ve scared all the city folk away:
If you do decide to visit the Old Alton Bridge at the right time of the year, you may also have the opportunity to taste one of nature’s treats: the wild mustang (muscadine) grape. Mustang grapes typically ripen from July to October in North Texas with the majority ripening from mid July to late August depending on weather conditions. They taste sour on their own, but make a great jelly and as my grandmother can attest a great moonshine as well. Reminder: Only pick plants and eat that you are certain of being edible. You get sick or die–not my fault.
Usually where I like to end my hike with children is at the farm fence the trail runs into and follows. At this point, the property owner’s donkey’s usually meet us for a quick pet. We’ve seen wild turkeys in the pasture and occasional deer nearby. You do have the option of continuing your hike from here, but be forewarned the total hike from the end of the trail to the beginning is nearly eight miles long. Stopping at the fence line is smart if you have young children with you.