The Lower Guadalupe offers everything from tame flatwater to challenging Class III rapids and water falls. It is a dam-fed (Canyon Dam) river with many springs along the way providing additional flow. The Lower Guad starts just below Canyon Lake in Sattler (Comal County) and, for general recreational purposes, flows down to the boat ramp beneath IH 35 in New Braunfels over a distance of about 23.85 miles. The river actually flows all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, but only Texas Water Safari paddlers can be found on those stretches below New Braunfels, with most of that activity limited to the areas below the confluence of the San Marcos River southeast of Gonzales in Gonzales County. Near Seguin, the Guadalupe River is impounded by Lake McQueeny and Lake Wood at Gonzales, but both are well below this reach, and other than the low head dams there are no impoundments between Canyon Lake and IH 35 in New Braunfels.
This reach is characterized by a moderate width channel that sometimes has gently sloping river banks and at other times steep bluffs and cut banks. Most of the river channel is lined with giant bald cypress trees and outfitter locations. A moderate gradient of about 9 feet per mile keeps the water flowing, and that flow is controlled by releases at Canyon Dam. The Comal, the "world's shortest river" (about 3.6 miles), flows into the Guadalupe in New Braunfels at about mile 22.8 below Canyon Dam, and adds a moderate additional flow for the final mile to the take-out beneath IH 35.
With numerous access points it is easy to choose a trip length that fits every paddling need, from short tube float trips to full day canoe/kayak trips. The river is lined with beautiful Cypress, Sycamore and Pecan trees, some rising 60 feet or more above the river. This section is generally safe for any age or experience level, but can become hazardous in flood stage conditions. Great care should be exercised at all the major drops including (most especially) Hueco Springs Rapid, Slumber Falls, Clutter and Rock Garden Rapid and Gruene Rapid, all of which will require advanced skills, safety gear and eternal vigilance to avoid being injured or killed. The aforementioned hazards are all located between the First Crossing of River Road and Gruene Crossing, a distance of about 3.7 miles, with the floatable section continuing a little more than 3 miles below Gruene Crossing. Numerous low-water bridges (especially Gruene Crossing) must be carefully negotiated in swift moving water to avoid injury to people, boats and gear. Overnight trips can be taken by staying at one of many campgrounds located along the Guadalupe River, or by doing day trips staying overnight in conventional accommodations in and around New Braunfels.
The entire reach between Canyon Dam in Sattler and IH 35 in New Braunfels is usually very heavy with tube and raft traffic during summer months, and especially on weekends or hoildays, so if you are looking for solitude, then go some time other than between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend. Water levels permitting, this reach of the river can be paddling year round. Significant development exists all along the river channel and almost all adjacent property is privately owned, so please be mindful of not trespassing and please do not litter! Comal County Sheriff's Deputies are active in patrolling the river for underage drinking, abberrant behavior and littering, so use good judgment to make a river trip more enjoyable for yourself and everybody else by conducting yourself with a measure of decorum and respect for others. Except during the off-season you will never be alone on this reach of the Guadalupe River.
Comal County in the Southwest Texas Hill Country, near San Antonio, New Braunfels and San Marcos. The river flows from Canyon Lake in Comal County down to the Gulf of Mexico.
San Antonio 60 miles; Austin 45 miles; Houston 200 miles; Dallas 260 miles; Oklahoma City 450 miles; Little Rock 570 miles; Kansas City 800 miles; Albuquerque 826 miles; Phoenix 990 miles; Denver 952 miles; Salt Lake City 1,354 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
The water quality in the Lower Guadalupe, coming from Canyon Lake and numerous springs that feed the river, is generally very good to excellent. Water from the dam is generally cold (about 60 degrees) and clear, warming about 1 degree per mile downriver. The water 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 river moving. During periods of drought or when local rainfall is scarce rafting will be difficult, at best. Canoeing and rafting really needs flows above 700 cfs to be fun with minimal dragging or portaging. Kayaks and tubes can enjoy the river at flows as low as 100 cfs, but most kayakers prefer a lot more flow. The river becomes especially dangerous at flows between about 2,000 cfs and 5,000 cfs, and should not be attempted by anybody with less than intermediate level whitewater skills in properly outfitted boats.
Early Spring to mid-summer and late fall are generally best. With proper cold weather gear the Lower Guad can be enjoyably paddled in the winter when temperatures are permissible and adequate flow is available. You WILL get wet on the Lower Guad, so avoid it in cold winter months unless you are outfitted for cold weather paddling. Tubing in winter months is just not the thing to do! Summer paddling is fun when there has been adequate recent rainfall, but expect some dragging (canoes and rafts), especially in the small rapids, when flows are below about 350 cfs. Expect hot temperatures from June through September. This IS Texas, ya'll! And, it ain't no "dry heat" either!
