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Colorado River, Texas
Report by Marc W. McCord

FM 969 to SH 71
~ 40.8 miles

General Description

The Colorado is a long, wide, slow-moving river with few whitewater hazards and plenty of scenery to capture your eye. The section between FM 969 south of Webberville and SH 71 at Smithville is about 40.8 miles of flatwater paddling with a few very minor rapids and ledge drops that could be exciting rapids in higher flow conditions. Flowing northwest to southeast, the Colorado River is characterized by occasionally strong southeasterly headwinds that will slow you down and which may make your trip a little less enjoyable. There are numerous access points for putting in and taking out, but some stretches can be many miles between them, so careful trip planning is essential.

This reach of the river is home to the Alamo City Rivermen's annual overnight Freeze Trip, a mid-winter event that features more than 100 paddlers in 60-70 boats, great food, hot grog (a specialty of Gib Hafernick) and a whole lot of fun. This run is entirely within Bastrop County with almost identical characteristics as the reach above except for Lost Pines, an isolated area of pine trees once connected to the Piney Woods of Deep East Texas that seems out of place among the elms, willows and sycamores of Bastrop County. Along this reach the flood plain becomes deeper revealing very scenic sandstone cliffs and bluffs. Fishing is great, and many animals can often be seen along the river. Bald eagles may be seen in winter months. Weather and flow conditions will be very similar to other parts of the Colorado River below Austin, where a wide stream and slow surrent will usually be found.

The entire length of the Colorado River flows through land steeped in Texas history. Many battlefields of the War for Independence from Mexico lie along this route. Names of people and places that are legendary in Texas history will be seen everywhere. The only major drawback is the lack of commercial liveries and shuttle services - you will need to bring your own boats and gear and arrange your own shuttles. Depending upon the length of the trip you want to take setting up a shuttle for the last day can take up a good part of the first day - plan accordingly and allow adequate time for staging shuttle vehicles at the take-out.

Location

Bastrop County, just outside the southeastern edge of the Texas Hill Country, below Webberville down to Smithville.

Distance from major cities

Austin 22.0 miles; Waco 122 miles; Dallas 212 miles; San Antonio 95 miles; Houston 131 miles; Oklahoma City 421 miles; Little Rock 542 miles; Kansas City 717 miles; Albuquerque 725 miles; Phoenix 1,043 miles; Denver 987 miles; Salt Lake City 1,243 miles (all distances are approximate, and depend upon starting point, put-in destination at the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Good to very good, with the highest quality during winter months or shortly after a significant local rainfall. Low water and high temperatures will reduce water quality. Recent rainfall will make the water murky to muddy. The flow is usually adequate for trips with minimal walking or portaging, but that can change due to low or high water conditions. You can expect to walk in some areas between June and October, or during prolonged droughts.

Best time to go

Spring and fall, when the plants are changing colors and the rains are more frequent, are the optimum seasons and winter can be good if sufficient rain has fallen and you are prepared for the colder temperatures. Summer is not the best time for optimum conditions of comfort and water quality unless adequate local rains have fallen recently. Summer heat and high headwinds can sometimes act to make the months from June through September less than ideal for paddling the Colorado River.

Hazards to navigation

Most of the hazards on the Colorado River are not rapids, waterfalls, rock ledges, outcroppings or obstacles to paddling. The river is, for all intents and purposes, free of such hazards. However, Mother Nature can be a problem unless proper precautions are taken. Some of these natural hazards include seering summer temperatures, lack of shade trees along the riverbanks, strong headwinds, fireants and occasionally snakes, though they are not usually a problem unless you step on them or attempt to handle them. The long distances between access points can be the single biggest hazard for most paddlers. The few rapids to be encountered will generally fall into the Class I- to I+ category, and are easily negotiated by being observant and taking the proper line through them.

