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Colorado River, Texas
Report by Marc W. McCord

US Highway 190 to Lake Buchanan
~ 42 miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The first commonly paddled section of the Colorado River runs from Highway 190 in San Saba County down to Lake Buchanan in Lampasas County, about 90 miles west of Austin. This is a rather remote section of the river requiring one to three days to paddle it, depending upon starting point, water flow and paddler stamina. Most of the trip will be flatwater, particularly in mid to late summer when it is hot and dry, though there are a couple of places where decent whitewater rapids and waterfalls can be a problem if not run properly. Some of the private roads along this section may be closed during deer season.

The section around Colorado Bend State Park offers spectacular scenery accentuated by bald eagles soaring in the skies close to where they nest (eagles also nest on the other sections of the Colorado, and will be discussed on another page.) The river is teeming with fish, with several species of bass being the predominant catch. Many creeks feed the Colorado as it flows through the Texas Hill Country, and during periods of heavy rain the river rises quickly to dangerous levels, but returns to normal levels soo thereafter.

Services that cater to paddlers are few on this section, though there are liveries and shuttles available. Most of the adjacent land is privately owned, so picking a campsite requires some planning and careful observation to avoid trespassing. Natural campsites are abundant, including gravel bars and sandbars in the river - these can become dangerous places to camp if the river rises during the night due to rains north and west of the river within its drainage basin. With many side creeks and small canyons to explore, this section of the Colorado is a great pleace for almost anyone to enjoy provided proper preparations, planning and logistics are considered, especially as concerns camping aong the river.

Location

San Saba and Lampasas Counties in central Texas, near Killeen, Temple, Lampasas and Austin. Lake Buchanan is at the bottom of this section and Lake Lyndon B. Johnson is nearby. The Pedernales River flows just south of the area.

Distance from major cities

Austin 90 miles; Waco 125 miles; Dallas 175 miles; San Antonio 130 miles; Houston 280 miles; Little Rock miles; Kansas City miles; Albuquerque miles; Phoenix miles; Denver miles; Salt Lake City miles (all distances are approxinate and depend upon starting point, destination put-in at the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Clear and clean, flowing over limestone and gravel. Except during long, hot, dry periods this section generally has adequate water for paddle trips, though some walking may be required occasionally.

Best time to go

Spring and fall are the optimum seasons and winter can be good if sufficient rain has fallen and you are prepared for the colder temperatures. Summer is usually best avoided unless adequate local rains have fallen recently. March through June and late-October through December generally offer the optimum conditions for paddle trips.

Hazards to navigation

Barefoot Falls, at about 20 miles, Brahma Canyon just below Barefoot Falls and Gorman Falls at about 26 miles are potentially dangerous places, especially at high water. Other small rapids and rock outcroppings can be a minor problem unless approached properly. Generally, the biggest hazard on this section is a strong headwind coming off Lake Buchanan. The headwinds should be taken vry seriously, as they can cause whitecaps and standing waves that can swamp and/or roll a canoe in addition to blowing you back upriver. Allow adequate time on your trip possibility of headwinds.

River Access Points

Highway 190 crossing west of Lampasas at 0.0 miles (GPS coordinates: N 31° 13' 06.64" / W 098° 33' 52.09"); Flat Rock (fee required), just southwest of Bend on Highway 580 at 15 miles (GPS coordinates: N 31° 05' 19.19" / W 098° 44.14 23.75"); RR 580 crossing, about one-half mile northwest of Lometa, at about 16 miles has very poor access; Sulphur Springs Camp at about 22.3 miles (fee required); Colorado Bend State Park (access fee is required, and camping fees are required if staying overnight) on river right at about 30.0 miles (GPS coordinates: N 31° 05' 56.23" / W 098° 30' 44.14"); Buchanan Adventure Tours at Canyon of the Eagles on Lake Buchanan at about 42.0 miles (GPS coordinates: N 30° 51' 29.16" / W 098° 23' 49.99") .

Note: If you pass Colorado Bend State Park, then your next takeout is 12 miles below, on Lake Buchanan. The waters of Lake Buchanan can be rough if the headwinds are blowing, so allow plenty of time to cross the lake. Rolling waves are capable of flipping a canoe, so exercise caution when crossing the lake in strong winds.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Colorado Bend State Park has primitive camping, but also has picnic area, a boat launching and recovery ramp, water and chemical toilets. Numerous primitive campsites can be found in the riverbed and along the banks, though the ones on the banks are probably going to be on private property - AVOID TRESPASSING if possible, and never camp on private land without permission. There is a commercial outfitter offering tent camping, cabins and other facilities on the shores of Lake Buchanan.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

Buchanan Adventure Tours (512-756-4700), formerly Lake Buchanan Adventures, is located at Canyon of the Eagles on Lake Buchanan, and offers canoe and kayak rentals, shuttles, gear and supplies sales and service, geocaching, cave exploration, natures hiking, rock climbing, team building and other services on the Colorado River and Lake Buchanan. Shuttle services may also be obtained from locals in the area for a nominal fee.

Reviewer's comments

This section of the Colorado River is beautiful, scenic and very interesting, especially if you enjoy wildlife and the natural Texas plantlife that grows there. Springtime, when the wildflowers are in bloom, is absolutely gorgeous. Seeing eagles soaring overhead is a thrill not to be found on most rivers (or anywhere else, for that matter!) It is generally best to plan on at least two days to paddle the 30 miles of the section ending at Colorado Bend State Park so that you have time to explore some of the creeks, side canyons and other features that you will encounter along the way. Take care to avoid those mean headwinds, especially if you are not a strong paddler with a lot of stamina!

Technical Data
Class Rating I
Length 42 miles
Minimum Flow 100 cfs
Optimum Flow 250 - 2,000 cfs
Maximum Flow 5,000 cfs
First Put-in US Highway 190
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out Lake Buchanan
Lat. / Long.
Elevation msl
Gradient fpm
USGS Gauge Web: 08138000 (Winchell)
Web: 08147000 (San Saba)
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season Fall, winter and spring
Permits No


TG Canoes & kayaks on the Gorgeous San Marcos River

Cook's Canoes in Downtown Webberville

Colorado River map courtesy Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
Colorado River map courtesy Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

Deer Creek below Colorado Bend State Park
Deer Creek below Colorado Bend State Park

Fall Creek below Colorado Bend State Park
Fall Creek below Colorado Bend State Park

Canoeman River Guide Services offers river trips, trip planning and instruction on rivers in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Houston Canoe Club

Alamo City Rivermen - Paddling the fine line between geek and bubba

Dallas Down River Club - Promoting paddlesports,  safety and environmental protection

Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Colorado River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

Colorado River

[ Colorado River Homepage ] [ Austin Town Lake ] [ US Highway 183 (Austin) to FM 969 ]
[ FM 969 to Smithville ] [ Smithville to La Grange ] [ La Grange to Columbus ]

Tributaries

[ Barton Creek ] [ Pedernales River ] [ Concho River ]

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