The Lower Guad features many 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 (private bridge at Ingram Ranch about 9.5 miles below Canyon Dam and Gruene Crossing at 19 miles) 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 3-4 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.
The major hazards are as follows: Horseshoe Falls (about 1.5 miles below Canyon Dam) had been buried by the flood of 2002, but has since been dug out and mostly restored. Historically, it has had a keeper hydraulic that has killed people. If you get stuck in the hydraulic, then life may get a whole lot shorter immediately! The left bank is torn up badly, and many houses along the river are either gone or severely damaged, though many have been rebuilt. There is a small dam above the west crossing of FM 306 which can be run on the right or portaged and a small channel on the left which can be used to avoid the dam, but it is more of a nuisance than a real hazard. A rock ledge just above the east crossing of FM 306 (adjacent to Whitewater Sports) is best run along the left bank in the fast-moving water. There are a couple of small dams (Dam 2 and Dam 3) just below the east crossing of FM 306 which can be tricky if you are not prepared. Both dams produce strong hydraulic currents when the flow exceeds 350 cfs and can grab a boat and hold it (as I know from personal experience, having swam there in December!) Dam 2 can be run through a small slot to the left of center and Dam 3 has a narrow channel along the right bank that is generally safe for passage. Water below both dams is very shallow, and can damage canoes and kayaks, especially if you do not have adequate momentum to shoot through the drop. Life is short - paddle hard!
Dam 4, about 6 miles below Canyon Lake, is a small drop of about 3-4 feet, with rocks in the river immediately below the dam. You can definitely get wet at this drop, and the real danger is damage to boats, gear or bodies on those rocks. There are several natural places to run this dam as indicated by reading the water immediately below it. Avoid hitting those boulders if at all possible. Dead center is the preferred path at Dam 4. "S" Turn Rapid is just below Dam 4, and requires a quick 90 degree right turn down a fast channel of moving whitewater into another quick left turn of 90 degrees, with a real potential of swamping a canoe or raft if this rapid is not properly negotiated.
Devils Playground, at about 8.5 miles below Canyon Lake, is a fun rock garden rapid with haystacks at flows above 500 cfs. The biggest thrill is right down the middle, but the safe route is along the right bank near the shoreline. The water through Devil's Playground is usually fast, and exiting the Playground will require a right turn between stands of trees. Depending upon flow, check those exits carefully - some are easier to navigate than others due to the depth of water going through them. (THere is also an optionm of bypassing Devils Playground by taking teh right side channel at the split, providing there is adequate flow to support your craft.) Bad Rock Rapid is about a half mile below Devil's Playground, and is a huge boulder sitting directly in the middle of the river. If you manage to hit it, then you will know why it is called "Bad Rock". The rock is barely visible at flows above 400 cfs, so after exiting Devil's Playground it is generally better to paddle left or right of center. The low water bridge at Ingram Ranch, just below Bad Rock, is dangerous at high water levels.
"The Chute", at about 12.3 miles, is tricky but fun. In summer months it will be clogged with tubers, so exercise caution. The channel is self-evident. Paddle hard and avoid the rocks on either side. The big rapids are all between First Crossing and Gruene Crossing. At First Crossing are the piers of an old low water bridge. The second channel from the left is generally best for getting past first crossing. About 1/4 mile below First crossing is Hueco Springs Rapid, a solid Class III drop with a big sucker hole to the left and behind a huge boulder in the middle of the channel. The safe route is to the far left side, but the fun ride is right through the rapid just left of the rock. Canoes should have adequate flotation. Avoid hitting the big rock, and watch out for that hole! Next is Slumber Falls located about 1/2 mile below First Crossing. The fun run is to the far right, down a right turn drop of about 2 feet, followed by a hard left turn into a rock garden. At adequate water levels the Falls can be run near the center, but rocks and trees make the path tricky, so exercise proper caution. The water through Slumber Falls is generally fast moving, so be prepared to swim if you do not negotiate this one correctly.
