For kayakers of any level, we are constantly looking for the next big adventure. It doesn’t matter if you’re paddling to Crab Island in Florida, or slowly slipping down the currents of the Blackwater river, it’s always on our minds.
Thankfully, America is home to some of the most beautiful kayaking locations in the world. Finding a spot for your next relaxing or heart pumping getaway is often no more difficult than pulling up a map.
One spot on the map you may not have touched, however, is Texas. Nestled in the Hill Country, Texas is home to the Guadalupe River, a prime location for kayakers in the know to enjoy a superb kayaking adventure, not far from San Antonio.
Delving deep into everything about the river, activities to enjoy, rapids to chase, and rules to follow. In hopes we can find the answer to why Guadalupe River is one of the most visited waterways in the country.
Guadalupe River – A Sight to See
The Guadalupe River runs from Kerr County, Texas, all the way down to San Antonio Bay, in the Gulf of Mexico. The most popular section of the river surrounds the Guadalupe State Park, situated in Hill Country, and is one of the state’s largest parks of its kind.
Arriving at Guadalupe River you are met with a vista of dense oaks, rugged limestone karst, and semi-arid hills and canyons. The area has almost all sides of the Texas countryside hidden inside it, expanding over 5 miles in all directions.
The river, however, runs a total of 230 miles from top to bottom. The state park covers a very small portion of the total length, yet despite this, the trails available around the state park are considered some of the best the Guadalupe river has to offer.
Preparing for a kayak trip down the belly of the river, we were mesmerized by the quiet and calm atmosphere on the waterfront. Looming all around were tall oaks, and bald cypress trees, quietly singing a song with their leaves as the wind passed by. Some trees were so high that the top was hidden from view.
The river is also home to a bustling wildlife population, and it doesn’t take long to hear the bird chirping and see fish swimming all around you. It is not uncommon to spot white tailed deer, skunks, coyotes, grey foxes, deer, snakes, bobcats, and even armadillos.
An area of the park, known as the Ashe Juniper woodlands, is also home to the endangered Gold-Cheeked Warbler, a small gold and black bird only found in the Texas region.
Exploring Guadalupe River Paddling Trails
When it comes to exploring the paddling trails available in the Guadalupe State Park, there are two main trails to choose from. The park, and the river, is split into two main areas for kayakers. The upper river, and the lower river. Both provide vastly different paddling experiences from each other.
The Guadalupe State Park is, however, only a small part of the river. We took some time to also look at the popular paddling trails others enjoy on different spots up and down the river.
The Upper River – Guadalupe State Park
The upper river is situated above Canyon Lake, fed by the north and south fork, creating a fast-flowing series of rapids to overcome. The upper river is considered a more advanced kayaking trail, with many sharp turns and sudden small drops.
The trail boasts class 3 rapids, and enough area to paddle for the entire day. Following the trail, you will eventually make your way through the heart of the Guadalupe and enter what is known locally as the Lower River.
The area is flanked with tall limestone cliffs lining its banks, and a thick layer of cypress and oak trees. Coupled with the fast-flowing clear blue water of the upper river, it’s easy to get lost in the beauty of it all as you paddle down to the next rapid.
The Lower River – Guadalupe State Park
The lower river, found below Canyon Lake, is much different to the upper river. With larger bodies of water, and no rapids along the way, the lower river is a more popular beginner paddling trail. As well as being the main hub for swimmers, tubers, and those just looking to do a little fishing.
The lower river is surrounded by the quiet, and raw splendour of nature. Bustling with local wildlife, endless bald cypress trees, and limestone lining the banks. The beauty of the lower river is a marvel of natural beauty.
If you are looking to get started with kayaking, and perhaps want to try out a peaceful paddle on the water. The lower river is your best choice. With local kayak rental on hand, supplied by the state park, it’s easy to get started!
For those looking for a longer kayaking trail, Nichol’s landing is situated east of the Guadalupe State Park. Beginning here, the Nichol’s landing paddling trail takes you back down into the heart of the upper river, with even more challenging class 3 rapids along the way.
The trail will take between 3-6 hours, depending on water levels, flow rate, and your own personal ability. Kayakers can choose to start at Nichol’s Landing, and work their way down to the state park, or do the reverse, and finish at Nichol’s Landing.
Unlike the State Park trails, Nichol’s Landing and the river between it and the Upper river, run mostly through undeveloped areas. Meaning you will get to experience the authentic atmosphere of the Guadalupe River.
