Our San Antonio Neighbors Get a New Paddling Trail

Saspamco paddling trail

The San Antonio River Authority in conjunction with Texas Parks and Wildlife opened Bexar County’s first paddling trail earlier this month. The Saspamco paddling trail is located south of San Antonio with it’s put in located near Elmendorf, TX and its take out at the Helton San Antonio River Nature Park. It runs for about 12 miles and depending on river conditions and paddling experience, the trip can take between two and eight hours. Since the opening, there have already been several great reactions from local groups. Unlike the urban section of the San Antonio River, the trail features natural banks and better quality water. Click here to view and print a map.

A welcome site for paddlers.

As paddling popularity continues to increase, we hope to see more and more stories like these. Designated trails provide opportunities for paddlers to enjoy well mapped and easily accessible rivers and streams for a days worth of paddling. Texas currently offers 37 different trails to paddlers, see them all here. Which ever state you might be in, we hope you have a chance to go out and enjoy trails like these!  – Joseph @ACK

Six Paddling Destinations in Texas

Note: I recently ran across a short article in Camping Life Magazine highlighting paddling destinations throughout the U.S. It’s a great piece and I bookmarked it for my own personal future reference but thought, what about one that focuses on Texas?

Many don’t realize that Texas is home to 3,700 named streams and 15 major rivers, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife. While there is only one natural lake in Texas, over a hundred reservoirs have been created resulting in beautiful lakes throughout the state. What makes paddling in Texas so unique is that you can be floating waters that meander through cactus-strewn deserts and 1500 ft. canyons to cypress lined swamplands and coastal waters all within a days’ drive. These diverse environments lend themselves to a variety of paddling opportunities that many would have to travel outside of theirs states to discover.

I do realize many of our customers and blog readers reside in other states but if you ever get a chance to visit Texas join us in considering these destinations (in no particular order):

1. Lady Bird Lake (Central Texas) – Located in the heart of downtown Austin, it’s what I consider to be one of the best urban paddling lakes in the entire state. LBL was created by damning up the Colorado River just east of Austin creating one of the most beautiful in-city playgrounds for anyone to enjoy. Paddle west of Loop 1 to enjoy a little quite solitude surrounded by tree-covered hills, head east of IH-35 for some great fishing opportunities or stay between the two for a true “Austin experience”. Enjoy bat watching, live music, awesome cityscape photo opportunities and a general sense of being in the middle of it all. With a variety of launch spots, no motor boats, kayak rental facilities, picnic areas and its close proximity to dozens of eating establishments you’ll surely enjoy a full day of paddling Lady Bird Lake. (Google “Lady Bird Lake”)

2. Brazos River (North Texas) – If you prefer a scenic river paddling trip that doesn’t require traversing through rapids, the Brazos River, just below Possum Kingdom Lake, has your name written all over it. It is mostly an undeveloped river featuring granite cliffs, a variety of hills peppered with cedars and oaks with occasional views of the nearby Palo Pinto Mountains. There are no public campgrounds along this stretch of the river but several sand/gravel bars can be used as overnight campsites, just be wary of heavy rainstorms or dam releases as the water levels can quickly rise. The river from Possum Kingdom to Highway 4 runs about 19 miles. After that, the next takeout is at Highway 180 for a grand total of about 38 miles. (Google “Brazos River” “Possum Kingdom”)

3. Guadalupe River (South Central Texas) – While primarily known for “tubing”, the Guadalupe is also an amazing paddling river. You’ll discover flat-water stretches as well as challenging Class III rapids. It is a spring-fed river with great water clarity that flows over a mostly limestone bottom through south central Texas and eventually making it’s way into the Gulf of Mexico. It is what I consider a “lush” and very “green” river with mostly undeveloped countryside consisting of pecans, cypress, sycamore, oaks and other vegetation creating multiple sightseeing and photography opportunities. For those of you that enjoy fishing, the Guadalupe river is the only waterway in Texas that is home to trout year round, specifically around the Canyon lake area. Be sure to check on river levels because the Guadalupe can vary dramatically in just a few days and in some cases…hours. (Google “Guadalupe River”)

Devil's River TPW Photo by Earl Nottingham

4. Devil’s River (West Texas) – For those that want to enjoy a truly rugged and remote experience, this is your river. You’ll experience a variety of river characteristics from long flat-water stretches and deep pools to turbulent class III rapids. This clear and green tinted river flows through a rocky desert-like landscape that is mostly free of any impoundments and is considered to be one of the cleanest rivers in the state. While paddling this river, you’ll be taken back into history with substantial archeological sites and a vast remoteness. Plan on a multi-day paddling trip because it can be very inaccessible and is an extremely primitive river with limited camping sites. Once again, this river is not for everyone, I do recommend you do your research. Check out the Devil’s River Guide Book.  (Google “Devil’s River”)

