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San Marcos River in Texas

A self-supported trip created by guest-paddler

Trip Overview

The San Marcos River is spring fed starting in downtown San Marcos, TX. As the river is spring fed from the Edwards Aquifer, the water levels are usually very consistent and can be run year around. Starting from City Park it is a slow leisure paddle running through the city. A few tubers are always about, but most people are just there to have a good time and share the river. Most tubers only run City Park to Rio Vista dam, and after that it has to many slow places for tubes. You may have a little delay at Rio Vista as the left eddy circulates you back and people pile in and run the dam over and over. Run the middle of the dam, there is a break in it, and a little speed is needed as most canoes are a bit long and get tipsy as the front end digs in, and the back is still on the top of the dam heading down.

Further down a river right portage is needed to go around an island, and then you weave around through a good flat-water paddle. Portage the Cummins Dam to the right. Next stop is Westerfield Crossing. We ran this section 3 out of 4 days. Westerfield can be accessed of Hays County 101. There is a low water bridge and an easy put it. Immediately after the bridge is a few little ripples that puts you in the main current.

A nice nature paddle ensues for about 30 minutes. Saw 3 red tailed hawks, and 2 cranes. Away from the city you can hear only the water rippling and the paddles dipping, no other man made sounds. Next set of ripples, about a easy class II, sets up by a easy left turn, a 1-2 foot drop and a hard right. Stay to river right as the eddy on the left may pull you back in the trees. (The spiders, asps, and caterpillars are out in force this time of year.) This is followed by a hard left and then just follow the current. This stretch runs a total of about 250 yards. Many other ripples, and small Class II rapids follow, with many places to stop and swim and just generally play around.

The next big rapid is Cottonseed (named after an old abandoned water wheel driven cotton mill). It can be spotted after a gentle right bend in the river, and you notice the water speed increasing and a large stone diversion wall on the right. If you choose to scout, stop right at the beginning of the rapid (before the left bend, and walk on the wall river right). River right is also the portage route. A large flood in November has cleared most of the stickers, and grasses of the wall, so it is an easy hike. To run Cottonseed, set up river left, and hug the left side. There are 2 large rocks one in the middle and one to the left, shoot between them and then follow with a hard right. The diversion dam is on the left and can be quick turned to get behind it in an eddy. If not then shoot right at the tip of the wall and drop about a foot. 3 large rocks wait to greet you but if you stay a little left it will pull you through. This rapid is a total of 300-350 yards and is the best rapid on the river. A moderate Class II, but I had some newbies that had never been in a canoe with our group, and ran it without any difficulty.

A little more paddling and then the Martindale Dam. Do not even think of going over it. Stay River right (there is a BAD SUCK HOLE LEFT SIDE) and portage right. A few ripple follow and then a low water crossing. There is a surfing wave at this crossing so DUCK!!! About 20 minute later we made our exit point at Spencers' Canoes & Shady Grove Campground.

Total time for this run is usually 3-4 hours depending on how much you swim and play, But as the water is running about 2' above normal it is about a 2 hour trip without breaking a sweat. Fishing was great, caught several bass, and a couple trout, they seem to hit on plastic worms best. A most enjoyable weekend and spent 3 out of 4 days running Westerfield down, and am looking forward to going aging in 2 weeks!!!


Several hotels in San Marcos. There are 2 or 3 campgrounds on the river that have to be accessed by back roads, but signs are very accurate. We always stay at Spencers' Canoes & Shady Grove Campground. It is a privately owned, Christian setting type campground. No electricity and tent sites W/ water only, but shower and bath facilities present. Usually open weekends only, and canoe reservations need to be made early. Camping usually $4-5/ person/ night and reservations are a must as often Church groups, Boy Scout, Girl Scout and YMCA groups are often visiting. QUIET TIME & LIGHTS OUT IS 2200 hrs. Pecan Grove Campground is located between Martindale and San Marcos, and there are 2 more canoe livery around


None, but the river banks are private property so tread lightly and be courteous!


From Houston I-10 West to Exit 628 (San Marcos, Nixon, HWY 80) & go right through Luling. (Great BBQ @ Luling) Turn Left on 80 to San Marcos. At Martindale beware 50mph MEANS 50mph!!!. Westerfield crossing is accessed at the Hays CO. line. CR 101 to the Left, and after crossing the low water crossing (It is a 1 lane bridge) a small parking area is on the right.

Trip Details

  • Trip Duration: Day Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Canoeing
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)

Trip Location