The Blanco River headwaters are springs in northwestern Kendall County, near the Gillespie County line. Flowing east southeast for about 87 miles, the Blanco River passes through Kendall, Blanco and Hays Counties to its mouth at the confluence of the San Marcos River just southeast of the Town of San Marcos just below the Hays-Caldwell County Line. The name of the river derives from members of the Aguayo Spanish Expedition in 1721, after they encountered the white limestone in the streambed and along the riverbanks - Rio Blanco (White River). The uppermost 9 miles or so above Sleepy Hollow Road are hardly ever navigable and the channel is very narrow, as well as emcumbered by at least 13 low water bridges and an equal number of low head dams making it all but impossible to have an enjoyable trip near the source of the river.
While the river can occasionally be run above US Highway 281, and even less occasionally up near its headwaters if there has been significant rainfall in Kendall County, for practical purposes the topmost put-in is Sleepy Hollow Crossing south of FM 1888 (Lindendale Road) off Sleepy Hollow Road and west of Blanco River State Park, which is accessed from US Highway 281 in the Town of Blanco. Above the state park the river closely parallels FM 1888 to its intersection with FM 1623, which is also called River Road in and west of Blanco, then follows FM 1623 into Blanco to the interesection of River Run Road, which become Fulcher Street and which continues to parallel the river down to the state park. After crossing US 281, the river travels east by southeast through the Narrows, and then on down through Wimberley before reaching IH 35 in San Marcos. A short distance below IH 35 the Blanco River flows into its confluence with the San Marcos River on the boundary between San Marcos and Martindale.
The most popular runs start at Fischer Store Road, where the new bridge was wiped out by the massive flood of May 23, 2015, and ends at any access point above the San Marcos River confluence. Many paddlers end trips just below the FM 12 bridge in Wimberley. But, because the river can occasionally be run above US 281 this description will be broken into two sections - the Upper Blanco River between Sleepy Hollow Crossing and Fischer Store Road and the Lower Blanco River between Fischer Store Road and the San Marcos River confluence, or more specifically down to Caldwell CR 101 because there is no access at the confluence. This description is for the lower 36.3 miles of the Upper Blanco River.
It should be noted that the river above US Highway 281 is seldom navigable and is encumbered by numerous low-head dams and low water bridges requiring frequent portages. A short distance below US 281 the river flows through "The Narrows", a Class II to III run of about 16 miles with one waterfall drop in a narrow slot that is rated Class V, rising to class VI in high water, one of only three true Class VI rapids in Texas. "The Narrows" reach begins at Blanco CR 407 and ends at Hays CR 181 (Fischer Store Road.) This reach is not recommended for anybody who does not have solid advanced or higher whitewater kayaking skills, and only then when accompanied by other similarly skilled paddlers, preferably at least one of whom has made this run before.
Topography features stair-stepped limestone ledges and shelves covered with grasses, Juniper, Oak, Mesquite and Cedar trees, as well as Bald Cypress, Oak, Elm, Cedar and Conifers in and near the streambed. Most of the adjoining property is privately owned ranch land, though some significant residential development has occurred in and around Wimberley. The river is beautiful, and even in areas with a higher density of housing there is not the feeling of being crowded on the river. Please respect private property, and never trespass on private property except in cases of an emergency. Always obtain landowner permission before accessing private property. There are several spots where the Blanco River runs underground, leaving only a dry streambed cluttered with boulders, rocks, trees, shrubs and grasses on the surface. The subterranean part of the river is primarily near its headwaters where the river channel is much narrower and where it seldom flows as a navigable stream. This feature limits the navigable length of the river unless you are into carrying boats and gear for moderate to long distances across less than hospitable terrain. During flood stage conditions this "feature" is eliminated, leaving only well-rooted trees and boulders to create problems when paddling in fast currents. Public parking is VERY limited at all access points. DO NOT illegally park your car, or it will be protected from vandals in the local police auto pound - at great cost to you!
The Blanco River, especially near the top, is not frequently navigable. It flows best at or near flood stage, and quickly dissipates back to its placid self. According to fabled Texas whitewater kayaker Steve Daniel, The Narrows section "can be run only between 450 cfs and 750 cfs (roughly zero to five inches over the put-in bridge), but at those levels other sections of the river are scrapey. Generally, a moderate level for the run (excluding the narrows) is 1,250 cfs (one foot over the CR 407 put-in bridge.)" Right after a good rainstorm is the best time to catch the Blanco, and for that reason great care should be taken when canoeing or kayaking the river. Occasionally, there are whitewater rapids and surfing holes created by General Motors, Ford or Chrysler resulting from careless drivers thinking their big, high-clearance SUVs were capable of driving across washed out low water bridges.
