San Marcos Like a Local

The 5 Best Ways to Get on the Water in San Marcos

July 20, 2018

The San Marcos River is a popular year-round spot for recreation, whether you have two legs or four. San Marcos Convention and Visitor Bureau

The river is a way of life in San Marcos. Rising up from hundreds of springs in the center of the city, the waterway is a remarkably pristine body of water that’s 10 times cleaner than the EPA standards for drinking water. It’s also 72 degrees year-round, making it the perfect destination for both hot summer afternoons and cool winter days.

Whether you’re in the mood for a leisurely float, whitewater thrills, a sightseeing tour, or something completely unexpected, the San Marcos River is the place to be. Here are five of the best ways to get out on the water and start having some Texas-sized adventures on the river.

1. Kayaking

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A kayak trip on the San Marcos River can be calm—or you can take on the area’s whitewater section.
San Marcos Convention and Visitor Bureau

If chilling out in a tube and watching the world float by is a little too chill for you, get your adrenaline pumping with some whitewater kayaking at Rio Vista Park. There are three man-made rapids where you can test your skills and have a blast at the same time. You can even paddle at night as the park stays lit after the sun goes down and remains open until 11 p.m.

Never whitewater kayaked before? No problem. You can learn from the best at Olympic Outdoor Center, which was started by a 1996 kayak Olympian. Olympic Outdoor Center offers whitewater classes tailored for all levels, so even if you’ve never been in a kayak in your life, they’ll teach you what you need to know so that you’ll be navigating extreme conditions and self-rescuing in no time.

2. Glass-Bottom Boat Tours

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Get a unique view of Spring Lake, the source of the San Marcos River, by taking a Glass-Bottom Boat Tour. San Marcos Convention and Visitor Bureau

The San Marcos River is known for being so clear that you can see to the bottom, so what better way to experience it than with a glass bottom boat tour? Head to the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, which is at Spring Lake, the headwaters for the San Marcos River. Tours run continuously every 30 minutes and offer you a chance to sit in a comfortable, covered boat, where you can peer into the water below and observe turtles, salamanders, fish, and more. While you’re there, take a stroll on the wetlands boardwalk and visit the indoor exhibits where you can see a 1,000-gallon aquarium plus interactive displays.

3. Diving

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Take advantage of the clear water to do some snorkeling. San Marcos Convention and Visitor Bureau

Scuba diving isn’t just for the ocean—you can get your scuba on deep in the heart of Texas, too. The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment offers a unique opportunity to dive into the clear headwaters of the San Marcos River. While you can’t dive recreationally, volunteers can dive in this stunning part of the San Marcos River in order to help preserve the ecosystem. The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment offers a course for those who are already scuba-certified that allows them to have the privilege of diving in this critical habitat in exchange for science-based volunteer work. For those not scuba-certified, snorkeling downstream of Spring Lake is certainly an excellent option for great views of the river.

4. Tubing

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A float trip on the San Marcos is one of the area’s signature activities. San Marcos Convention and Visitor Bureau

The San Marcos River is practically synonymous with tubing. If you so much as mention heading down to the river, you can pretty much guarantee that your friends will start airing up their tubes for a day of floating. If you’re looking to tube the San Marcos River, you have the option of either renting a tube or bringing your own.

One of the most popular spots for tube rentals and river shuttles is the Lions Club Tube Rental at San Marcos City Park. Here you can rent tubes all week long (and take advantage of a locals’ discount if you’re lucky enough to call San Marcos home) and float from San Marcos City Park to Rio Vista Park. At Rio Vista Park, you’ll find natural pools to take a dip in and fun waterfall chutes. The journey from park to park takes about an hour, and you’re welcome to sip a cold beer along the way, just as long as it’s not in a glass bottle. For a longer tubing option, rent a tube from Texas State Tubes or Don’s Fish Camp and take advantage of shuttle pickup services along the way.

5. Stand-Up Paddleboard

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More and more people exploring the river on stand-up paddleboard. San Marcos Convention and Visitor Bureau

Stand-up paddleboarding—also known as SUP—is one of the coolest ways to experience the San Marcos River. You can rent a stand-up paddleboard from the Olympic Outdoor Center and paddle the mighty river, or you can take part in a nighttime paddleboard glow experience. Picture the moonlit San Marcos River, plus you, your friends, and a whole bunch of technicolor neon. This must-try adventure allows you to take to the water on a SUP that’s equipped with underwater LED lights boasting different colors and settings. Bring your own glow sticks to light up the night even more. The unforgettable tour is guided and takes approximately an hour to an hour and a half.

More of a sun worshipper than a night owl? Sign up for SUP yoga. This one hour and fifteen-minute class features river views, plenty of namaste, and the occasional inadvertent dip in the water if you’re not so good at balancing.

Written by Krista Diamond for RootsRated Media in partnership with San Marcos CVB.