Rivers of the Texas Hill Country

Shane Reynolds, Outdoor Recreation Director and Outfitter

The Edwards Aquifer is one of the most unique artesian springs in the world, and we are blessed to have it as a source of water here in Central Texas. The Edwards Aquifer ranks among the largest artesian aquifers in the world. Most regular aquifers simply hold the water, but an artesian aquifer, like the Edwards, holds water under positive pressure. This pressure gets relief through outlets such as the numerous springs in the Texas Hill Country where the water forces itself out at the surface. When you visit the upper Guadalupe River at Cordillera Ranch, you are primarily seeing water from the aquifer flowing from the many springs along its watershed. Swede Creek and Panther Creek are both prime examples of the springs that flow from this underground aquifer. 

The Guadalupe River is one of many Hill Country rivers that offer recreational opportunities for paddlers and fishermen. There are several other rivers in the Hill Country that are a short drive from the Boerne area, and here are a few of our favorites. 

The two largest springs flowing out of the aquifer are the San Marcos Springs and Comal Springs. The San Marcos River is a beautiful waterway with its headwaters at Spring Lake in San Marcos and the river runs 75 miles and merges into the Guadalupe River. The Comal River is the shortest navigable river in Texas at two miles and it also flows into the Guadalupe River. Both rivers are popular for floating on toobs, which is a Texas pastime in the summer, and we visit both rivers with our Outfitter Program and Summer Camps at Cordillera Ranch. 

A few other of our favorite rivers to paddle and fish in the Hill Country are the Nueces River near Uvalde, the Llano River near Junction and Mason, the Colorado River flowing through the Austin area and, our favorite of all of them, the Devils River, flowing out of the southern portion of the Edwards Aquifer into Lake Amistad near Del Rio. A few honorable mentions that we visit occasionally are the Blanco River and the Medina River, both a short drive from Cordillera Ranch. 

The Devils River is considered the most pristine river in Texas and unspoiled due to its challenging accessibility and its remote location in the southwest part of the state. Like most rivers in Texas, most of its banks are private property and large ranches. The Devils River is the premier wilderness bass fishing experience!

Upper Guadalupe River (pictured above)

From its headwaters outside Kerrville, the Guadalupe River flows over a limestone bed lined with beautiful, huge, old Cypress trees accented by Pecans, Sycamores, Elms, Live Oaks and others that add to the scenic attraction of the river. The river is slightly narrower near the headwaters with shallow banks, gravel bars and fewer rapids. The gradient increases as it moves towards Cordillera Ranch, where rapids exist just below the Ranch at Bergheim as the river makes it way towards Canyon Lake and ultimately towards the Gulf of Mexico.

The water quality in the Upper Guadalupe is generally very good. However, it will become muddy after rainfall and may become cluttered with debris during flood stage conditions. The river slows down during the dog days of summer unless there is adequate rainfall to keep the water flowing. The Upper Guadalupe is a free-flowing river at the mercy of rainfall and spring flow. We have three spring fed creeks on Cordillera Ranch that contribute to this beautiful waterway. The first is Spring Creek, which has steady flow as it drops underground in dry times just south of the bridge across Cordillera Trace. The next is Swede Creek, which has a steady constant flow and feeds the lake at Swede Creek Park. The last is Panther Creek, which is in The Springs of Cordillera Ranch on the east side of FM3351. This beautiful creek is also lined with Cypress trees and has a steady flow down into the Guadalupe River.

Early spring to late June is generally best for paddling, followed by late September through early November. With proper cold weather gear, the Upper Guadalupe can be paddled in the winter when temperatures are permissible and adequate flow is available. Summer paddling is fun and adventurous with adequate rainfall, but can be a bit challenging in the small rapids when flows are below 100 cubic feet per second (CFS). Summer temperatures should be considered a hazard if proper precautions are not taken. Always have protective clothing, sunscreen and plenty of non-alcoholic liquids to prevent dehydration.

I have paddled every section of the Upper Guadalupe between Comfort and Canyon Lake over the past 16 years. I have witnessed many changes in the character of this river. The Upper Guadalupe is serenely beautiful, seldom crowded and offers an enjoyable paddle trip for almost any paddler. There are some good Class II drops and at high water levels some of them can become Class III ratings. The Upper Guadalupe is a pool-and-drop river typical of most Texas rivers. I have paddled the Upper Guadalupe in the heat of the summer and cold of winter. The giant Cypress trees that line this river make for a beautiful paddling experience in the spring and fall, when the grasses are green and the trees are in full bloom. I highly recommend this river for anybody wanting to experience the joys of kayaking. The River Club also has toobs, which offer a slow-paced and intimate way to enjoy the river. Headwinds can also be a challenge unless the water is moving, so plan trip distances according to flow rate and wind conditions for the most enjoyable paddle trip. 

Guadalupe River Distances around Cordillera Ranch

Hwy 474 to Swede Creek at Cordillera Ranch 13 miles

Kreutzberg Canyon Natural Area to Swede Creek at Cordillera Ranch 11 miles

Swede Creek at Cordillera Ranch to Bergheim Campground (FM 3351) 1.8 miles

Bergheim Campground (FM 3351) to Edge Falls Road 3.8 miles

Edge Falls Road to Guadalupe State Park 4.25 miles

Guadalupe State Park to Spring Branch Road 4 miles

Spring Branch Road to Hwy 281 4 miles

Contact Shane Reynolds for detailed float times and current river conditions on any of the rivers mentioned above. 

Why we love paddling rivers

During my time in college at Southwest Texas State in San Marcos, I had many mentors, good friends and some wise teachers. One thing we all shared was a love and admiration for the San Marcos River. It is during these years that I developed a deep connection to rivers and found their waters always calming to my mind and body. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in San Marcos and the waters of the river were always so healing to my soul. I was mentored by her color, her smell and by the way she could hold you if you swam in her. You could never clutch her in your hands because she was made of liquid and constantly flowing. Often, I would swim underneath her surface and look up at the world above. I realized that the world beneath the surface is as real in its way as the world above. It is a world of beauty, of silence, of darkness and dreams. It is different from the surface world, but complementary to it. Often when I look into the eyes of people and animals, I see this river. All people have rivers inside of them. All people have depth dimensions, even if they do not know it. Our hearts always contain more than our minds can ever understand. 

In some ways the San Marcos River introduced me to spirituality. She helped me realize that life is flowing and fluid, and that the purpose of life is not to escape the fluidity, but rather to flow with it and in it as best as you can and sometimes, if you are really lucky, to be absorbed into its silent beauty. It is from her underwater currents and also floating on her surface, that I learned to “go with the flow.” I am especially grateful to the San Marcos River for helping me understand the wisdom of silence, because when you swim under her surface everything is so quiet. All you can do is listen and be amazed. All you can do is allow the preoccupations of your mind to fall away so that you can listen to what some call “the sound of one hand clapping,” and then realize that in a deep way, that sound is everywhere — in the sheer activity of being alive — even in the surface world. Silence is not the absence of sound — it is the presence of listening, and the San Marcos River helped me listen.

Shane Reynolds is the Outdoor Recreation Director and Outfitter at The Clubs of Cordillera Ranch. He can be reached at outfitter@cordilleraranch.com and 210.616.6051, or at the Cordillera Ranch Outfitter Center at 830.336.4823.

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