Northeastern Kendall, Southern Blanco and Southwestern Hays Counties, east of Kerrville, southeast of Fredericksburg running through Blanco and ending on the western edge of the Town of Wimberley in the Texas Hill Country southwest of Austin and north of San Antonio. Nearby rivers include the Little Blanco, Guadalupe, Pedernales, Medina, San Marcos and numerous other rivers and creeks that are sometimes or commonly navigable depending upon the amount of recent local rainfall. This described reach starts in Blanco County about 9 miles below the headwaters of the river.
Austin 25 miles; San Antonio 50 miles; Dallas 250 miles; Houston 250 miles; Oklahoma City 455 miles; Little Rock 575 miles; Kansas City 755 miles; (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination put-in point on the river and route taken.)
The water quality in the Blanco River is generally considered very good, though the river is usually far too low to paddle. The Blanco River usually has an adequate flow for paddle trips during and shortly after a flood, then the flow quickly returns to minimal after runoff water has been drained from the river. Flow levels are subject to extreme fluctuations that can occur on a moment's notice, especially if rains fall anywhere within the drainage basin for the river, so beware of the potential for flash flooding. During high water conditions the river will contain large amounts of tree debris and soil that muddies the water, and occasionally houses, cars and bridges, all of which happened during the flood of May 23, 2015.
Right after a good local rainfall. The Blanco River is very dependent upon recent local rainfall to provide adequate current for boating. Expect hot temperatures from June through September, if there is adequate water to paddle. This IS Texas, ya'll!
Many of the hazards listed below are not normally dangerous, though they could be in high water conditions, but they do pose obstacles that may require portaging. In fast moving water the low head dams and low water bridges must be negotiated with caution to avid getting pinned and trapped resulting in injury, death or destruction of boats and gear. Hydraulic currents may also be present below obstructions and should be carefully scouted before running or putting back in after a portage. There are at least 30 places in this 36.3 mile run that may require portages. Some of the low head dams can be run in appropriate water conditions by paddlers with sufficient skills and properly outfitted boats. Recreational paddles would best be advised to carry around these obstacles and experienced boaters should scout before running any of them to determine sufficient water below the drops and that the channel is clear of other obstacles that could snare paddlers and boats. All mileage designations will be referenced to the Sleepy Hollow Crossing put-in.
Private low water bridge (N 30° 05' 56.23" / W 098° 32' 45.19") at 0.25 miles - portage either side; Low head dam (N 30° 06' 02.25" / W 098° 32' 09.66") at about 1.2 miles - portage left side; Low water crossing (N 98° 06' 12.08" / W 098° 31' 53.01") at about 1.7 miles - portage either side, though left is easiest and best; McClain Road crossing (N 30° 06' 06.41" / W 098° 31' 42.23") at about 1.9 miles - portage left side; Blanco CR 104 / Crabapple Road (N 30° 06' 07.51" / W 098° 30' 43.09") at about 3.2 miles - portage on either side; Low head dam (N30° 06' 07.36" / W 098° 29' 39.75") at about 4.3 miles - portage on left side; Low head dam (N 30° 06' 17.67" / W 098° 28' 58.62") at about 5.1 miles - portage left side; Blanco CR 103 Crossing (N 30° 06' 11.78" / W 098° 28' 27.44") at about 5.8 miles - portage left side; Blasingame Creek Road low water bridge (N 30° 06' 02.12" / W 098° 27' 42.39") at about 6.6 miles - portage right side; Tamara Lane low water bridge (N 30° 06' 10.09" / W 098° 27' 09.68") at about 7.2 miles - portage either side; Blanco CR 102 low head dam (N 30° 05' 34.32" / W 098° 25' 51.36") at about 8.7 miles - portage left side; Blanco River State Park low head dam (N 30° 05' 26.73" / W 098° 25' 28.60") at about 9.2 miles - portage right side; PR 23 low water bridge (N 30° 05' 29.19" / W 098° 25' 27.02") immediately below the Blanco River State