San Marcos Like a Local

How to Get Started With Whitewater Kayaking in San Marcos (and Why It's the Perfect Place to Learn)

May 16, 2018

The San Marcos River is a great place to learn kayaking. jeannene_h

Surrounded by miles of rivers, streams and lakes, the area around San Marcos is a water-lover’s paradise. Kayakers, stand-up paddleboarders and tubers from around the world gravitate to this college-town of 62,000 residents in Central Texas. The town was put on the kayaking map in 1963 by the annual Texas Water Safari, a 260-mile canoe race that begins in San Marcos each June and takes participants all the way to the Gulf of Mexico over the course of four days.

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The spring-fed San Marcos River stays navigable year-round. jeannene_h

But you do not have to be an expert kayaker to enjoy the waters of Central Texas. The San Marcos River is a perfect spot for beginning paddlers to get their feet wet, says Holly Orr, owner of Paddle With Style, an outfitter that introduces people to kayaking while promoting adventure, education and conservation. She’s no novice when it comes to the sport, having competed in the Texas Water Safari 11 times, breaking a few records along the way. Orr began teaching kayaking in San Marcos in 2009, and she coaches wanna-be kayakers of all ages and skill levels—including groups of women who have gone on to break the records she set in the Texas Water Safari. When working with first-time kayakers, she suggests a trip to the San Marcos River.

"Learning the basics of kayaking in flat water such as the San Marcos River is ideal," she says. The spring-fed river is a temperate 72 degrees year round. That, combined with the mild winter temperatures of Central Texas, makes kayaking just as possible in January as it is in July. The spring also regulates the river’s water levels. When nearby rivers and streams run dry during summer months, the San Marcos River keeps a constant flow.

After learning the basics of kayaking, start with a six-mile paddle on the San Marcos River between San Marcos and Luling Zedler Mill. The Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife designated this trip as one of the state’s popular Texas Paddling Trails. The tree-lined river twists and turns its way through the Texas Hill Country making for a beautiful four-hour trip. It is good for beginners, with mild currents and a few areas where the rapids get up to a Class II status depending on water levels and conditions.

Spencer Canoes and Campground offers kayak rentals as well as camping accommodations. Paddlers can head upstream or downstream depending on their skill level. (The river from San Marcos to the campgrounds is swifter than the river immediately downstream from the outfitter, which is much flatter.) The portion of the river that runs by the campground is easy to access.

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Paddlers will find a variety of rapids to test their skills around San Marcos. San Marcos Convention and Visitor Bureau

For those wanting to test their kayaking skills, head to the Rio Vista Falls in Rio Vista Park. The man-made falls are the crown jewel of San Marcos for the swimming, canoeing, kayaking and tubing communities.

"It is a whitewater playground," Orr said.

The river has three sets of drops that shoot kayakers through a series of rocks. The three drops, which include a lead-in slide, a middle-hole feature and a ledge drop at the bottom of the run, range in water-flow rates. More experienced kayakers can practice advanced maneuvers in this controlled environment. In fact, world-class athletes have been known to train here during the off-season. During summer months the park is extremely busy as residents flock to the river to cool off from the heat, which is why developers installed lights for night paddling.

Former elite kayaker, Ben Kvanli, founded the Olympic Outdoor Center on the banks of the San Marcos River to provide a variety of whitewater paddling programs for every skill level. In addition to kayak rentals, classes and guide services, the company is one of the top instructional centers for paralympic and wounded-warrior kayakers.

So whether you’re a beginner looking for easy flatwater or an expert ready to take on the rapids, San Marcos has something for you. Who knows, with a little instruction, you may be hitting that whitewater before you know it.

Written by Jennifer Simonson for RootsRated Media in partnership with San Marcos CVB.