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Tubing Three Spring-Fed Rivers in Central Texas

These refreshing river voyages near Austin are keeping us cool

Tubing together (photo courtesy of San Marcos Lions Club)
Tubing together (photo courtesy of San Marcos Lions Club)

Eager to cool off and unwind, we hopped on a donut to tube down three beautiful local rivers. On a hot Texas day, we could do little more. Luckily, the exertion required was almost nil. Tubers flap their hands like turtle flippers to paddle past snail-slow runs, and we joined them. Ice-cold water, a few wild rapids, and summer traditions were worth writing home about.

Tubing in New Braunfels
Tubing in New Braunfels (photo by Heidi Okla)

Brass Tacks

On the Comal, San Marcos, and Guadalupe rivers, several tube mongers rent the requisite inflatables and a bouncy school bus ride (always an old school bus, we noticed) to or from the river. Each spring-fed stream makes multiple tubing courses of varying lengths, from one hour to almost five, so there’s plenty to pour over. Along the way, floating parties segregate themselves by purpose, with families on some floats and party people on others, according to some river outfitters we spoke to. Others claimed that the segregation was purely temporal. A noisy water rave happened on a Saturday while the Sunday float in the same location was much more quiet, said one bus driver. Our treks were sufficiently tame. Barely a handful of people broke out into anything as rowdy as a song, though we saw one local sheriff wade into shallow water to check a group’s cooler and identification. 

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Comal River tubing in New Braunfels
Floating the Comal River (photo courtesy of Visit New Braunfels)

Tubing the Comal River

Large men in high summer tan and trucker hats serenaded us to the music of Toby Keith on the Comal River. Sun-drunk, the singers hung out at one of the many properties lining the banks, but the river itself put on the best show. Tube chutes added some action to a placid ride, bucking and flinging us down the heat-soothing stream.

A profusion of trees, meanwhile, from bald cypress to black willow, wove a picturesque canopy overhead. City of New Braunfels Urban Forester Josh King quickly listed over a dozen woody plants growing in the riparian area by Hinman Island Park near Texas State Tubes, where we started our trip. Generous shade took some of the sting from the sun’s rays, making this optimally shady float our favorite for warm weather relief. 

Father and son tubing together (photo by Chase Martinez, courtesy of the San Marcos Lions Club)
Father and son tubing together (photo courtesy of the San Marcos Lions Club)

Tubing the San Marcos River

In the Mermaid Capital of Texas, a refreshing one-hour float over water filtered through the Edwards aquifer ended in rushing whitewater at Rio Vista Falls. Though the yearly Texas Water Safari passed over the San Marcos River the morning we visited, all signs of the boats were gone by the afternoon, returning it to the crowd for play near the rapids at Rio Vista Park. Those crowds marked a favorite area for local recreation, with good reason. An old dam converted to three low “waterfalls” here in 2006 presented a triplet of flumes buzzing with people body surfing and lounging nearby. After the third drop, people often climbed out and plopped in near the funnel to the first drop to start over again. 

Coupled with the winsome views of six local parks, this San Marcos river trail was a refreshing escape from city heat domes. Starting near Hinman Island Park at The Lions Club, we rolled past baby ducks somehow waddling on the mossy water’s surface and enjoyed close-ups on the long strands of Texas wild rice visible in the clear water below. Historic truss bridges and towering bald Cypress helped complete a postcard-pretty run.

Tubing on the Guadalupe River (photo courtesy of Whitewater Sports New Braunfels)
Tubing on the Guadalupe River (photo courtesy of Whitewater Sports New Braunfels)

Tubing the Guadalupe River

Bracingly cold, our float on a wide and scenic Guadalupe River near Whitewater Sports in New Braunfels gave us goosebumps. It was also low enough to scrape our buns on rocks a few times, but the outfitter, also owners of the Whitewater Amphitheater, made sure we had tubes with bottoms for protection. Once lush enough to support floats as long as six hours, said employee Heather, the river here is now just high enough to float people safely down the “Horseshoe Loop” area just below Canyon Lake Dam. Even so, we spoke to people from as far as Dallas who drove in just to float the river, in addition to the locals who told us they visit nearby rivers often. Other outfitters still take people out to long floats in other areas of the Guadalupe, however. 

Our float lazed past tubing families enjoying full picnics from their coolers, over tremendously shallow but still enjoyable rapids, and under towering limestone cliffs. An employee of the nearby Camp Fimfo told us that the zip lines they hung from a platform on the cliffs are part of a now indefinitely suspended project, though the parallel striations of metal wires can still be seen above between the platform and a vanishing point in the small park below. At the end of our frigid ride, we overheard one woman lead her group with a firm directive. “We’re going again,” she said, ready to loop the Horseshoe. For those baking under Texas skies, the feeling is easy to understand. 

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