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, Hays and Caldwell Counties to its mouth at the confluence of the San Marcos River just southeast of the Town of San Marcos. 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 Sleep 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 (Class IV to V, VI in high water), 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, described on this page, start at Fischer Store Road, where the new, high 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 it is possible to run the river all the way to the San Marcos River confluence, or more specifically down to Caldwell CR 266 because there is no access at the confluence. This reach is the "urbanized" part of the river because it flows through Wimberley and San Marcos, so you can expect to see more houses, commercial buildings, roads, cars and people along part of this lower 42.5 miles of the river. Of course, there are still parts of the river that retain their remoteness and wilderness characteristics, especially between Wimberley and San Marcos.
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 adjacent to the streambed. Most of the adjoining property is privately owned ranch land, though some significant residential development has occurred in and around Wimberley and San Marcos. 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.
It should be noted that most of the Blanco River is not frequently navigable. It flows best at or near flood stage, and quickly dissipates back to its placid self. 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. Several low water bridges, one low head dam, rock gardens, boulders in midstream, and other potential hazards await the inexperienced and/or ill-prepared paddler. Of these, the low water crossings may be the biggest obstacle - runnable with sufficient water, but requiring portages at lower levels. Even at 1,100 cfs, some of the low water bridges may require a portage to get around them. Occasionally, there may be 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. But, for the most part, the Lower Blanco River is an enjoyable, leisurely, quiet stream that is not crowded with other boaters, and it affords trips of many lengths due to the number of potential access points (at least 18) between Fischer Store Road and Caldwell CR 266 on the San Marcos River about 1.2 miles below the confluence.
If going to Caldwell CR 266 be aware that about 0.6 miles below the confluence of the San Marcos River is Cummings Dam with a drop of about 20 feet that should not be run, but which can be fairly easily portaged on far river right by dropping boats down the downriver side buttresses from shallow water on the upriver side before walking around the dam on the extreme right side along a trail that takes you to the bottom. Beware the very slick rock slab just below the dam on river right where you will re-enter the river - many paddlers have slipped and busted their humps trying to get back in their boats. Try to avoid getting sucked back into the hydraulic below the dam, and avoiding it is easy enough if you avoid paddling immediately out to the middle of the river close to the dam. The easiest take-out at Caldwell CR 266 is on river right, but parking there is VERY limited and the road is a narrow one lane bridge with hidden approaches from both sides, so WATCH FOR CARS!
Southwestern Hays County, close to FM 32, FM 306, FM 12, and the Town of Wimberley in the Texas Hill Country southwest of Austin ending between San Marcos and Martindale in Caldwell County southeast of Austin.
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 into 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.
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!
There are several low-water bridges, listed below, with moderate hydraulics on the downriver side between Fischer Store Road in Wimberley and Five Mile Dam Park in San Marcos. 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.
G. W. Haschke Lane low water bridge (N 29° 59' 24.58" / W 098° 11' 58.96") on river right at about 0.9 miles - portage on river right; FM 179 / Wayside Drive low water bridge (N 29° 58' 02.62" / W 098° 11' 22.17") portage on river left at about 3.6 miles; Private low water bridge (N 29° 57' 51.32" / W 098° 11' 05.82") portage on left at about 3.9 miles; Private low water bridge (N 29° 57' 20.70" / W 098° 10' 08.79") portage on left at about 5.1 miles; Low water bridge (N 29° 58' 10.54" / W 098° 07' 20.37") south from River Bluff Lane in Wimberley - portage on river left at about 8.8 miles; FM 1492 Bridge (N 29° 59' 06.00" / W 098° 06' 34.03") portage on river left at about 10.3 miles; Hidden Valley Road low water bridge (N 29° 59' 08.16" / W 098° 03' 55.20") portage on either side at about 13.8 miles; Little Arkansas Road low water bridge first crossing (N 29° 59' 02.49" / W 098° 03' 10.97") portage on river right at about 14.7 miles; Little Arkansas Road low water bridge second crossing (N 29° 59' 59.92" / W 098° 01' 54.90") portage on river right at about 16.6 miles; Little Arkansas Road Access (N 29° 58' 49.84" / W 098° 01' 41.81") portage natural rock dam (if not runnable) on left side at about 17.0 miles; Little Arkansas Road low water crossing (N 29° 59' 05.55" / W 098° 01' 21.14") portage on either side at about 17.4 miles; Low water bridge (N 29° 59' 40.27" / W 097° 59' 50.40") portage on either side at about 20.4 miles; Low water bridge (N 29° 57' 21.16" / W 097° 54' 16.96") run center (if adequate flow) or portage either side at 31.0 miles; Five Mile Dam (N 29° 56' 25.59" / W 097° 54' 05.87") portage river left at about 32.5 miles; Low water crossing (N 29° 54' 52.65" / W 097Ӽ 53' 59.69") adjacent to the sand pit portage on either side at about 34.8 miles; Cummings Dam (N 29° 51' 20.74" / W 097° 54' 21.74") is a mandatory portage on far river right around a 20-foot dam at about 41.9 miles.
