The Hill Country is famous throughout the Lone Star State and beyond for its natural beauty and serene country settings. The rivers coursing through this region are equally well-known for adventurous and social sporting activities such as tubing, kayaking, and canoeing. The major rivers here are the Guadalupe, Medina, and Frio, all of which attract thousands of visitors every year who seek their share of river fun.

River enjoyment plays a major role for many folks who plan vacations in the Hill Country. When we're discussing booking opportunities with our guests, some of the most common questions we hear from them pertain to safe public access to the area's rivers for water-based activities. Since this is such a popular subject, we'd like to take the time to address our guests' questions in this in-depth article.
The Hill Country is famous throughout the Lone Star State and beyond for its natural beauty and serene country settings. The rivers coursing through this region are equally well-known for adventurous and social sporting activities such as tubing, kayaking, and canoeing. The major rivers here are the Guadalupe, Medina, and Frio, all of which attract thousands of visitors every year who seek their share of river fun.

River enjoyment plays a major role for many folks who plan vacations in the Hill Country. When we're discussing booking opportunities with our guests, some of the most common questions we hear from them pertain to safe public access to the area's rivers for water-based activities. Since this is such a popular subject, we'd like to take the time to address our guests' questions in this in-depth article.

Backroads Reservations has been located here in the Hill Country since we got started in 2001. We take pride in our strong reputation for providing the best visitor accommodations in the area, with gorgeous and unique properties that show off our beloved countryside to its greatest potential. We also take pride in going the extra mile for our guests, providing resources and information to help our friends make the very most of their precious vacation time, for everything from an intimate couple's getaway to large gatherings of family and friends. With that in mind, we'd like to share with our readers the following information about public water access in the Hill Country, as well as a few safety tips for your time spent on the river.

RENTAL/SHUTTLE SERVICES

By the letter of the law, you're free to enter any river in Texas with tubes, kayaks, and canoes at any point on public land; doing so on privately-owned property would require the land owner's permission. As a general rule of thumb, in Texas it's considered a legal access point to a river at the point where a bridge crosses over that river. Any navigable body of water (which includes all the rivers mentioned in this article) is considered state property and is therefore open to public conveyance; that means you're free to float down the river, even if it crosses through private property. Be sure to stay on the water, though; brief stops on shore should be taken for emergencies only.

In Texas, knowingly entering privately-owned land, on foot or by vehicle, without the owner's consent is considered criminal trespassing, which is categorized as a Class B Misdemeanor. Depending on the circumstances, this charge can carry fines up to $2,000 and a sentence of up to 180 days in jail. Entering private land without knowing it's private is simple (as opposed to criminal) trespass, but can still result in court fines. When in doubt, consider any unmarked property as private!

Logistics for tubing, kayaking, or canoeing trips can be a headache if you don't plan ahead. The distance between the spot where you enter the river (the “put-in” point) and where you exit can be a number of miles, depending on the duration of your trip. Returning to your vehicle after a float down the river, while lugging your gear, can be an exhausting ordeal at the end of the day. Luckily, there are several businesses along the Hill Country rivers who offer shuttle services to a number of put-in points; once your trip is completed, all you have to do is get out, where your personal vehicle is parked at the exit point. These businesses also offer gear rentals for your trip, so you don't have to deal with the hassle of transporting and maintaining tubes, kayaks, or canoes.

The following are businesses that provide rentals and shuttle services for tubing on Hill Country rivers:

Frio River

Andy's on River Road (Concan): Tube rentals; shuttle service; accessories such as water shoes; souvenirs
Garner State Park (Concan): Kayak rentals available at the Boat House; tube rentals at the Park Store
Happy Hollow (Concan): Tube and kayak rentals; shuttle service
Josh's Frio River Outfitters (Concan, Leakey): Tube and kayak rentals, shuttle service (Concan location only); fishing gear and bait; souvenirs
Star Rentals (Concan): Tube and kayak rentals; burgers, tacos and snacks

Guadalupe River

Kerrville Kayak and Canoe (Kerrville): Tube, kayak, and canoe rentals; repair service

Medina River

Medina River Company (Bandera): Tube and kayak rental: shuttle service, BBQ food truck on-site

ACCESS (PUT-IN) SPOTS

The local rental and shuttle services will generally offer a variety of popular put-in locations for you to choose from, depending on the length of time you'd like to spend on the river. However, if you're feeling adventurous and would like to explore the numerous put-in spots on the Frio, Guadalupe, and Medina rivers on your own, Southwest Paddler and Tube Texas have put together comprehensive listings and maps of the most popular launching spots for your Hill Country tubing trip! Check out the following links for their river descriptions, maps, and put-in point listings:

Frio River: Southwest Paddler    Tube Texas
Guadalupe River: Southwest Paddler    Tube Texas
Medina River: Southwest Paddler

If you're going tubing or kayaking on your own, make sure to take a vehicle large enough to transport all the people in your group and their gear (tubes, kayaks, coolers, and so forth). Having a designated driver, someone who can drop everyone off at the put-in spot and then drive the vehicle to the exit point, is an excellent idea.

Keep in mind, too, that Backroads Reservations has numerous waterfront rental listings that offer private access to the Frio, Guadalupe, and Medina rivers. You can savor Hill Country river livin' in comfort and style, in the most unique and beautiful guest homes available in the area! So, whether you'd like to anchor yourself to shore and enjoy a peaceful and quiet afternoon bobbing on the river, or take a leisurely water-borne sightseeing trip through the Hill Country, we can set you up with the perfect setting on the river's edge. Contact us for more details!