TPW Photo - Caddo Lake

5. Caddo Lake (East Texas) – Yep, we got swamps in Texas! It is the only natural lake in Texas, covering roughly 26,000 acres and is relatively shallow throughout. You’ll mostly find cypress trees, lily pads and mossy beards along the entire length of the sprawling maze of bayous and sloughs and pines and oaks in the uplands. While Caddo Lake provides unlimited scenic and photography opportunities, it is truly an angler’s dream with over 70 species of fish. East Texas is known for having alligators in many areas and Caddo Lake is no exception and according to legend, this is considered to be the land of Bigfoot. (Google “Caddo Lake”)

TPW Photo - Lighthouse Lakes

6. Lighthouse Lakes (Gulf Coast) – The Lighthouse Lakes are not actually lakes but a maze of tidal channels and coastal flats. It was the first designated Texas Paddling Trail and one of the most popular kayak fishing destinations along the Gulf coast. Paddlers can glide through mangroves and sea grass flats providing exceptional bird watching opportunities and of course, excellent fishing. The trail consists of four marked loops ranging in length from 1.25 miles to 6.8 miles. And as you probably imagined, the name did come from a Civil War era lighthouse, which still stands today. Canoes are not recommended due to some strong headwinds. Check out the Lighthouse Lakes Photocard Map (Google “Lighthouse Lakes”)

This is only a small list of paddling destinations here in Texas. I can go on and on and could probably write a book about all the different destinations…hey, there’s an idea! Anyway, we pride ourselves on the shear size of Texas and with that comes an unlimited amount of paddling opportunities for any skill level, activity interest and environmental preference. A few words of caution, always take great care when paddling these and other destinations. I recommend you do your research, get a hold of area maps, consider taking a navigational device and other safety equipment, always carry plenty of water and if possible, paddle with a group. Keep in mind that most of Texas is privately owned land so be respectful of people’s property and never leave trash behind!

Roland
ACK HQ

Commanding the Colorado

Prior to joining ACK, a group of friends were busy planning a 26-mile paddling/camping trip down the Colorado River in central Texas. I had already missed a week-long west Texas Pecos/Devil’s River trip so I made it a point to put this in one in my calendar with no intentions of deleting it. I was so excited about this trip that my wife actually gave me a free ticket to go despite the fact that it fell on our 11th anniversary weekend — high five.

Deciding on a Boat
Fast-forward to just a few weeks ago; I was trying to figure how I was going to get all of my gear into one of my sit on top kayaks. Most of the paddlers on this trip were taking canoes but I still preferred to use a kayak. Then it occurred to me that the best option would be a hybrid such as a Native Watercraft Ultimate 14 or a Wilderness Systems Commander 140. Because of their wide-open cockpit design, either would easily accommodate all of my gear while still providing an experience closer to my personal preferences. (Click here for a short article on hybrids I recently wrote.)

I Need Room
I’ve used the Native Watercraft Ultimate on many occasions so decided on the Commander this time and I didn’t regret it. From the moment that I set it down in my garage and started stuffing it with gear, I knew this one was going to be a hit. I was able to load it with a tent, sleeping bag, mattress pad, pillow, ice chest, camp chair, fishing rod, fishing gear, stove, food and drinks, 2 gallons of water, anchor, camera bag and clothing amongst many other camping related items and, as you can see in the picture to the right, it all fit! I must confess, one of the canoe paddlers was a chef (more on this later) and carried the camp food in his canoe, however, I could have easily fit a slightly taller ice chest to accommodate at least my own personal meals.

This Boat Better Not Tip
That’s a lot of stuff, I know — my thoughts too. At the time, I didn’t say anything to my friends but I must admit that I was a littler nervous at the launch point in Bastrop, Texas, when my boat was shoved into the water. I was concerned that it would sit too deep in the water but when I sat in the boat and took to the river — no problem. As with any kayak I paddle, my first reaction is to test its limitations. Of course, I should have done this without the gear but it was pretty secure and the clock was ticking. While sitting down, I pushed the boat side to side and not once did I feel like I was going to tip the boat. I also stood up and again, rock solid. I even cast a few jigs into the water and caught and released 3 small bass — yeah, not relevant but I had to throw that in somewhere. There was a consistent 8 inches of free-board all around the boat despite the cargo I was carrying (300-350lbs including myself). The Commander lists a carrying capacity of 475 lbs. Even though this was a flat-water stretch, it was comforting knowing that I probably wasn’t going to capsize this boat.