There are significant rapids in the area between the lower Little Arkansas Road crossing and Five Mile Dam ranging from Class II to IV, and strong hydraulic currents below some of the low water bridges in this area that can become sticky at higher water levels. These areas should be avoided by paddlers without sufficient whitewater paddling skills and properly outfitted boats. An additional fairly long and somewhat significant rapid exists just above IH 35 between Hays CR 140 / Post road and the low water crossing by the sand pit that requires strong paddling skills and careful navigation. This area below Little Arkansas Road is known to have some trees in the channel that may come into play, especially in higher water conditions with swift currents.
Fischer Store Road Bridge (N 30° 00' 01.83" / W 098° 11' 59.72") on river left at 0.0 miles; G. W. Haschke Lane low water bridge (N 29° 59' 24.58" / W 098° 11' 58.96") on river right at about 0.9 miles; FM 179 / Wayside Drive low water bridge (N 29° 58' 02.62" / W 098° 11' 22.17") on either side at about 3.6 miles; FM 1492 Bridge (N 29° 59' 06.00" / W 098° 06' 34.03") on river left at about 10.3 miles; Ranch Road 12 (N 29° 59' 37.19" / W 098° 05' 16.52") on river right just below the high bridge at about 11.9 miles; Hidden Valley Road low water bridge (N 29° 59' 08.16" / W 098° 03' 55.20") on either side at about 13.8 miles (poor parking); Little Arkansas Road low water bridge first crossing (N 29° 59' 02.49" / W 098° 03' 10.97") on river right at about 14.7 miles; Little Arkansas Road low water bridge second crossing (N 29° 59' 59.92" / W 098° 01' 54.90") on river right at about 16.6 miles; Little Arkansas Road access (N 29° 58' 49.84" / W 098° 01' 41.81") on river left at about 17.0 miles (good parking); Little Arkansas Road low water crossing (N 29° 59' 05.55" / W 098° 01' 21.14") on either side at about 17.4 miles; Low water bridge (N 29° 59' 40.27" / W 097° 59' 50.40") on either side at about 20.4 miles; Five Mile Dam Park boat ramp (N 29° 56' 27.79" / W 097° 54' 06.73") on river left at 32.4 miles; Hays CR 140 / Post Road Access (N 29° 56' 13.53" / W 097° 53' 42.90") on river right at about 32.9 miles; Low water crossing (N 29° 54' 52.65" / W 097° 53' 59.69") by sand pit on either side at about 34.8 miles; IH 35 Access (N 29° 54' 43.61" / W 097° 53' 50.37") on northeast corner on river left at about 35.1 miles; West Uhland Road Access (N 29° 53' 42.27" / W 097° 54' 03.16") above bridge on river left at about 36.8 miles; Hays CR 295 Bridge (N 29° 52' 16.81" / W 097° 54' 56.14") rough access with very limited parking on river left at about 39.2 miles; San Marcos River confluence (N 29° 51' 35.62" / W 097° 54' 49.20") at about 41.3 miles (NO ACCESS - LISTED AS A POINT OF REFERENCE ONLY); Cummings Dam (N 29° 51' 20.74" / W 097° 54' 21.74") at about 41.9 miles (NO ACCESS - MANDATORY PORTAGE RIGHT - LISTED AS A POINT OF REFERNCE ONLY); Caldwell CR 266 (N 29° 51' 25.90" / W 097° 53' 48.39") on river right at about 42.5 miles.
