The Beautiful Yet Notorious Guadalupe River

During spring break, my parents came down for a visit, and we took a trip south to the Guadalupe River. It still being March, at temperatures in the 50s (degrees F) the water was far too cold for tubing, so this was more of a driving tour down River Road. The plant life was still in transition from winter, but spring buds on the trees marked the greenery soon to come.

guadalupea03-17-11.jpgWe started at the dam at Canyon Lake near Sattler and worked our way down River Road toward Gruene (pronounced “green”), a historic district located within New Braunfels (How’s that for multiple places mentioned in a single sentence?). I used to live in the Sattler area in my teenage years, as well as in New Braunfels — it was nice to return for a visit.


Around the dam outlet, spring was yawning and stretching, with new flowers, buds, and early wildlife. I didn’t realize these lovely white blooms were dewberry flowers until I got home and saw the same flowers in my side yard.


An oddity in nature, a tree burl prompted this week’s post at Beautiful Wildlife Garden, where you can also see some tree romance observed at the same river spot.


Here’s a taste of things to come — I caught so many pictures of pollinators visiting this beautiful Mountain Laurel in bloom that I’m devoting my next post to it:

bluebee03-17-11.jpgThe Canyon Dam outlet marks the beginning of the Lower Guadalupe, and people from all over come to enjoy the scenery and water recreation. In a couple of months, this river will be full of folks moving along the current in various floating crafts. 

huacosprings03-17-11.jpgAt low levels, the Guadalupe is popular for tubing, while higher levels bring out the canoers, kayakers, and rafting groups. But heavy rainfall can quickly turn the river to treacherous 
 whitewater conditions with potential for serious flooding. The picture above shows an area of rapids at Hueco Springs (sometimes spelled Huaco, pronounced “Waco” by the locals). The rapids look deceptively mild in the picture, and yet many deaths and near-drownings have occurred at this very spot, at both lower and higher water levels.

Back in my day (heh), there was a pool underneath the rapids that created a dangerous undertow that would trap people below the water if their tube flipped. I’ve personally been flipped and caught in that undertow and its washing-machine effect, and it’s easy to panic while you try to find a way to push out, even if you are a strong swimmer. I felt very lucky that I didn’t add to drowning statistics that day. Supposedly, they’ve made some changes to the spot to reduce drowning potential or at least guide tubes away from the pool. And in the rushing water of higher levels, inexperienced canoers have died when their canoe became wrapped around that large boulder seen in the picture. Sudden flash floods also have swept campers away. It’s a beautiful spot but one to approach with utmost respect for the power of water. 

Another word of caution if you are planning on visiting the Guadalupe. Water moccasins, or cottonmouths, are common along the river, particularly in warmer temperatures. I’ve seen them in the trees above the river, quite an alarming site when you are floating below them in a tube, and one time I almost stepped on one along a river trail. Given that these venomous snakes are most excellent swimmers and rather aggressive in nature (literally), it’s best to keep an eye out and avoiding aggravating one if you run across it. But don’t let fear of snakes keep you from visiting the river — in general, these snakes are as equally uninterested in being your friend as you are theirs, and most people never see one. I guess I’m just that lucky! Just be aware, that’s all I’m saying.

We finished up our driving tour with dinner at the Grist Mill in Gruene, a historic favorite for both tourists and locals. A fine day, with a promise of future and longer visits and fun.  


8 thoughts on “The Beautiful Yet Notorious Guadalupe River

  1. I grew up in central Texas and camped along the Guadalupe and at Gardner State Park with my family all thru the 70s….Being a familiar visitor to the Hill Country.I went tubing regularly every summer…I saw many a water moccassin in the trees and it was alarming to pass them by in a canoe…However, they did not bother us and we left them respectfully undisturbed…There were quite a few of them in the 70s, when I did my tubing….I wonder if the increased population and traffic areas to what used to be remote areas has changed their numbers?…There were also undertows in the river which we called “swirlies” that sucked you under but then popped you right back up along with the current….So we werent really afraid of them or going in the water in the summer..The water clarity was crystal clear, Im hoping its still that way now dispite the building boom and overpopulation of the area.

  2. Stephanie, I don’t think the water is that clear right now. It’s still recovering from the water that flooded over the spillway and dug out the gorge several years ago. During our visit we chatted with a fly-fisherman who was reminiscing about the days before the big flood, when he could see the fish in the water. But as I haven’t tubed for many years, I can’t attest to it one way or another.
    Alan, it’s prepped and coming soon!

  3. Such scenic beauty of the river, the trees and the flowers! It would be so much fun to have a picnic or camping there. But when I heard about the snakes…well, I would gladly stay away as far as possible from the water!

  4. Meredith,
    I’m living just north of Houston and we had planned for, I don’t even know anymore for how long, to make a trip over to the New Braunfels area and the Guadalupe river to explore the beauty of nature there.
    Hopefully we will find time this year.
    Thanks for sharing those great pictures and good information and you to tell people about what to watch out for, so the trip will be safe. I know we have more snakes here in SE Texas than people know about – we just hardly never get to see one. Most snake bites happen to be accidents and caused by people just not seeing the snake and step on them or come too close for the snake’s comfort. Wouldn’t you “bite back” too, in a reaction of someone just stepped on you by accident? 😉
    Best Regards
    Paula Jo

  5. How nice to read about the river, and see the pictures. We lived in Kerrville from 1936 to 1941, and my brothers and I spent many happy hours camping on the banks of the river with our parents. I wondered whether the moccasins had thrived. It is nice to know that the whole area has been so well cared for. Love you, Texas. Peggy Cobb Langford

    • The Guadalupe is one of my favorite places to visit, too, Peggy. I don’t visit as much during tubing season, though — I did a lot of that in college. I suppose I should make sure my kids go tubing there before they graduate, though! You are right — we should camp, too!

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