SAFETY AND COURTESY ON THE RIVER

A trip down one of the wonderful Hill Country rivers should always be a fun and memorable experience. At Backroads Reservations, we want our guests to have the best possible time they can, and to take home nothing but the warmest and fondest memories of their visit to our neck of the woods. With that in mind, we'd like to offer the following on-the-river safety tips, as well as a few suggestions related to courtesy that should be extended to your fellow river travelers.

Water Flow

Mother Nature likes to do her own thing, and conditions on the Hill Country's rivers are no exception to that rule. Your tubing, kayaking, or canoeing trip down the river can vary depending on the depth and speed of water flow at the time of your visit. For example, low depth conditions could result in your having to get up and walk through more shallow stretches. On the other side of that coin, high water flow or flooding conditions can be dangerous for younger visitors or those who don't know how to swim. That's why it's important to keep tabs on the water flow in the vicinity in which you want to enter the river.

Luckily, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) makes ongoing observations and measurements when it comes to water flow speed in all of America's rivers. This flow is measured in cubic feet per second (cfs), and the following guidelines apply to river tubing:

< 150 cfs: shallow and slow conditions; stretches of walking likely

150-250 cfs: safe for tubing; occasional walking necessary in shallow spots

250-350 cfs: optimum tubing conditions

350-700 cfs: fast flow conditions; recommended for experienced tubers only conditions above 700 cfs are considered potentially deadly due to rapid water speed and debris in the water, and tubing may be prohibited

Personal boating guidelines generally skew higher than those for tubing, since it takes a higher flow to adequately float a kayak or canoe than it does a tube. Optimum flows for these are in the 200 to 600 cfs range, with higher flows suitable only for more experienced boaters.

As a general rule, when you get on the river, you should know the experience levels of all those in your group; those who are expert swimmers can usually navigate a faster flow of water than those who can't swim. Another aspect of water flow to keep in mind is that of trip length; a faster cfs rate can reduce the amount of time it takes to complete your trip, whereas a slower rate can lengthen it considerably.

The following links will guide you to the current USGS cfs measurements on select Hill Country river locations:

Frio River at Concan
Guadalupe River at Kerrville
Medina River at Bandera

Other Safety Guidelines Protect your feet

The beds of rivers are often rocky, and those rocks can be sharp or slippery. Keep your footing, and be sure to wear water socks or old sneakers that won't be pulled off your feet by the water's current; for that reason, sandals and flip-flops are not recommended. Here's another good reason to cover your feet: it might feel nice to go barefootin' when you're feet aren't in the water, but sunlight is reflected by the water's surface—and you don't want a sunburn down there!

Apply sunscreen

Speaking of sunburn, when you're kayaking, canoeing, or tubing, a trip down the river can often take several hours—and the middle of the river isn't likely to have any shade. Take a little time at the beginning of your trip to slather on some protection. It'll save you pain, and countless lobster jokes, later.

Hydrate

It's your vacation, right? You have every right to enjoy a beverage intended for mature audiences on the river; most rental shops and outfitters have no problem with that. However, try to balance your drink of choice with water; drinking alcohol and being out in the sun can dry you out pretty quickly.

No glass

No matter what your beverage of choice is, make sure it's in a plastic bottle or a can. Broken glass can ruin your day or somebody else's; most rental shops and outfitters will check your coolers before you hit the river. Even if you're on your own, leave the glass at home.

No electronics or valuables

You'll have plenty of other chances during your vacation to take pictures of your friends and the inspiring scenery of the Hill Country; for safety's sake, it's a good idea to leave your cell or smart phone in a safe and secure place on dry land while you're on the river. You don't want to run the risk of losing your phone at the river's bottom. This applies to other personal valuables such as keys and eyeglasses, too; if you don't want them lost to the watery depths, it's best to secure them elsewhere.

Jacket up

If there are members of your group who are not very good swimmers, it's a great idea to have them wear life jackets or other safety-rated flotation devices while on the water. This applies especially to children along for the ride, and their tubes should be lashed securely to the corresponding tube of at least one adult. Most tubing outfitters provide twine for this purpose.

Keep an eye out

Have fun, by all means! But be aware of your surroundings, and the welfare of all those in your group. It's easy to get lost in the moment and not pay attention, and dangerous situations, though rare, can happen very quickly and without prior warning. The younger members of your crew, as well as those who aren't experienced with water travel, will appreciate your vigilance and quick reaction if anything untoward should happen. Whether your group is tubing independently or through the services of an outfitter, there are no lifeguards on the river; it's a role you should be willing, and able, to play.

Courtesy Guidelines

Tote your trash

Most rental shops and outfitters are happy to provide garbage bags for your cans, wrappers, and other discarded items. Tuck your trash away in a bag during your float, and dispose of it properly once you're done. DON'T toss cans and wrappers on the shore! Our Hill Country rivers are beautiful, and we're happy to share them with guests who help us to keep them that way.

Let folks through

It's awesome to spend time on the river, and we understand some guests like to “set anchor” and just rest motionless on the river for a little while. That's cool and all, but if another group comes floating down the river, don't create a log jam if they need to be on their way!

$#*^*$@&@#*(!!

No. Just no. If it's just your group, and there's no one else around, feel free to converse with all the words you all are comfortable with. However, extend courtesy to any other groups in the area, especially if there are little ones around. Read the room. Don't be a jerk.

Take it back

If you're riding a tube, kayak, or canoe that you rented from a local outfitter, please be sure to return it at the end of your trip. Don't just leave your gear on shore and walk away; return it to the appropriate location, and in good condition.

Those of us who call the Hill Country home are proud of the area, and everything it has to offer. That includes our sparkling, winding rivers, and we welcome one and all to spend a few invigorating hours on their waters! Backroads Reservations is happy to provide this information for planning your safe and fun time on the river, and we'd love to hear from you when it comes time to find a budget-friendly place to maximize your getaway. No matter the size of your group, we'll set you up with an outstanding riverside