A Winding River With Long Straight Stretches
With mostly cloudy skies and a chance of severe thunderstorms in the forecast, we took off into the wild. Our first stretch was set for 16 miles. Good news is that aside from the occasional cooling shower, the storms stayed north of us and the overcast skies kept the temperatures mild. It’s not uncommon for us to experience 90-degree temperatures in this region in October. Anyway, back to the boat. It paddled straight…no really, like a freaking bullet straight. So straight that I would definitely consider one with a rudder to assist with steering the boat. I was truly impressed at the tracking capability of the Commander. I never, not once, felt like I had to correct my direction unless it was caused by intense headwinds which we had the pleasure of enjoying for a good 3-4 hours of the trip or the occasional small class 1 rapids.

This Wasn’t a Race
If you ready my previous article about “hybrids”, I mention that they are not speed demons. However, it simply performed much better than I had expected. I was able to keep up with the canoes, which were being powered by two paddlers. There was one paddler that was literally doing circles around us though — he was using a Wilderness Systems Tsunami. I did notice that the Commander would slow down rather quickly when I stopped paddling, I am not sure if this was due to the weight in the boat, headwinds or simply a characteristic of the Commander. Either way, we made it to camp by 5pm.

Long Trip + Bad Back = No Can Do
Comfort, ah, the holy grail of recreational kayaking. If you know me, you’ve probably heard me complain about my back. Long story short, I have a bulging disc, so comfort for me is key. Knowing that I would be sitting in a boat for 6+ hours, I knew that this boat would be perfect for me. Yeah, great seat but more importantly, dual sitting options. By simply sliding the seat under the molded in seat area, I was able to sit “on top” of the boat for a more natural sitting position. Further more, I occasionally stood up and paddled while standing to help stretch my legs. Yeah, I guess I was kind of showing off but nevertheless, it was fun.

A New Appreciation for the Colorado
While I have had the pleasure of paddling and fishing parts of the Colorado River, never have I experienced such a stretch. My favorite characteristic is that you see little to no signs of civilization. The river is lined with a few nicely manicured pastures, thick forests of oak, elms, sycamores and willows, sandstone cliffs and bluffs and a variety of wildlife. We even had a rare opportunity to see a couple of Bald Eagles. The water clarity was amazing with rock and sandy bottoms throughout.

The Perfect End to a Long Day of Paddling
After a long 16-mile stretch, we finally claimed our island for the night. It was a massive sand bar nestled between two small rapids with an open pasture peppered with oaks to one side and a thick old growth forest on the other. If you are not familiar with the Colorado River, most of it is privately owned so take great care when finding a camping spot. (Click here for more information) I was excited to setup my new Kelty Teton-2 Tent. This was the first time I was going to use it and from what I knew, I was supposed to be able to set it up in minutes. Sure enough, 5 minutes. It would have been less if I actually followed the instructions but either way it was quick. It’s a small backpacking tent but at 6’2”, I didn’t feel cramped.

My favorite part of any camping trip is cooking up a good meal. This time however, I didn’t have to cook a thing. One of the paddlers, a Chef, prepared an amazing dinner of grilled rib eye, homemade scalloped potatoes and salt and pepper buttered asparagus all cooked over an open wood fire. As the full moon eerily rose above the trees, we reminisced about our experiences throughout the day, enjoyed a few good laughs and eventually, one by one, made our way into the tents.

Slept Like a Champ
I like my pillow, so I needed something for this trip that I could easily compress into a small bag, which resulted in another new purchase, the Kelty Luxury Camp Pillow. It was a little flat at first,  but by simply stuffing some (clean) clothing into the rear pocket, it was perfect! I would have slept well into the morning but one of the guys woke up early and was walking around the campsite playing the dueling banjos theme song from the 1972 movie “Deliverance”.

And The Story Continues…
As I woke to the sweet sound of banjo music, we slowly packed our gear and once again paddled the river to Smithville, Texas where we took out.  This was a great trip and deciding to paddle the Wilderness Systems Commander 140 made it even better. Sure, it’s easy for me to rave about a product that we sell, so I invite you to give it a try for yourself. I know you’ll be pleased with its performance.

As for the route we covered, I highly recommend this stretch of the Colorado River for any paddler. Texas Parks and Wildlife together with community organizations have been doing great job of designated paddling trails. The Texas Paddling Trails is a program to develop public inland and coastal paddling trails throughout the state and support these trails with maps, signage and other information. These trails provide well-mapped accessible day trips in a variety of settings and for all levels of paddling experience.

Here are some additional photos of the trip.

Roland
ACK HQ