Texas Water Safari. Photo by Ashley Landis

The iconic Texas Water Safari begins in San Marcos. Photo by Ashley Landis

By Jeff Herman

The San Marcos River wanders in graceful twists and turns through the Texas Hill Country and the hearts of local paddlers. Rising from the Edwards Aquifer it strolls past Texas State University before joining forces with the Guadalupe and heading seaward. Kayaks, canoes, rafts and inner-tubes are thick on the San Marcos River in the summer, and with good reason. The cool water is Tanqueray clear and offers easy recreation for all skill levels through lush scenery.

Start things off with a leisurely family float on the Luling Zedler Mill Paddling Trail. The Texas Parks and Wildlife route is a great half-day trip just east of San Marcos. This section of the river is beautiful, and with nothing bigger than smile-inducing Class I rapids at most water flows, it is a gimmie for all skill levels. Just keep an eye out for small dams and low bridges; scout and portage when needed.

Photo by Ashley Landis

Photo by Ashley Landis

The town of San Marcos is quintessential Texas with green, shade-soaked hills and an easy-going community. The university provides high culture and art, with exhibits at the Wittliff Collection, or you can slip off to find folk art at nearby shops like Wimberley Glassworks. Music is ever present here with historic venues like Cheatham St. Warehouse and Gruene Hall, which have hosted such local legends as Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Annual music events such as Swing on the Square in April are a regular part of the San Marcos vibe.

The downtown area known as The Square hosts local shopping and eateries with lip-smacking good Tex-Mex, barbecue, comfort food and craft brew. After hours, The Square becomes the central spot for local nightlife. An array of bars and pubs serve students and locals with an authentic small-town Texas undertone not found in neighboring Austin or San Antonio.

Wake up to breakfast tacos at Lolita's Cafe the next morning, and then amble over to Texas' only whitewater play park at the Rio Vista Dam. This spot serves as a mecca for paddlers looking to hone their play-paddle skills year-round. Note that Rio Vista can be crowded on summer weekends. (Pro tip – try hitting this spot on weekday mornings before 10:00am and you may just have it all to yourself.)

San Marcos juxtaposes Texas Hill Country charm and a multitude of rec paddling options. The town also hosts the legendary Texas Water Safari, a 260-mile nonstop paddling race from San Marcos to the Gulf of Mexico. It's a test of physical and mental endurance, sure, but it's also a window into the Lone Star State’s rich and unique paddling culture.

Learn more about San Marcos attractions, events, restaurants and lodging at TourSanMarcos.com

–More paddling DESTINATIONS from C&K.

San Marcos Texas

Texas Water Safari. Photo by Erich Schlegel