There are other low water crossings and roads on private property along this reach that could be used as emergency access points if necessary, but which are not normally accessible.
Camping along the Blanco is not an option for the stretch between Fischer Store Road and Cadlwell CR 266 on the San Marcos River, though there is a campground just below Caldwell CR 266 on river left that is owned by paddling legends Tom and Paula Goynes. It is available to youth (school, Boy and Girl Scouts) and church groups, and it offers shot/cold showers, flush toilets, potable water and riverside camping bounded on the east and west by large stands of old growth trees. There are possibly primitive areas along the river between Wimberley and San Marcos that are suitable for camping in the river channel, but avoid trespassing on private property and watch out for potential flood conditions if camping in the area. Be prepared to move to higher ground if heavy rains begin to fall.
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. This situation would be most likely to occur in the upper 14.5 miles of this reach between the Fischer Store Road put-in, through and immediately below Wimberley. However, trespassing should be strictly avoided except in emergency situations.
None on the Blanco River. Arrange private or self-shuttles and leave cars in clearly legal parking areas ONLY! See the admonition 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 within a few days. The first run was with Wendall Lyons and Roger Kraft of Bigfoot Canoes on July 12, at about 1,100 cfs. We put in on private property (with permission) off Haschke Road, just below the Fisher Store Road bridge, and paddled down to another private property take-out (also with advance permission) just below FM 12 in Wimberley. The flow was great and the rock gardens were a blast! Haystacks of 2-3 feet were prominent, and hitting them in an open canoe at that flow was an E-ticket ride! The rapids were solid Class II's, but I saw nothing that would realistically be called Class III. Anything that was questionable for a run was easily portaged.
Oddly enough, it was low water bridges that caused most of our unplanned swims, especially when the drop is shallow, but the water below is even shallower, and the boat hangs up in the hydraulic. I hit the crossing at Slime Bridge at high speed after having carefully surveyed the crossing and determining the best point with the most water and the best chance for clearing the drop with the hole up. My bow took the plunge, hit the river bottom, and stopped everything except me. I was down on kneeling pads, so my center of gravity was already low, but water from the hydraulic immediately came over both gunwales and swamped the boat, forcing me to get out, grab the painter and drag a swamped canoe against a strong current to the side where I could empty out the water and continue downriver. The rest of the trip was a piece of cake, and I was unhappy to see the take-out.
8 days later I had the opportunity to return to the Blanco with Tony Smith and Mark (last name unknown), to run the river at a little over 800 cfs. It is unusual for the Blanco to have water in it at all, much less for two or more weeks, and at high flow rates. Two weeks of heavy rains will do that! We put in immediately below Fischer Store Road bridge and paddled down to Slime Bridge, where we took out. The rapids were great Class II stuff and the only downer was the short length of the trip. If it would rain more often around the Blanco, then it would be one of my truly favorite rivers to paddle. It is tighter than the Upper Guad, not as developed as the Lower Guad, and a technical level somewhere in-between. I am ready to go again anytime it rains enough to raise the river to a navigable level!
It should be noted that significant damage could have been done to the river from the major flood of May 23, 2015, that wiped out the new Fischer Store Road high bridge. Several homes were swept away and lives were lost (one body of a child was never recovered.) Not having been on the river since that flood, I cannot say with any authority as to the changes it caused in the river channel, but some are likely to have occurred, especially after a second, smaller flood hit there a few months later. Be watchful for debris remaining in the river channel from those floods.