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Rio Frio, Texas
Report by Marc W. McCord

Kent to Concan
~ 31 miles

General Description

Located deep in the Texas Hill Country and bordering on the desert, the Rio Frio is a gem of Texas rivers. Its water flows cool, clean and clear from underground springs that gush forth some of the purest water to be found in a Texas river, the bed of which is limestone and gravel. Rising above Kent in Real County, the Frio flows past Garner State Park and on down to Concan (the end of the section most frequently paddled, and which is covered in this report), then down to the Three Rivers area in Live Oak County where it intersects the Atascosa and Nueces Rivers.

The Frio River is home to many species of birds, an abundance of Texas plantlife and some downright hostile landowners who mistakenly believe they actually own the river bed in spite of legal rulings and federal laws to the contrary. There are barbed wire fences across the river that landoners believe they have a right to erect and maintain, and which local law enforcement has been reluctant to challenge. It is a good idea not to trespass on private land along the Frio to avoid confrontation with an angry landowner carrying a Winchester.

The Rio Frio is a beautiful river that is well suited to canoeing, kayaking and tubing. Some whitewater experience in canoes or kayaks would be helpful, but is not absolutely necessary - many less experienced paddlers enjoy this river and look forward to coming back again. Generally, there is enough water for paddle trips, but the river can run dry during hot summer months unless there is adequate local rainfall. It is a good idea to wear river boots or shoes to protect your feet from the limestone riverbed and to prevent foot injuries from rocks.

The river is characterized by high limestone bluffs, huge Bald Cypress trees and crystal clear water that gets very cold in winter. Expect shallow water - the Frio is not a deep river, even by Texas standards. Take a camera and plenty of film, in a dry, protective case, of course, to preserve memories of a truly beautiful place to paddle a canoe or kayak. Access is adequate, and the section most usually paddled is short enough to be a good day trip, yet long enough to break it into a two-day trip, if you desire. Garner State Park is almost exactly halfway between the put-in and take-out points. The changing colors of the seasons are especially beautiful in spring and fall months. Just be sure you plan your trip carefully, make all logistical arrangements in advance and take your own boats and gear because there ia only one known commercial outfitter in the area.

Location

Real and Uvalde Counties in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, near Garner State Park, Lost Maples State Natural Area and just a few miles from the headwaters of the Guadalupe River. The section described flows between Leakey (pronounced "Lakey") to the north and Concan to the south.

Distance from major cities

Dallas 340 miles; Fort Worth 320 miles; Austin 135 miles; San Antonio 80 miles; Houston 320 miles; Oklahoma City 550 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination put-in at the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Excellent - the spring-fed water is some of the cleanest in the state as it emerges from underground springs and flows over limestone and gravel. The flow is marginal during the hot summer months, but there is almost always enough water to get you downriver, though some walking and carrying boats and gear may be necessary. The water will almost always be shallow, but the river can flash flood, so be aware of where you camp and of changing river conditions when you paddle.

Best time to go

Anytime except in the dog days of summer is usually a good time to paddle the Frio. Expect very hot temperatures and strong headwinds in summer months and cold wind and water in winter. Winter paddling is not recommended unless you are properly outfitted and capable of braving cold weather.

Hazards to navigation

The biggest hazard is the aforementioned landowners. Barbed wire fences strung across the river can be a real hazard if you hit them in a moving boat. About 2.5 miles below Garner State Park is a waterfall that should be scouted before running, and at about 29.5 miles below the put-in, off FM 1120, is a hazard known as "The Falls". These can be real problems if not negotiated properly. There are numerous other rapids and chutes which can be rough on bodies and equipment if not run properly. When in doubt, SCOUT! Summer or winter temperatures can be hazards, so dress accordingly.

River access points

County Road crossing near Kent at 0.0 miles; US Highway 83 bridge at 10.0 miles; Bridge on FM 337 east of Leakey at 12.0 miles; Bridge off FM 1120 southeast of Leakey at 14.0 miles; FM 1120 crossing west of Rio Frio at 18.0 miles; Bridge off FM 1050 at 20.0 miles; Garner State Park on river left at 21.5 miles; Magers Crossing at 23.0 miles; Third River Road Crossing on County Road 348 at 26.5 miles; Second River Road Crossing at 28.5 miles; Neal's Lodge Campground on river right just above the Highway 127 crossing southeast of Concan at 31.0 miles.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Garner State Park (830-232-6132) at 10.0 miles offers 211 campsites (146 with water), RV parking, electricity, hot/cold showers, restrooms, cabins, screened shelters, dump stations, laundromat, general store, gift shops and other amenities. There are at least four commercial campgrounds and/or motel accommodations facilities located along or in close proximity to the Rio Frio.

Liveries, Outfitters and Shuttle Services

There is at least one commercial outfitter offering rentals, shuttles and river information on the Rio Frio. Some of the private camps will provide shuttle services for a reasonable fee. Make arrangements in advance to prevent disappointments at the time you are ready to paddle.

Reviewer's comments

The Rio Frio is one of those rivers every serious paddler should experience. The sheer beauty of the natural environment, some 150 species of birds, many wild animals, excellent fishing, natural topography and the remoteness of the area combine to make the Frio one-of-a-kind among Texas rivers. The clean, cool water is almost drinkable right out of the river, though that is not generally recommended. Be sure to waterproof and tightly lash all gear to your boat in case you decide to go for an unplanned swim. Above all else, if you encounter a landowner who thinks you are violating his property rights be kind and courteous. Even though he is wrong, he may think he is right, and if he is armed with a rifle or pistol he is right at that moment. Disputes are best settled in a court of law. A paddle is no match for a Winchester or Smith & Wesson! Above all else, as with all rivers you paddle, please leave the area cleaner than it was when you arrived.

Technical Data
Class Rating I to III
Length 47 miles
Minimum Flow 30 cfs
Optimum Flow 100 - 2,000 cfs
Maximum Flow 4,000 cfs
First Put-in FM 336 bridge at Kent
Lat/Long
Last Take-out SH 127 at Concan
Lat/Long N29° 44' 40.02" / W 099° 45' 07.98"
Elevation msl
Gradient fpm
USGS Gauge Web: 08195000 (Concan)
Boats Canoes, Kayaks
Season Anytime except summer, rainfall dependent
Permits No


Frio River map courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Rio Frio map courtesy
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department


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