The lower 23 miles of the Upper Guadalupe offer beautiful scenery, Class I-II rapids and a great trip on a river free of commercial development. Guadalupe River State Park is 8 miles downriver from the Bergheim put-in. The river is tame at low water levels, but can be a "thriller" at medium to high flows. It is lined with giant Bald Cypress trees that, from spring until the first really cold (?) weather in late fall, are just drop dead gorgeous. Most adjacent land is native Texas ranchland, and is strongly defended by landowners (especially Lowery Mays, owner of Clear Channel Communications, who built an illegal dam/bridge across the river and got away with it!), so paddlers should avoid trespassing unless necessary for safety reasons. The river needs at least 150 cfs to be navigable, though canoes may hang in the rapids at flows below about 500 cfs, and will definitely get stuck when flows drop below about 300 cfs. The best conditions occur when the area between Hunt and Canyon Lake gets about 1-2 inches of rain about a day or two before your run.
Access to the river is good - FM 3351, Edge Falls Road, the state park, Nichols Landing (Specht's Crossing), Highway 281, FM 311, Weidner's Campground (with permission) and Rebecca Creek Road. There are no food services along the Upper Guad, and only three liveries (one of whom is friendly and a good steward of our natural envirornment) operate between Bergheim and Rebecca Creek Road. Glass and polystyrene styrofoam containers are prohibited under penalty of a $500.00 fine! San Antonio, Boerne and New Braunfels are all nearly equal distances from the bottom of this reach of the Upper Guad, which ends about 10-12 river miles above Canyon Lake. Paddling below Rebecca Creek Road is not recommended, and usually results in a very tiring experience. If you are renting from a livery and go down there, then expect to be picked up VERY late and with a high recovery fee for the LONG shuttle to get you and return you to your car. Paddlers should avoid going all the way to the Rebecca Creek Road low-water bridge - it has pinned and wrapped many canoes, kayaks and rafts, and has the potential to be a killer. There is a great Class II rock garden rapid just below the bridge, but running it requires trespassing on privately-owned land to get back to the take-out.
Kendall and Comal Counties in the Southwest Texas Hill Country, near San Antonio, New Braunfels and Boerne. The upper river flows about 83 miles from west of Hunt in Kerr County down to Canyon Lake in Comal County.
Kerrville 75 miles; San Antonio 50 miles; Austin 70 miles; Houston 210 miles; Dallas 280 miles; Oklahoma City 485 miles; Little Rock 590 miles; Kansas City 765 miles; Albuquerque 730 miles; Phoenix 1,002 miles; Denver 1,035 miles; Salt Lake City 1,291 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
The water quality in the lower section of the Upper Guadalupe, coming from numerous springs that feed the river, is generally very good to excellent. 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. Ideal conditions exist when flows are 500 - 1,000 cfs. At flows over 1,500 cfs the Upper Guadalupe should ONLY be boated by paddlers with at least strong intermediate level whitewater skills and swiftwater rescue training.
Early Spring to mid-summer and late fall are generally the best times to paddle the Upper Guadalupe River. With proper cold weather gear and adequate flow the Upper Guad can be enjoyably paddled in the winter when temperatures are permissible (which is most of the time.) 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 300 cfs. A day or two after about 1-2 inches of rainfall between Hunt and Canyon Lake is ideal, though you may have to wait a long time for those conditions. 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, the hazards are NOT visible at access points.
The lower section of the Upper Guad features several significant rapids and waterfalls which can be dangerous if not executed properly, along with 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! Two low water bridges (Edge Falls Road and Rebecca Creek Crossing) can be dangerous at high water levels or when clogged with debris, such as after a flood. 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. Edge Falls Road bridge becomes a dangerous hazard at flows above about 1,800 cfs, and Rebecca Creek Road bridge becomes a serious hazard when flows approach about 800 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.
Recent floods have flattened many of the rapids, reducing their difficulty by 1 to 1.5 steps. The Upper Guadalupe is now rated Class I to III-, except in high water conditions when a few of the rapids can still reach solid Class III to III+ status. The major rapids (though significantly reduced in their severity by floods in recent years) are as follows: Rock Pile Rapid located about 1 mile below FM 3351 - pick your line carefully, then go for it! Avoid the far left side between teh two medium-sized boulders - this is a vertical pin potential. Dog Leg Rapid, at 3 miles, can be entered from three approaches. EASY - enter on the far left and the current will sweep you toward a hugh boulder on river right. Be sure to paddle and use draw and/or rudder strokes to avoid contact with the rock. HARDER - enter in mid-stream and paddle hard past the boulder on the right. FUN - paddle down the right side in the main current and draw or rudder around the boulder. Lowery Mays' illegal dam/bridge on his Guadalupe Land & Cattle Company ranch, about 1-1.5 miles below Guadalupe River State Park, can be a problem if not run properly. There is a slot to the right of center which is fairly easy to negotiate, but the water below the bridge is aerated and does not provide good bouyancy. At water levels over the bridge be very careful. At water levels below the top of the bridge you will have no choice but to portage on river right.
The rapid just below the Highway 281 bridge can be a lot of fun, and at high flows can become a decent Class II drop. Entering on the far right along the limestone canyon wall is where the most fun ride will be had. A safe line is just to go down the middle through the rock garden. It is fun, but not challenging. The rapid just above the FM 311 bridge is another tricky deal. If you are too far right, then you are going around an island. Duck under a low-hanging tree as you enter, then a few strokes, a draw or rudder stroke and duck under the low-hanging tree on the right bank where the channel turns back toward the river. The river drops over a small ledge then heads for the main channel - right under another low-hanging tree with a big rock in mid-stream. For novice paddlers the best option is to paddle right down the middle to left-center of the river.