Edge Falls Crossing
Edge Falls Crossing is found to the west of Guadalupe State Park, and much like Nichol’s Landing, you can work your way back to the lower Guadalupe river. The paddling trail is much calmer than the Upper river’s side, but still has a few minor rapids to contend with.
Best suited for intermediate paddlers, a trip from Edge Falls Crossing back into the Guadalupe State Park will take between 2-5 hours, depending on water levels, flow rate, and the pace you are choosing to take it at.
The Edge Falls Crossing paddling trail also runs through undeveloped areas along the Guadalupe river, with lower limestone cliffs compared to the upper river. For wildlife watchers, the Edge Falls Crossing is much better suited due to its superior visibility.
Guadalupe State Park – Available Services
The Guadalupe State Park, as well as Edge Falls Crossing, and Nichol’s Landing, all provide a range of services for visitors. Whilst not every service is directly related to kayaking, it can be good to see what is available. In case you find yourself needing to keep the kids busy.
All three locations provide:
- A range of hiking trails.
- Kayak, Canoe, and Tube rental.
- A large range of local restaurants, including fast food options.
- Guided Paddling Trips (Must be booked in advance)
- Toilets are placed around the park itself but won’t be found near the river.
- Camping Sites
- Honey Creek Tours
- Junior Ranger programs for children to explore the park and learn about local wildlife.
- Home to the Texas Aquatic Science Certified Field Site
If you are travelling in from out of state, you may be looking for some accommodation close by. Thankfully the Guadalupe State Park is only minutes away from San Antonio, meaning that options for accommodation are plentiful.
Be careful though! In the summer months, the park becomes a hot spot for travellers all around the country. So, if you’re planning a summer get away, book your accommodation early.
Paddling the Guadalupe River – What Others Think
We looked out to see what others thought about paddling the Guadalupe River, and this is what we found:
Before You Embark – Some Important Reminders
Before you set out to explore all that the Guadalupe River has to offer, there are some important reminders that anyone looking to paddle in the area should consider:
Only a small fraction of the river is part of the State Park, Nichol’s Landing, or Edge Falls Crossing. A good portion of the accessible parts of the river are part of private ranches owned by locals.
When paddling up and down the river, it’s important to always be respectful of private property. If you are traveling from Nichol’s Landing or Edge Falls Crossing, you will pass through private property on your way.
Do not stop and explore private property, don’t set up camp, and especially don’t leave any litter behind. Most ranch owners in the area are used to kayakers passing by, but they won’t take kindly to others walking around their land.
Follow State Water Laws
For experienced paddlers, the state laws around kayaking will be well known. Yet if you’re thinking of setting out to the Guadalupe River for your first kayaking experience, you may want to take quick note.
When kayaking, always be wearing a life jacket that fits you correctly, and that is within expiry. If your children will be joining you, they are always required to wear a life jacket. If you plan to paddle at night, then your kayak must be fitted with a white light on the front.
Drinking on the water is allowed, but if you are kayaking then make sure to stay under legal limits. Whilst it is very unlikely you will be stopped, park rangers may breath test you if they see you over drinking.
The legal limit for adults over 21 is 0.8% BAC, whilst for those under 21 the limit of your BAC is 0.2%.
Lastly, if you are travelling out of state with a kayak fitted with a motor, you will need to register the vehicle with the state government. The process is quick and easy, and can be found here.
Ready for Your Next Adventure?
With one of the most desired landscapes in all of America, the Guadalupe River is a prime destination for your next kayaking adventure. With unmissable canyon landscapes, painted in white limestone and surrounded by beautiful cypress trees, you won’t want to miss out on what the Hill Country is hiding.
Kayaking in Texas – The Best Rivers in the State
The expansive countryside of Texas offers up to a wide variety of lush, urban, breath-taking lakes and reservoirs for you to explore. There is a good spread of peaceful, enjoyable, beginner locations. As well as some more advanced, heart pumping, mind racing rapids to explore as well.
Some of the most revered locations in Texas for your next adventure are:
Hidden away in south-western Texas, this secluded and rugged river is tailored more towards experienced kayakers. The river has class 3 rapids, with tight and dangerous turns in many areas.
Yet if you’re up for the challenge, you can enjoy a view like no other. With calm blue water, and looming mountains peeking back at you in the distance, this river is one of the state’s best desert adventures.
San Marcos River
The San Marcos river is feed by the San Marcos Springs, creating some of the clearest water rapids in the state. With a collection of large areas to paddle, and a tighter course further down the river, San Marcos is an unbeatable experience for kayakers of all levels.