River Access Points

FM 969 crossing 5 miles northwest of Bastrop at 0.0 miles; Bob Bryant Park in Bastrop on river right at about 11.0 miles; Fisherman's Park near the intersection of SH 21 and SH 71 in Bastrop at about 15.3 miles; Tahitian Village Public Access in Bastrop on river left at about 21.5 miles; SH 71 crossing in Smithville at about 40.8 miles.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Bastrop State Park (512-321-2101) has a lodge, cabins, tent camping sites, water, electricity, RV park, showers, restrooms, park store, dump stations and other amenities; Bastrop County Park in Webberville has campsites with picnic tables; FM 969 crossing has limited primitive campsites on a first come, space available basis; Buescher State Park (512-237-2241); Columbus Chamber of Commerce Park has limited facilities. Numerous riverbank and gravel bar campsites are available, but heed the admonition regarding use of private property and DO NOT TRESPASS without permission.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

Rising Phoenix Adventures (512-677-2305) in Bastrop offers canoe and kayak rentals, shuttle services, mountain bike rentals, sales and repairs, camping gear sales and related services for outdoor recreation activities on the Colorado River between Austin and Smithville. Cook's Canoes (512-276-7767) in downtown Webberville offers canoe and kayak rentals, shuttles and other services on the Colorado River between Austin and Bastrop. Remote boat rentals and shuttles may be arranged by contacting Austin Outdoor Gear & Guidance (512-473-2628), or other outfitters and liveries operating at or near other nearby rivers.

Reviewer's comments

The Colorado is one of those flatwater rivers that excites even a whitewater enthusiast because of the abundance of natural plants and animals to be seen. Paddling through a part of Texas that is largely unchanged from the frontier days before and after independence from Mexico is a step back in time, and if you close your eyes and open your ears you can sometimes hear the sounds of the past, where numerous Texas Indian nations fought Mexicans and Americans, and where the Texians made their stands against the armies of Santa Ana in 1836. Just seeing the bald eagles soaring in the skies overhead is an awesome thing to behold.

The headwinds can and will make you shout profanities at times, especially in times of low water, when you are already having to walk more than you wanted to do. However, the rugged, natural environment and the richness of the animal- and plantlife is a photographer's Valhalla. The key to enjoying the Colorado River is to know what to expect and be prepared to manage it within a time schedule you have developed for completing your trip. The access points allow you to plan trips of moderate to long distances according to your idea of a perfect river trip.

Technical Data
Class Rating I
Length 40.8 miles
Minimum Flow 200 cfs
Optimum Flow 500 - 3,000 cfs
Maximum Flow 5,000 cfs
First Put-in FM 969 southeast of Webberville
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out SH 71 at Smithville
Lat. / Long.
Elevation msl
Gradient fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Austin
Bastrop
Smithville
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season Year-round, weather permitting
Permits No


Cook's Canoes in Downtown Webberville

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

Canoeman River Guide Service - Guided river trips in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

US Hwy. 71 bridge in Bastrop
US Hwy. 71 bridge in Bastrop

Fisherman's Park take-out just above US 71 bridge
Fisherman's Park take-out just above US 71 bridge

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 ] [ US Highway 190 to Lake Buchanan ] [ Austin Town Lake ]
[ US Highway 183 (Austin) to FM 969 ] [ Smithville to La Grange ] [ La Grange to Columbus ]

Tributaries

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

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Last updated May 28, 2012

Copyright © 1998-2012, Marc W. McCord dba CobraGraphics. All rights reserved. Southwest Paddler, CobraGraphics and Canoeman River Guide Services are trademarks of Marc W. McCord dba CobraGraphics. The textual, graphic, audio, and audio/visual material in this site is protected by United States copyright law and international treaties. You may not copy, distribute, or use these materials except for your personal, non-commercial use. Any trademarks are the property of their respective owners. All original photographs on this web site are the exclusive property of Marc W. McCord or other designated photographers and may not be copied, duplicated, reproduced, distributed or used in any manner without prior written permission under penalty of US and International laws and treaties.