About 2 miles below FM 311 the river approaches Mueller Falls, a complex drop offering a half dozen good lines, each with different characteristics. Go far left through the chute (Class I+ to II+), straight on over the small falls (Class I+ to II+), around the right through the horseshoe falls (Class II+ to III+) or far right through the chute (Class I+ to II+). The final drop on the Upper Guad is Rust Falls (Class II to III+), at about 22.5 miles below FM 3351, a tricky and decent drop with multiple lines, but is not particularly difficult for experienced paddlers. Recnt small floods have restored much of the former luster and excitement to Rust Falls, so inexperienced paddlers need to exercise extreme caution when approaching this hazard. The water currents can be quite fast coming out of Rust Falls. Below Rust Falls is one small right hand turn into a small rapid with a drop of about 1 foot. This last rapid has also been altered. A huge tree blocks the entire right side, but the water rushes to the left and sweeps back downriver about a half mile on a flat run down to Rebecca Creek Road.
Take extra care to avoid being swept under Rebecca Creek Bridge. It is a low-water crossing with insufficient clearance at any water level. Going under the bridge could result in serious injury or death! Beyond Rebecca Creek Crossing lies about 12 miles of mostly deadwater paddling down to Crane's Mill Marina on Canyon Lake. It is possible to paddle down about 6-7 miles to Cypress Cove, if you can find it from the river - it is EASY to miss. Lake currents, strong headwinds off the lake and occasionally motorboat wake all make for less than fun paddling, and will absolutely fatigue a strong paddler in a few minutes. It is inadvisable to paddle the Upper Guad below Rebecca Creek Crossing unless you are a masochist.
FM 3351 (N 29° 53' 32.31" / W 098° 33' 32.02") on river left at 0.0 miles; Edge Falls Road (N 29° 53' 10.17" / W 098° 31' 55.36") on river right above the low-water bridge at about 3.6 miles; Guadalupe River State Park (N 29° 52' 33.64" / W 098° 29' 09.89") on river right at about 7.7 miles; Nichols Landing (N 29° 52' 45.51" / W 098° 26' 54.36") on river left at about 12.6 miles (there is now a small pocket park with easy access to the river and a paved parking lot for daytime parking ONLY. Camping is NOT allowed! Vehicles parked at Nichols Landing after dark WILL be towed by the Comal County Sheriff's Department!); US Hwy. 281 (N 29° 51' 13.18" / W 098° 24' 28.84") on river right just above the bridge at about 16.4 miles; FM 311 (N 29° 51' 34.58" / W 098° 22' 58.84") on river left just below the bridge at about 18.0 miles; Weidner Campground / Bigfofot Canoes (N 29° 52' 08.68" / W 098° 22' 38.58") on river right at about 19.25 miles offers a take-out for a small fee if not renting from Bigfoot Canoes; Rebecca Creek Road (N 29° 53' 15.05" / W 098° 22' 05.48") on river left above the new elevated bridge at about 22.6 miles. (NOTE: It is highly inadvisable to go beyond Rebecca Creek Road, as there are no further take-out points until you reach Cypress Cove about 6-7 miles down toward Canyon Lake. The water from the lake backs up into about 5-6 miles of deadwater paddling, and the difficulty of getting a shuttle for your boats, gear and paddlers can be a costly affair.)
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. Parking illegally can cost you a high fine from the Comal County Sheriff's Department, and possibly result in your vehicle being towed a LONG way away, with a very high recovery cost!)
Weidner Campground below FM 311 on river right offers primitive tent and RV camping along the Guadalupe River, as well as pit toilets and hot showers.
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. 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 only photographs. You should always leave the area cleaner than how you found it!
Bigfoot Canoes (830-885-7106) offers canoe, sit-on-top kayak, inflatable kayak, raft and tube rentals, as well as private shuttle services for trips on the Upper Guadalupe River. Bigfoot Canoes is located on the Weidner Ranch at FM 311 and the Guadalupe River. There are no other friendly or environmentally-conscious liveries, outfitters or shuttle services operating along the Upper Guadalupe River below Comfort.
The Upper Guad is serenely beautiful, seldom crowded, and offers an enjoyable paddle trip for almost any boater. 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. 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. Expect a flow speed of about 3-4 mph in a kayak, 2-3 mph in a canoe, 2-2.5 mph in a raft or inflatable kayak and about 1 mph or less in a tube (downriver speeds are based on a flow of about 300 cfs - higher flows will increase dowriver speed and lower flows will decrease it. Plan your trips carefully so that you are not on the river at dark.)
Rental outfitters (with the exception of the ones at US 281) will not put tubers on the river at flows exceeding about 1,000 cfs, nor will they rent other craft at flows over about 1,500 cfs unless they know the paddlers and are comfortable with their skills and abilities to handle the fast-moving waters. Even then, they will try to talk you out of going. While I would never suggest that inexperienced paddlers attempt runs at high flows it is reasonably safe for those with at least strong intermediate level whitewater skills at flows up to about 10,000 cfs. The river actually becomes mostly flat and fast-moving at high flows, but at 3,850 cfs there were some monster haystacks in the rock gardens. Alcohol consumption, especially under a hot, Texas summer sun, can still raise the danger factor by a couple of notches.