Despite the location having a reputation locally as a college-aged hang out, the San Marcos river is still one of Texas’ scenic gems. With lush green water, and thick forest hill scapes all around you, you won’t want to miss a San Marcos journey.
If you want to paddle the San Marcos river in more quiet months, try to avoid when school is on break. As parties are common along the river, especially around graduation and holiday seasons.
The Rio Grande
Many will know the Big Bend National park for its camp sites and hiking trails, but many don’t know that it is also home to one of the country’s most intense kayaking rivers, the Rio Grande.
If you’re looking to challenge yourself, and have decent experience kayaking, then the Rio Grande promises to test your limits. With class 4 rapids, mixed with more mild class 2 rapids, tight turns, and big drops to make you clench, the river has it all to get your heart pounding.
Only those who can survive the river will be able to take in the mind-blowing canyon views, and unmissable desert landscapes.
Looking for something more urban, lush, and fresh? Maybe hoping to enjoy a view mixed with the beautiful scenery of Houston? The Buffalo Bayou is a 26-mile waterway that runs a course through the entire city.
The Bayou is a popular waterway enjoyed by tourists and locals alike and offers little to no danger. You can safely bring your children with you, as land is always very close by, and the waterway is not overly deep.
If you’re looking for a smooth-flowing paddle through Houston, you can’t beat the Buffalo Bayou.
For those looking for a more expansive area to kayak, look no further than the border between Texas and Louisiana. Nestled in Harrison County, the Caddo Lake is a gigantic lake and bayou that spans over 25,400 acres.
If you are looking to get lost in a kayaking adventure for the entire day, and have at least medium experience kayaking, or have an experienced person with you, the Caddo Lake is a prime spot for your next trip.
The lake is crawling with wildlife, and lush forest, so don’t forget to bring your camera!
The Frio river, named using the Spanish word for cold, is a river that lives up to its namesake. With some of the most popular clear, fresh cold water in the state, Frio river is a popular destination for Texans in the hotter months.
For kayaking, the river is a long waterway that provides a range of class 1 rapids, and minor challenges. For the most part, kayakers of any level can enjoy Frio river, and soak in some of the best scenery Texas has to offer.
Due to the popularity of Frio River, if you plan to book a cabin close by, make sure to book early. All the surrounding accommodation is quickly snatched up as it gets into summer.
Toledo Bend Reservoir
The Toledo Bend Reservoir, much like Caddo Lake, is a large lake between the Texas and Louisiana border. The reservoir is a fantastic place for kayakers who are just beginning, as there is a wide-open space to paddle, and no rapids to create problems.
The Toledo Bend reservoir is also great if you plan to bring along children. As much of the lake can be seen from the shoreline, making it easy to keep track of your children and still enjoy some quality kayaking time.
If you plan to teach your children to kayak, Toledo Bend is the best spot you could hope for.
You can enjoy the surrounding forest, and mountain scape scenery as you paddle quietly along the reservoir.
Lady Bird Lake/aka Town Lake
If you find yourself in the Austin area, then peek over at the Lady Bird Lake. A long, flat, and scenic river hidden away just beside the city; the Lady Bird Lake is quickly becoming one of Austin’s best kept secrets.
Suitable for kayakers of all levels, the lake can provide a great relaxing journey around the Austin area. Much of the lake is flanked on either side by huge canyon faces, making it an unforgettable experience.
Whilst the lake has no rapids, it does have some tight turns along the way. The deeper you go, and the further you get from the city, the more native wildlife you will be bound to spot.
It is great for bass fishing due to structure underwater. The best time is early morning or sunset.
The Neches River is a quiet spot in eastern Texas. If you are looking for a less travelled, isolated, more quiet experience, then the Neches River is the right spot for you. It is recommended that you be somewhat experienced, as the area is home to much of the state’s wildlife. This includes a large population of alligators.
Despite this, the river itself is an enjoyable spot to paddle and fish. It does not offer any real challenge with rapids, or tight winding rivers, but it does offer an unbeatable secluded holiday for those needing a little peace and quiet.
The Colorado River
The famous Colorado River is a fantastic place to enjoy the Lone Star state’s urban scenery. Suitable for beginners, the river will take you around the most beautiful sides of Colorado, and let you relax as you circle around as a leisurely pace.
If you are looking to start kayaking, the Colorado River is a great first step! With nothing just wide-open water, warm sun, and the whole day ahead of you, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself as you drift down the iconic river.