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For our Hill Country rivers, early June is a time of high but dropping flow, perfect for getting in a last paddle of spring as summer looms with its water-vaporizing heat.
On Saturday, I had a chance to experience a new part of the Guadalupe River in Kendall County. Joining me was Rye Druzin, a good friend I met when we were both reporters at the San Antonio Express-News. Rye’s 30th birthday was Thursday, and part of the proceedings involved him driving out from Houston to enjoy what we both believe is one of the best rivers in Texas.
Guadalupe River: Zoeller Lane to Sisterdale
Location: Put in at Zoeller Lane (29.957033, -98.776536) and take below FM 1376 bridge (29.957166, -98.717413). Put-in is 41 miles from Main Plaza.
River miles: 6 miles
Restrooms: No toilets or potable water at put-in, take-out, or along the river.
The 6 river miles of the Guadalupe River between Zoeller Lane and FM 1376 was a serene stretch of river, much of it shaded by lofty cypress trees. We alternated between straight, lazy pools and curves with faster-moving but gentle rapids. The whole trip took us about four hours, with intermittent stops.
Along the way, we saw a handful of other paddlers and anglers, but we mostly had the river to ourselves. It felt like we encountered more birds than people. Rye spotted a great-horned owl watching us from a shaded overhang halfway up a rocky bluff. A great blue heron glided always ahead of us, perching and preening and then lifting off silently as we drifted too close.
Despite the peacefulness, we saw evidence of the river’s flooding power everywhere. Several metal canoes and johnboats were left wrapped around trees, and rushing water had taken out someone’s concrete low water crossing. Cypress trunks had been tossed like twigs. This would be a dangerous place in flood conditions.
Most people who paddle this part of the Guadalupe River use their own kayaks or canoes and stage their own cars at the beginning and endpoints. Previous Trailist reviews have covered the Guadalupe River at Spring Branch and Bergheim, which have outfitters who rent kayaks and tubes.
We used Zoeller as a put-in point and the parking area under FM 1376 bridge as our take-out spot. We could have lengthened our trip by 2 miles if we had put in at Waring and by more than 11 if we had put in at Zoeller and taken out at FM 474 or Amman’s Crossing. The Trailist recommends using the river access maps at Southwest Paddler and from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to help plan your trip on this part of the Guadalupe River.
The drive in took us through Sisterdale, a hamlet with buildings left over from its early days of German settlement, including a cotton gin and an 1890s dancehall. It seemed like a place worth visiting again.
Rye grew up in California’s Bay Area; I’m from western Colorado. We both agree that our home states, despite their beauty, don’t have rivers that can match the sparkling, spring-fed ribbons of the Hill Country. It’s one of our favorite ways to experience Texas nature.
We do it with equipment that’s not exactly rated for whitewater. Rye borrowed an Intex kayak, which is basically a tube in the shape of the kayak with a fin on the bottom. My kayak is a Sevylor-branded one-seater that folds up into a backpack and is basically the same thing but encased in a puncture-resistant sheath.
When a group of other paddlers slid up from behind Saturday afternoon, I could see the skepticism on their faces as they viewed our inflatable crafts.
“Do they hold up on these rocks?” one of them asked.
“They sure do,” I said. So far, I thought.
This kayak has carried me on the Guadalupe many times, the Colorado River in Utah, and even (carefully) on an oyster reef near Port Aransas. I always bring a couple of different patch kits with me and some Gorilla Tape for good measure. The last thing you want to do when paddling an inflatable is go flat without patching materials and find yourself stranded.
I say this because I want to emphasize that you don’t need expensive equipment to try new adventures with your friends. You just have to know what your equipment is capable of and prepare for what could go wrong.