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Medina River, Texas
Report by Marc W. McCord

Medina River, Texas

Third Crossing on North Prong to Medina Lake
~ 49.05 Miles

General Description

The Medina River is a short, narrow, beautiful river that is reminescent of the Upper Guadalupe because of the physical nature of its topography. Starting in northwest Bandera County, it winds about 116 miles through Bandera, Medina and Bexar Counties to its confluence with the San Antonio River just southeast of the City of San Antonio. The Medina is a narrow river averaging about 30-40 feet wide and is lined with Bald Cypress trees, though not nearly as many as before the flood of 2002. Nearby, Live Oak and rugged Cedar are abundant. The Medina cuts through limestone bluffs and outcroppings with abundant free-flowing springs to feed the river, especially after heavy rains. With few prominent hazards to fear almost anybody can enjoy this gorgeous river as long as they are prepared for a very tight, technical stream with sharp turns and debris piles. Care should be taken as to which reach of the river to paddle based upon skills and experience.

The river demands strong control skills and good decision-making about when to scout and portage, both of which are occasionally necessary. However, all property adjacent to the river is privately owned, so stay in the river channel and do NOT trespass on private land. Texas SH 16 runs alongside the river most of the way, but is a little-traveled road that, most of the time, you will not know is there. The rapids are small (Class I-II) except for Chamblee Falls (Class IV) and the big drop just above English Crossing (Class III). The real challenges on the Medina are making those tight technical turns. Long boats (over 14 feet) are not recommended due to difficulty making sharp "S" and "Z" turns that are fairly frequent on the short 32 miles of the river where paddlers generally prefer to go between Moffett Park in Medina and English Crossing below Bandera. Covered wagon tracks are embedded into the limestone river bottom from the 1800's.

The North prong offers some amazing scenery and several great rapids and drops including one called Chamblee Falls, a ten foot waterfall, and another just below that of about 4 feet, the first of which is a gradient slide drop and the second of which is a vertical drop that are a lot of fun whenever there is adequate water to paddle the upper river. You will need a flow of AT LEAST 600 cfs on the Bandera gauge to have adequate water to paddle the North Prong without dragging at several spots including over the big drops.

Several access points above Moffett Park in Medina provide opportunities for trips of various lengths, but the big drops are in the first mile or so below Second Crossing on FM 2107 and about a mile below First Crossing west of the Town of Medina. The North and West prongs converge to form the mainstream of the river inside the town limits of Medina just above Moffett Park. A half dozen low-water crossings will usually have to be portaged, and it might be best to re-think paddling the North prong if the water is high enough to go over the bridges in your boat. The river channel is narrow and tree-lined. Recent floods may drop deadfall debris in the channel obstructing a clear path downriver, so be sure to scout anything about which you are uncertain.

The West Prong is seldom navigable, and access is very limited, so no information is currently available about it. More info about the West Prong will be added as soon as possible.

Location

Bandera and Medina Counties in the Southwest Texas Hill Country, near Fredericksburg and Kerrville. The river flows from near Lost Maples State Park in Bandera County down to the San Antonio River in Bexar County just south of downtown San Antonio, with Lake Medina located on the Bandera-Medina County line. Most paddling is done on stretch between Medina and Bandera Falls, just above Medina Lake.

Distance from major cities

Kerrville 24 miles; San Antonio 45 miles; Austin 120 miles; Houston 275 miles; Dallas 330 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

The water quality in the Medina River is generally very good, running clean and clear most of the time. 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, and some walking may be required, so wear good shoes.

Best Times to Go

Early Spring to late June is generally best, followed by late September through early November. The Medina depends upon flow from springs and local rain runoff, so expect less than desirable conditions during prolonged droughts. 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 100 cfs. Expect hot temperatures from June through September. This IS Texas, ya'll!

Hazards to Navigation

The Medina is generally free of major rapids and drops, but low hanging tree limbs, log jams (especially after floods) and shallow rocky chutes can pose problems resulting in bodily injury or damage to boats and gear. There are, however, a few drops that can be challenging, especially fro those without moderate whitewater experience running small waterfalls. The first big drop is "Ten Foot waterfall" about 1.2 miles below the Third Crossing on FM 2107 on the North Prong. There is another drop of about 4 feet about 4 miles below Third Crossing. Both are gradient slide drops full of boulders, and are not runnable unless the water is above normal level. Several low-water bridges cross the river all along this reach, and caution should be exercised when approaching them. Most are not runnable due to insufficient water in the landing zones below them. Look for the best portage around the bridges.

You will encounter low-water crossings or other obstructions at about 1.0 (Second Crossing), 2.9 (First Crossing), 6.5 (Freeman Crossing), 6.9 (culvert - be careful), 9.0 (culvert - be careful), 10.6 (Benton Creek Crossing), 10.9 (low-head dam), 12.0 (FM 337 Crossing), 12.8 (Patterson Avenue bridge at Moffett Park), 15.8 (private low-water bridge), 17.8 (private low-water bridge), 19.1 (broken concrete dam remnants - runnable in a couple of places, but scout first), 19.5 (private low-water bridge), 27.3 (FM 470 bridge usually has adequate clearance except in high water - pocket park on river right just below bridge with parking and access), 27.4 (private low-water bridge), 30.6 (Mayan Bridge off 6th Street in bandera), 31.6 (Silver Spur private low-water bridge), 32.3 (low-head dam at Hudspeth Park in Bandera), 34.0 (private low-water bridge), 44.8 (English Crossing) and Bandera Falls at about 46.0 miles. All mileages are referenced from Third Crossing on the North Prong.

