The Upper Guadalupe is the gem of Texas rivers, offering everything from tame flatwater to challenging Class III rapids and water falls. It is a spring-fed river which flows over a riverbed of limestone from around Hunt in Kerr County down to a rocky bed toward Canyon Lake in Comal County over a distance of about 87 miles. With numerous access points it is easy to choose a trip length that fits every paddling need, from short tube float trips to multi-day canoe/kayak trips. The river is rife with many free-flowing springs, towering limestone cliffs, Yucci and other species of cacti and is lined with beautiful Cypress, Sycamore, Live Oak and Pecan trees, some rising 60 feet or more above the river. This section is generally safe for any age or experience level, but does have numerous small rapids which are fun and which can become hazardous in flood stage conditions. The low-water bridges must be carefully negotiated in swift moving water to avoid injury to people, boats and gear.
This reach of the river is the beginning of the exciting whitewater rapids and drops above Canyon Lake. It starts at Waring, just below Comfort, and then continues about 34.5 miles to FM 3351 (formerly FM 3160) just north of SH 46 at Bergheim. The entire run is through Kendall County. The river channel widens a little more as it progresses downstream, but is every bit as scenic and remote as the reaches above. Adjacent land is still mostly ranches, though several have sold out to developers who have built gated communities along the river banks, primarily on the south side of the river between Boerne and Bergheim. This reach is characterized by tall, old growth bald cypress trees lining the banks and clean, clear water that meanders except after heavy rains when it roars to life as a fast and furious whitewater stream offering excitement and thrills to those who enjoy moderate rapids. It is a very seldom paddled reach, so usually paddlers here will see nobody else on the river, and if you do, then they are probably more experienced paddlers in canoes and kayaks who appreciate the serenity and quiet of this part of the Upper Guadalupe River.
Five access points allow trips of varying lengths depending on time availabale, paddler stamina and water levels. There are no major hazards at normal water levels, but low water bridges at 4.0 and 8.0 miles could pose serious threats to safety at higher flows. Portaging around them is relatively easy as long as you see them and take out above them.
Kendall County in the Southwest Texas Hill Country, near San Antonio, New Braunfels and Kerrville. This reach of the river flows entire within Kendall County down to FM 3351 just north of Bergheim. FM 473 runs somewhat parallel to much of this reach on its north side, and SH 46 closely parallels the river a few miles to the south. Guadalupe River State Park is on river right about 8 miles below the FM 3351 take-out for this reach.
Kerrville 35 miles; San Antonio 30 miles; Austin 70 miles; Houston 230 miles; Dallas 260 miles; Oklahoma City 465 miles; Little Rock 585 miles; Kansas City 765 miles; Denver 1,044 miles; Salt Lake City 1,517 miles; Phoenix 952 miles; Albuquerque 680 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
The water quality in the middle section of the Upper Guadalupe, coming from numerous springs that feed the river, is generally very good. However, it will become muddy after recent local rainfall, and may become cluttered with debris during flood stage conditions. Water will become stagnant during the dog days of summer unless there is adequate rainfall to keep the water flowing. During periods of drought or when local rainfall is scarce rafting will be difficult, at best.
Early Spring to mid-summer and late fall are generally best. With proper cold weather gear the Upper Guad can be enjoyably paddled in the winter when temperatures are permissible and adequate flow is available. Summer paddling is fun when there has been adequate recent rainfall, but expect some dragging, especially in the small rapids, when flows are below about 150 cfs. Expect hot temperatures from June through September. This IS Texas, ya'll! And, it ain't no "dry heat" either!
CAUTION! There have been two recent drownings on the Upper Guadalupe during high water conditions. Because of the twisting channel, boulder garden rapids, flood debris, low-water bridges and other natural and man-made hazards only experienced and PROPERLY OUTFITTED whitewater paddlers should attempt to run the river when flows exceed about 1,500 cfs. One recent drowing was a kayaker who was not wearing his PFD. Other than at Edge Falls Road low-water bridge (on the section below), the hazards are NOT visible at access points. Some of the river bends become catch areas for washed out tree debris during floods, and create strainers that can pin and injure or kill paddlers, as well as damage boats. Be careful when approaching a riverbend in this area, especially if you cannot clearly see what is ahead, or you have not previously (and recently) scouted it for potential snags and strainers.
The middle section of the Upper Guad is generally free of major rapids and drops, but low hanging tree limbs, log jams and large rocks can pose problems resulting in bodily injury or damage to boats and gear. When in doubt - ALWAYS SCOUT! The old FM 1376 bridge between Boerne and Sisterdale can be dangerous, but can be run throught the left channel or portaged. The real danger is in being swept underneath low water bridges where you will become trapped. A good rule of thumb would be to portage any low water bridge unless you have at least 3 feet of clearance between the surface of the water and the bottom of the bridge. 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. Recent floods have flattened most of the rapids, reducing their difficulty by 1 to 1.5 steps. The Upper Guadalupe is now rated Class I to II-, except in high water conditions when a few of the rapids can still reach solid Class II to III status.
Waring-Welfare Road (N 29° 57' 19.86" / W 098° 48' 04.35") on either side just north of Zoeller Lane ay 0.0 miles; Zoeller Lane (N29° 57' 25.45" / W 098° 46' 34.99") on river left at about 2.25 miles;
FM 1376 / Sisterdale Road (N 29° 57' 25.21" / W 098° 43' 03.03") on either side at about 7.9 miles; Ammans Crossing (N29° 53' 39.74" / W 098° 40' 14.20") just before FM 474 on river right at about 19.5 miles; FM 3351 / Bergheim Road (N 29° 53' 32.31" / W 098° 33' 32.02") on river left at about 34.3 miles. Access is adequate at most crossings, but the availability of public parking is very limited. Please be considerate of others when accessing the river, and always park your vehicles where they do not block river access for others. Never park on private property without securing permission from landowners.
Guadalupe River State Park (830-438-2656) is located on river right about 8 miles below FM 3351 (access is off SH 46 between Bergheim and Bulverde) and offers improved and primitive campgrounds, RV facilities, toilets, showers, water, electricity, nature trails, river access, picnic areas and many other amenities. The State Park is very popular and advance reservations are absolutely recommended. Private campgrounds available to the public are Weidner Campground below FM 311 on river right. Camping along the river may be done on private property, but ONLY with the advance permission of the landowners on whose property you would be camping. If camping on private land or in a public park always leave only footprints and take on photographs. You should always leave the area cleaner than how you found it!
Rentals and shuttle services are available on this section of the Upper Guad from Bigfoot Canoes (830-885-7106) at Spring Branch.
The Upper Guad is one of my personal favorite rivers to paddle because it is serenely beautiful, seldom crowded, and offers an enjoyable paddle trip for almost any paddler. Most of my paddle miles have been on the middle and lower sections of the Upper Guad, and I am intimately familiar with this river. There are some good Class II drops on the Upper Guad, and at high water levels some of them can become Class III ratings. The Upper Guad is a pool-and-drop river typical of most Texas rivers. I have paddled the Upper Guad in the heat of the summer, cold of winter and all times in between (if there are any times in between!) 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 canoeing and kayaking, though it is somewhat less suitable for rafting and tubing than the Lower Guad due to the distance between put-in and take-out points (for tubers) and the general lack of any fast-moving water which makes rafting fun. The upper section is also considerably narrower that the middle and lower sections of the Upper Guad, running shallower and slower than the other sections. Headwinds can be a real challenge unless the water is moving, so plan trip distances according to flow rate and wind conditions for the most enjoyable paddle trip.