Clutter and Rock Garden Rapid, about 2 miles below First Crossing, is very tricky. Enter on the far left, turn slightly right, and paddle like your life depends upon it because it does! The drop is several feet on a gradient, but there are two boulders in the middle of the channel which should be avoided at all costs. If you have to hit one of them, then hit the lower one dead center and catch air going over it! The river turns to the left after exiting Clutter and Rock. At 3.5 miles below First Crossing is Gruene Rapid, a rock garden leading to the Gruene Crossing low water bridge. It is a fast and fun rapid, but you need to avoid being swept under the bridge, especially at high water levels You can take out or portage along either bank, but the property is privately owned by outfitters, so fees may be required for access there.
Dam Access Road (N 29° 52' 11.68" / W 098° 11' 41.08") immediately below Canyon Dam on river right at 0.0 miles; North FM 306 Crossing (N 29¯ 51' 52.34" / W 098° 09' 50.21") on river right at 3.0 miles; South FM 306 Crossing (N 29° 51' 41.64" / W 098° 09' 30.44") on river right at 4.0 miles; River Road 4th Crossing (N 29° 50' 34.77" / W 098° 10' 05.45") at Rio Guadalupe Resort (fee required) on river right at 5.7 miles; Low head dam (N 29° 50' 26.42" / W 098° 10' 16.71") on river left at about 5.9 miles; Ponderosa Crossing (N 29° 49' 26.75" / W 098° 09' 59.47") private access (fee required) on river right at about 7.4 miles; River Road 3rd Crossing (N 29° 48' 15.20" / W 098° 09' 43.13") private access (fee required) on river left at 10.5 miles; any outfitters along The Chute area on river right (fee required); River Road 2nd Crossing (N 29° 46' 45.88" / W 098° 09' 36.64") private access (fee required) on river left at 13.7 miles; River Road 1st Crossing (N 29° 45' 56.43" / W 098° 08' 30.11") private access (fee may be required) on river left or right at 15.8 miles; Gruene Crossing (N 29° 44' 17.84" / W 098° 06' 22.61") private access (fee may be required) on river right or left at 19.5 miles; SH 46 / Loop 337 Crossing (N 29° 43' 35.61" / W 098° 06' 44.05") private access (fee may be required required) on river left at 20.7 miles; Common Street Boat Ramp (N 29° 42' 57.31" / W 098° 06' 37.83") on river left at about 21.6 miles; Cypress Bend Park (N 29° 42' 45.99" / W 098° 06' 19.00") on river right at about 22.0 miles; IH 35 bridge boat ramp (N 29° 41' 36.26" / W 098° 06' 27.96") on river left beneath the highway bridges (huge parking area adjacent to the river.)
Access is VERY limited at most crossings, and the availability of public parking is almost non-existent. 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. Avoid parking on public right-of-ways, as this will get your car towed and ticketed! Additional access to those listed may be available for a small fee from any of the numerous outfitters located along the river from Sattler to New Braunfels.
There are numerous commercial campgrounds available all along this reach of the Lower Guadalupe River. However, between June 1 and Labor Day advance reservations are strongly recommended. Conventional accommodations are also available in Sattler, Startzville and New Braunfels. Most of the campgrounds along this reach of the river do not allow private boats on their property. Camping, parking, access and shuttles may not be available from commercial outfitters during the season between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend unless reservations are made well in advance.
The Tube Haus (830-964-3011), at 12454 FM 306, Canyon Lake, TX 78133, located on the Horseshoe Loop section of the Guadalupe River specializes in Guadalupe River Tubing since 1978. There are other outfitters on this reach of the Guadalupe River, most offering tube and raft rentals, though some offer canoe and/or kayak rentals, as well. Most outfitters on this reach of the river will not provide private boat shuttles. Parking, access and shuttles may not be available from commercial outfitters during the season between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend.
The Lower Guadalupe, at flows above 750 cfs, is the third most exciting whitewater I have personally experienced in Texas, and certainly the closest whitewater to inhabited areas (the Paluxy River near Glen Rose is the best and the Rio Grande around Big Bend National Park offer some great rides.) Canoes and rafts will find the river difficult to navigate when flows are less than about 700 cfs, and flows of 100-300 cfs are common during the summer months tubing season. The challenges run from easy on the upper stretches to quite difficult once you get below First Crossing. The only real drawback to the Lower Guad is the large number of tubers during warmer months, but even then this river is one fun place to paddle. The river can become treacherous at flows above about 2,000 cfs, but starts to flatten out at flows above 5,000 cfs. Know your skill level and paddle accordingly. Do NOT take the Lower Guadalupe for granted - be prepared to swim unless you are on your game! The flat stretches are awesome in their natural scenic beauty, and the whitewater rapids and falls are more than adequate to get your blood pumping. The water can be cold, so be prepared.