I have been exploring the Texas Hill Country rivers and have yet to be disappointed. Most of these rivers are spring fed and run through beds of limestone which actually help to clean the water even more, providing amazing clarity and beautiful scenery. These rivers can be fun and challenging at the same time which only adds to the feeling of adventure. They are also much less tame than more popular/accessible rivers which allows you to get the feeling of solitude when navigating down them.
Not only is the water amazing to look at, but the rock walls, canyons and huge cypress trees guarding the banks makes it feel other-worldy. Huge overhangs blackened with smoke from campfires litter the banks and show you that there have been people in these areas for many hundreds of years. I am constantly shuffling rocks on the banks looking for arrowheads and other pieces made by the Native Americans. Some of the best spots to hunt for arrowheads are near places animals cross the river. You can see heavily defined game trails leading to river crossings and our guess is that the Native Americans used those as hunting spots and would hang out, making new arrowheads, while they waited for game to come through.
Now these rivers in all their beauty do provide some challenges you won’t find on other rivers. Being spring fed and (mostly) un-damed, the flow rates are highly subjected to the amount of rainfall. Checking the CFS before you plan a trip can be very important and make the difference between a fun trip and a bad one. I have heard stories of people having to portage for MILES due to them not checking the flow rates before putting in. Even when there is flow, you can expect to hit spots where you will need to hop out, walk the kayak a bit and hop back in. My recommendation is to be weary of bringing people that may have a hard time with that or just plan on short trips. Sometimes it can be physically demanding and double that for the person that has to help portage someone else’s boat. Long trips that get slowed down can cause you to be stuck out on the water for longer than you expected and that can stop being fun pretty quick after the sun goes down, especially if you do not have lights with you or starts to get chilly.
It may be difficult to map out some of these rivers due to minimal public access, but the Guadalupe River has a ton of paddling trails and public parks along the river to allow for kayak access and camping. If you are wanting to start exploring the Hill Country Rivers, I would suggest looking up the Guad’s paddling trails and access points. The San Marcos river, starting right in the heart of San Marcos, is also a great place to get your feet wet in the Hill Country rivers. This river has a pretty constant flow and does not have too many portages. Plenty of access points to the river and close enough to the city to grab an Uber or Lyft, make it an easy trip to plan.
Having the right kayak will also make a big difference on these rivers. Since there are a lot of spots that might only have a few inches of water, having a wide kayak will help keep you from running aground. This doesn’t mean you cannot run the rivers in other kayaks, but may have a few more portages. It would be best to start out on shorter day trips to make sure your kayak can handle the waters without too much extra effort on you. I would also put a strap on the front of the kayak that you can use as a leash to walk the boat where needed.
The Texas Hill Country has some amazing rivers that you definitely need to be putting on your bucket list. Hopefully we get some rain soon and can enjoy these rivers throughout the summer.
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