Park dam at about 9.25 miles - portage on left side; Blanco City Lake low head dam (N 30° 05' 42.79" / W 098° 25' 12.36") at about 9.6 miles - portage left side; Low head dam (N 30° 05' 51.29" / W 098° 24' 57.73") at about 9.9 miles - portage either side; Low head dam (N 30° 05' 53.15" / W 098° 24' 44.72") at about 10.1 miles - portage either side; Low head dam (N 30° 05' 44.92" / W 098° 24' 39.69") at about 10.3 miles - portage on either side; FM 163 low water bridge (N 30° 05' 36.77" / W 098° 24' 28.36") at about 10.6 miles - portage either side (private property on left); Low head dam (N 30° 05' 33.48" / W 098° 24' 17.51") at about 10.7 miles - portage either side; FM 165 low head dam (N 30䓅' 28.98" / W 098° 24' 07.72") at about 11.0 miles - portage right side; Lost Acres Loop low water bridge (N 30° 05' 27.95" / W 098° 23' 16.29") at about 11.8 miles - portage either side; Low head dam (N 30° 05' 26.16" / W 098° 22' 55.63") at about 12.2 miles - portage left side; FM 405 Bridge / Tejas Trail (N 30° 05' 24.65" / W 098° 22' 39.04") at about 12.5 miles - portage left side; Low head dam (N 30° 05' 15.58" / W 098° 22' 36.76") at about 12.7 miles - portage right side; Low head dam (N 30° 05' 03.38" / W 098° 22' 38.21") at about 13.0 miles - portage on left side; Rockpile natural dam (N 30° 04' 26.14" / W 098° 22' 03.55") at about 14.0 miles - portage either side or run with sufficient flow; Partial low head dam (N 30° 04' 13.12" / W 098° 21' 48.95") at about 14.4 miles blocking right side - make hard left turn and run around dam; FM 406 / Cox Road (N 30° 05' 02.62" / W 098° 20' 51.91") at about 16.2 miles - portage left side; FM 407 / Chimney Valley Road 1st Crossing (N 30° 05' 57.49" / W 098° 20'30.91") at about 17.8 miles - portage either side; Low head dam (N 30° 06' 02.59" / W 098° 20' 25.72") at about 17.9 miles - portage either side; Rockpile natural dam (N 30° 06' 04.08" / W 098° 20' 14.11") at about 18.3 miles - portage either side; Low head dam (N 30° 06' 01.47" / W 098° 20' 07.25") at about 18.4 miles - portage either side; Low head dam (N 30° 05' 49.36" / W 098° 19' 48.05") at about 18.7 miles - portage left side; FM 407 / Chimney Valley Road 2nd Crossing (N 30° 05' 16.70" / W 098° 19' 30.05") at about 19.4 miles - portage left side; Rockpile natural dam (N 30° 05' 02.25" / W 098° 19' 14.35") at about 19.8 miles - portage either side; Low water crossing (N 30° 04' 06.61" / W 098° 19' 27.00") at about 21.1 miles - portage either side; Lela Lane low water bridge (N 30° 02' 49.35" / W 098° 17' 49.60") at about 25.4 miles - portage either side; The Narrows (N 30° 03' 20.78" / W 098° 17' 13.87") at about 26.5 miles - rough portage either side, but DO NOT RUN UNLESS ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN ABOUT SKILL LEVEL AND WATER LEVEL - This is a Class IV-V drop that is rated Class VI in high water conditions, and it is VERY DANGEROUS; Little Blanco River confluence (N 30° 02' 38.75" / W 098° at about 29.7 miles - not a hazard, and listed only for reference purposes; Valley View Road low water bridge (N 30° 02' 12.44" / W 098° 13' 21.64") at about 32.2 miles - portage left side. Fischer Store Road Bridge (N 30° 00' 01.83" / W 098° 11' 59.72") is the take-out for the Upper Blanco River at about 36.3 miles.
The biggest hazard on the entire 87 miles of the Blanco River is the Class IV-V area known as "The Narrows". This is a very technical section with big drops and a tight, twisting, narrow channel that is difficult to negotiate. It should be avoided by all except expert boaters, and even then extreme caution should be exercised. The portage around The Narrows is almost as dangerous as running the drops, so take your time and WATCH YOUR FOOTING! There are several low-water bridges with moderate hydraulics on the downriver side along this reach of the river. These can easily swamp and/or capsize an open canoe or kayak. Caution should be exercised at all low water crossings, including carefully scouting the best way to negotiate those obstacles. The rapids are mostly boulder gardens with clear channels and moderate excitement at higher flows (800 - 1,200 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. Helmets and PFDs are strongly recommended at all times.