If the flow is high enough to avoid portages, then it is probably too high to safely paddle the river. Swift currents in high-water conditions make navigation difficult for experienced boaters and probably impossible for those with less experience. At flows above about 200 cfs the swift currents can carry a lazy paddler into trouble before he or she has time to recover. When in doubt - ALWAYS SCOUT! 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.

River Access Points

Third crossing on FM 2107 west of the Town of Medina at 0.0 miles; Second Crossing on FM 2107 at about 1.0 miles; First Crossing on FM 2107 at about 2.9 miles; Freeman Crossing on SH 16 at about 6.6 miles; Hickey Lane off SH 16 at about 7.9 miles; Benton Creek Crossing on SH 16 at about 10.6 miles; FM 337 Crossing at about 12.0 miles; Patterson Avenue Bridge off Texas 16 in the Town of Medina at 12.8 miles; County road crossing off Texas 16 at 14.8 miles; Texas 16 crossing just below the FM 2828 intersection on river right at 16.8 miles; Peaceful Valley Road bridge between SH 16 and FM 3240, just downriver from Winans Creek at 23.0 miles; Ranger Crossing (roadside park) off Texas 16 at 26.8 miles; Roadside park at FM 470 (Tarpley Road) off SH 16 at 27.3 miles; Hudspeth (City) Park in Bandera, between Silver Spur bridge and the dam, at 32.3 miles (Do NOT run the dam if bouys are stretched across the river due to a strong hydraulic current that has taken more than a few lives over the years); Pioneer River Resort (fee required) on river left at about 32.4 miles; English Crossing (FM 1077) crossing at 44.8 miles; Pop's Place on river left on a dirt raod off SH 1283, just below Bandera Falls and English Crossing, at 49.05 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.

Campgrounds and Accommodations

Pioneer River Resort (866-371-3751), located at 1202 Maple Street and SH 173, offers tent and RV camping, a swimming pool, hot tub, showers, flush toilets, a banquet hall, camp store and other amenities on the banks of the Medina River in downtown Bandera. Adjacent to the Patterson Street bridge is a small, shaded area with very limited camping space. The roadside parks below Peaceful Valley Road and at FM 470 (road to Tarpley) are available for camping with limited areas. Jellystone Park in Bandera is a privately owned campground and RV park at Hwy. 173 and the river. 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!

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are several known commercial outfitters offering rentals, shuttles and/or river information on or near the Medina River in the vicinity of the Towns of Medina and Bandera.

Reviewer's comments

The Medina is a gem of a river, and trips here have always been among my favorites. What the Medina lacks in big drops and technical water is more than offset by the scenic beauty and the solitude one finds on the river. Except for the area near Pioneer River Resort (formerly Jellystone Park), or during the annual Medina River Cleanup, I have never seen any other boaters on the river when I was there. You just have to catch the Medina after a good local rainfall, when the flow is above 150 cfs for the most enjoyable trip.

The North prong offers some great Class III drops in the first three miles, and a few other minor rapids below that all the way down to Moffett Park on Patterson Avenue in Medina. The Medina River has numerous Class I to II rapids and a couple of small waterfall drops below Patterson Avenue in Medina. While there are several minor rapids between Moffett Park and Hudspeth Park, the best ones are in the reach between Hudspeth Park (Bandera City Park) and English Crossing. Some are tight and somewhat technical, so caution needs to be exercised. There is a low-water bridge about 1.75 miles below Hudspeth Park at is usually not runnable, and you can easily portage on river right. Boat scouting is usually adequate. The river is lined with giant, bald cypress trees that shade the river channel most of the time. There are places where the river flows fairly straight for long distances under the canopies of those trees. Access is great, and people in the area are very friendly, especially to boaters.

Beware of the Medina River in flood stage. Its tight, technical turns and the potential for strainers can be hazardous at flows over 300 cfs. It is imperative that you take care not to trespass on private property except with advance permission from landowners. Almost all property abutting the river is privately owned except at county or state road rights-of-way.

Technical Data
Class Rating I-III
Length 49.05 miles
Minimum Flow 125 cfs
Optimum Flow 250 - 700 cfs
Maximum Flow 1,000 cfs
First Put-in Moffett Park in Medina
Lat. / Long. 29.7855549 / -99.2244415
Last Take-out Ruede's Camp above Lake Medina
Lat. / Long. 29.6819439 / -99.9927805
Elevation msl
Gradient fpm
USGS Gauge Web: 08178880 (Bandera)
Boats Canoes, Kayaks
Season Dependent upon local rainfall
Permits No


Pioneer River Resort on the Medina River in Bandera, Texas

Medina River map courtesy Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
Medina River map courtesy
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

Medina River map courtesy Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
Medina River map courtesy
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

Canoeman River Guide Service - Guided river trips in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Third Crossing on the North Prong
Third Crossing on the North Prong

Second Crossing on the North Prong
Second Crossing on the North Prong

Chamblee Falls - a 10-foot drop on the North Prong
Chamblee Falls - a 10-foot drop on the North Prong

Stewart Falls between Medina and Bandera
Medinamap01-306.jpgStewart Falls between Medina and Bandera

The old dam below Patterson Street bridge in Medina
The old dam below Patterson Street bridge in Medina

Running the big drop above English Crossing
Running the big drop above English Crossing

English Crossing above Medina Lake
English Crossing above Medina Lake

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Last updated May 3, 2010

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