Offering one of the healthiest, most ecologically diverse ecosystems in the southwestern United States are the luscious waters that make up the upper 4.5 miles of the San Marcos River, as well as its sparkling headwaters in Spring Lake—a place thought to be one of the longest continually inhabited sites in North America, with artifacts dating back to 13,000 years. Thanks to the Edwards Aquifer, these clear bodies consistently flow at a crisp 72 degrees year-round, providing a heavenly haven for those of us who love to paddle, tube, fish or swim when Texas heat wakes to rear its ugly head.
What Makes It Great
On normal conditions, this is a very gentle river and perfect for paddlers just beginning. Don’t mistake its peacefulness for dullness, however, as the San Marcos offers a variety of water types, including small (typically Class I) rapids and an abundance of clear, quiet pools. Also, there are oftentimes obstructions on the river, such as fallen trees or low-hanging limbs, so special care should be taken in navigating these sections, especially when water levels are low.
The San Marcos River is one of the largest spring-fed rivers in Texas, rising from the Edwards Aquifer in Spring Lake (or Aquarena Springs) and flowing through Texas State University and the city of San Marcos. Roughly 4 miles down from the springs, the river joins with the Blanco River and runs southeast for 75 miles, eventually meeting the Guadalupe River, where it will makes its way out to the Gulf Coast.
Yet, what makes this river so special is not necessarily where it flows, but whom it houses. The San Marcos River is home to four endangered residents: Texas wild-rice, Texas blind salamanders, San Marcos gambusias and fountain darters. These endangered species act as an environmental indicator for the Edwards Aquifer. Any fluctuation in these indicator species can actually warn water managers of potential issues that might be linked to the quality of drinking water for the more than 2 million people living in Central Texas.
Who is Going to Love It
Newbies, advanced paddlers and nature lovers alike will love this river. The Zedler-Mill Paddling Trail makes experiencing its cool waters easier than ever, located between the Highway 90 Bridge in Luling and the old Zedler Mill on Highway 87. This calm and relaxing, family-friendly trail takes paddlers for a scenic ride between Austin and San Antonio, showcasing beautiful trees and abundant wildlife. The 6-mile trip runs about 2.5 hours and has public access points to put in and take out kayaks and canoes, taking the confusion out of knowing whether or not you’re trespassing on private land.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
There is a dam beyond the mill, so be aware as to not pass this take-out point. Parking is available at both the put-in (where Highway 90 crosses the river) and the take-out (off of Highway 80/Magnolia Avenue). A shuttle vehicle can be left free of charge at either site. Coolers and disposable containers are allowed on the river, but you may not bring Styrofoam. Designated access and exit points are located at City Park and Rio Vista for those who bring alcohol to drink while on the river.