Sleepy Hollow Crossing (N 30° 06' 04.59" / W 098° 32' 54.18") south from FM 1888 in southwestern Blanco County on river left at 0.0 miles; Blanco CR 104 / Crabapple Road (N 30° 06' 07.51" / W 098° 30' 43.09") on either side at about 3.2 miles; Blanco CR 103 Crossing (N 30° 06' 11.78" / W 098° 28' 27.44") on river left at about 5.8 miles; Blasingame Creek Road low water bridge (N 30° 06' 02.12" / W 098° 27' 42.39") on river right at about 6.6 miles; Tamara Lane low water bridge (N 30° 06' 10.09" / W 098° 27' 09.68") on either side at about 7.2 miles; Blanco CR 102 low head dam (N 30° 05' 34.32" / W 098° 25' 51.36") just below the low head dam at the west end of Blanco River State Park on river left at about 8.7 miles; Blanco River State Park Road 23 (N 30° 05' 29.19" / W 098° 25' 27.02") on river left at about 9.2 miles; Blanco City Lake low head dam (N 30° 05' 42.79" / W 098° 25' 12.36") on river left at about 9.6 miles; FM 165 at Lindeman Lane one mile east of Blanco on river right at 11.0 miles; FM 405 Bridge / Tejas Trail (N 30° 05' 24.65" / W 098° 22' 39.04") on river left at about 12.5 miles; FM 406 / Cox Road crossing on river left at about 16.2 miles; FM 407 / Chimney Valley Road 1st Crossing (N 30° 05' 57.49" / W 098° 20'30.91") on river left at about 17.8 miles; FM 407 / Chimney Valley Road 2nd Crossing (N 30° 05' 16.70" / W 098° 19' 30.05") on river left at about 19.4 miles; Valley View Road low water bridge (N 30° 02' 12.44" / W 098° 13' 21.64") on river left at about 32.2 miles; Fischer Store Road Bridge (N 30° 00' 01.83" / W 098° 11' 59.72") on river left at about 36.3 miles. There are other possible access points that are on private property and should never be used except with advance permission from landowners.
Camping along the Blanco is generally not an option for the reach between Sleepy Hollow Crossing and Fischer Store Road in Wimberley other than at Blanco River State Park where there are 12 campsites for up to 8 people each with water, sewer, electricity and picnic tables, 9 campsites for up to 8 people each with water, sewer, 30 amp electric hook-ups and picnic tables close to restrooms, and 8 premium campsites for up to 8 people each with water, sewer, 50 amp electric hook-ups and picnic tables close to restrooms (check the park website for details and rates.
Residents along the Blanco River have, from time to time, been inhospitable toward river runners, though that seems to be changing as younger people, many who are paddlers themselves, move into the area. However, trespassing should be strictly avoided except in emergency situations. If the river in navigable, then finding a safe place to camp along the river banks, where you will not be trespassing, is very difficult at best to impossible at worst. This reach is better suited to day trips in unloaded canoes and kayaks.
There are no known outfitters offering rentals, shuttles or other services along this reach of the Blanco River other than the concessionaire at Blanco River State Park where you can rent canoes. Canoe rentals are for local use ONLY and all canoes MUST be returned by 4:00 PM on the day they are rented. Call the park store at 830-833-4333 for details and rates. Arrange private or self-shuttles and leave cars in clearly legal parking areas ONLY! See the admonition about respecting private property in the "Campgrounds and Accommodations" section above.
I had the opportunity to paddle the Blanco for the first time ever after the June-July floods of 2002, and ended up doing it twice on the lower river within a few days. Since then, I had one other opportunity to paddle parts of the Upper Blanco where it seemed we spent almost as much time portaging around low water bridges and low head dams as we did paddling. We were able to run a few of the dams because we had enough water to get over them, but on more than one occasion we discovered that the water below the dams was too shallow for clean landings resulting in flips. An ideal level for the Upper Blanco would probably be about 500 - 1,000 cfs, but the river could get dangerous at much over 1,000 cfs because it is narrow and has the potential to be clogged with deadfall debris or to sweep boats into dams and low water bridges in fast currents. Unfortunately, the Upper Blanco is seldom navigable unless you live in the general area and can get there when it is raining enough to raise the level sufficiently to make it navigable.
The biggest obstacle is finding suitable places to park and leave vehicles while on the river. There are plenty of access points, but most have limited or very limited parking areas and several are adjacent to private property with fences limiting access. The one special feature about paddling the Upper blanco is that few people EVER paddle this part of the river. In fact, few people ever paddle any part of the river, and the upper reach is, by far, the least paddled. The limestone bottom provides a water clarity not often found on Texas rivers except right after a major rain when runoff carries silt, sand and loose grass and tree debris into the river making it murky. The river is generally very shallow, so expect some bumping except in higher flow conditions. And, be sure to wear good shoes for portages because you WILL need them!