Splash town: Tubing the area rivers

Dragonflies hovered beside us, just above the water, and fish darted below in the clear, spring-fed ripples of the San Marcos River.

Great blue herons stood near the banks, alert and as still as statues, nearly camouflaged amid the twisted roots of century-old trees and turtles sunbathed on stumps. We passed a stand of water hyacinths where big, lavender blooms captured the morning light.

Our tubes spun gently, as we leaned back, let our feet and hands dangle and took it all in. You can find such simple bliss in the middle of San Marcos.

Tubing is a time-honored activity in the Hill Country, where the rivers can run fast or lazy, but tend to maintain constant, cool temperatures of 72 degrees in summer.

For a short float all you need is a big ol’ inner tube, your swimsuit, water shoes, a hat, sunscreen and a beverage. There are a number of outfitters who will rent tubes to tourists and provide shuttles. But you’ll be in the water faster if you bring your own. Area retailers sell tubes that have headrests and cup holders for as little as $12.

To survey your options and to see the current flow levels on all the area rivers, check out TubeTexas.

If you’re in a party mood and want splashy action with rapids, head to New Braunfels, Gruene or Canyon Lake to hop on the Guadalupe. Floats can last an hour or all day, covering just a few hundred yards or spread out over many miles. Interested in a shorter run? The Horseshoe is fantastic loop and the Chute is a brief thrill ride you can take over and over. Many small rapids near Gruene lure tubers for the wildest ride of all.

The Comal, which flows 2.5 miles from Landa Park in New Braunfels, is usually a slightly calmer experience.

But don’t dismiss the family-friendly San Marcos River, the closest float to Kissing Tree. Most tubing trips start at the Lions Club rental facility at Rio Vista Park and end at either the Rio Vista dam or County Road 299, but note that TubeTexas warns that continuing downstream is dangerous. Another safe float option meanders from County Road 266 to County Road 101.

For our recent trip on a high summer Sunday, we started early, around 10 a.m. We parked one car in a lot on Aquarena Springs Drive, near the Texas State campus, and another at Rio Vista Park. We floated gently downstream for about an hour, marveling at the serenity around us. By the time we got to the chute at Rio Vista, a festive scene was in full swing, full of picnicking families and swimmers.

We felt not only cooled, but somehow also exhilarated and calm. We’ll can’t wait for our next float.

—  Lady Houston, your friendly KT neighbor

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