Best Texas Rivers

13 Best Rivers in Texas (and which ones to float on!)

While it may be more well known for its BBQ’s, rodeos, and hill country, Texas is actually chock-full of crisp, blue waters perfect for cooling down on those dry 100 degree summer days!

Some of the best rivers in Texas run all the way from the North until they reach the Gulf of Mexico (the Colorado River is the longest of all).

Which provides thousands of combined miles for floating, paddling, swimming, fishing, and camping along the way!

Tubing down the Pedernales River
Image: Tubing down the river. Lars Plougmann. [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

Not all the great rivers in Texas are watersport (or water lazing) approved but most of them are! 

Whether you’re looking for a more rugged adventure along the sandy banks of the Brazos River,

Perhaps an urban adventure along the San Antonio River.

Or even a laidback floaty day on the Comal River, this article will provide you with a list of options so you can narrow down which direction to go.

Before jumping right in, keep reading to find out which rivers float your boat (pun-intended)

And discover what to do to make your day on the water a big success!

*marks floating approved! 

Looking for other fun things to do in Texas? Check out these guides!

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What to bring for a day on the river

Whether you’re floating in the water or lounging by it, don’t forget to bring these essential items to have the perfect day:

  • floating Bluetooth speaker backpack: not only will this waterproof speaker keep you jamming out to fun tunes, it also doubles as a backpack, so you can store your water bottles and snacks while you float
  • sunscreen: this sunscreen is safe for your skin and sprays on clear so no need to worry about those embarrassing white patches on your face and shoulders
  • portable phone charger: there’s nowhere to charge your phone while you’re by the water (shocker), so bring your own like this one to make sure you’re always good to go!
  • sunglasses: don’t forget your shades! These polarized retro sunglasses make a great fashion statement while also providing 100% UV protection

1. Guadalupe River*

Guadalupe River
Image: Guadalupe River in Fall, TX Hill Country. sbmeaper1. via Flickr

The Guadalupe River runs for about 230 miles from Kerr County, Texas, to San Antonio Bay on the Gulf of Mexico.

Its average temperature is 63.95 degrees Fahrenheit, making it one of the best rivers in Texas for floating! 

If you’re looking for a weekend trip, there are plenty of campsites (and glampsites…)

There’s even AirBnbs up and down the river that offer all kinds of amenities!

But the best part of being near the river isn’t the potential for campfires and smores, it’s tubing!

The Guadalupe is also one of the clearest rivers in Texas making it a great spot to drop your behind in a float and forget all your cares in the world.

There are multiple outposts to rent tubes with the most popular areas being around New Braunfels and Houston.

Check out the Guadalupe River State Park for well maintained, clean, and safe access to the river for some of the best tubing in Texas!

2. Comal River*

Brazo River
Image: Brazo river. Jany Stone. [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

Coming in at only 2.5 miles, the Comal River is the shortest navigable river in the state of Texas.

But what it’s lacking in length, it makes up for in beauty as it’s one of the best rivers in Texas for floating (especially if you’re into lazy river style).

The Comal is a tributary of the Guadalupe and the entire river is within the city limits of New Braunfels, TX.

Because the river is spring-fed, the levels and currents of the river fluctuate but there is always enough for a nice, gentle float.

To tube on the river, pick up tubes at one of the outfitters (many of them also offer shuttle services) and then head to Prince Solms Park Gateway River Entrance.

Fun fact: The river is also one of only two rivers to host the fountain darter, a fish now in danger of extinction (the other is San Marcos, up next!).

3. San Marcos River* 

San Marcos River
Image: San Marcos River @Scull’s Crossing, Caldwell County, Texas. Nicolas Henderson. [CC by 2.0] via Flickr

The San Marcos River is one of the best rivers in Texas to swim in!

It is a spring-fed river that rises from the Edwards Aquifer into Spring Lake, running for about 75 miles in Gonzales County (close to the city of San Marcos).

In addition to the fountain darter, it is also home to other endangered species like the Texas blind salamander.

If you’re looking to go for a swim (or even a snorkel), the San Marcos River is a great choice year round.

The temperature is always at a cool 72 degrees, thanks to the spring that feeds it!

Great thing about it – you can access the river for free at several locations, including City Park, Plaza Park, Bicentennial Park, and Rio Vista Park.

4. Frio River*

Frio River
Image: Frio River. Katie Cook. [CC by 2.0] via Flickr

If you know your Spanish, you might be thinking, with a name like “frio,” this river must be pretty chilly and you’re definitely correct.

As far as Texas rivers go, this one is the coldest, averaging at about 68 degrees year round, but it is still one of the prettiest rivers in Texas.

The shallow waters are for the most part, dazzlingly clear and run across a white limestone and gravel bed forming deep pools along the way.

Winding through the heart of the Texas Hill Country, this crystal blue river offers visitors looking to cool down lots of opportunities for swimming, floating, or paddling.

Check out Garner State Park for 2.9 miles of Frio River floating along with access to campsites and cabins.

If you’re there in summer you may even be a witness (or participant) to a 1940’s style summer evening jukebox dance!

5. Devils River*

Devils River
Image: Devils River 2, Val Verde County, Texas. Nicolas Henderson. [CC by 2.0] via Flickr

Located in Southwestern Texas, the Devils River is known for being the cleanest river in the state!

The spring -fed, pristine waters are far from any city-center.

And if you’re hoping to dip your toes in this one, you better be up for a 1-mile hike from the parking lot first (bringing all your gear with you).

Unlike the other rivers on this list, the Devils River is part of the Rio Grande drainage basin.

You’re not going to find any tube outfitters along the way to its banks.

Only experienced paddlers should embark on a Devils River paddling trip (reservations recommended).

If the hiking and strenuous paddling warning haven’t scared you off, make sure to read up on the Devils River State Park website on how to best prepare for your adventure!

6. Colorado River*

Colorado River
Image: Railroad Bridge over Colorado River, Columbus, Texas 1212011213. Patrick Feller. [CC by 2.0] via Flickr

Coming in at 862 miles, the Colorado River is the longest and prettiest river in Texas.

The river originates south of Lubbock and flows all the way out to the Gulf of Mexico making it the 18th longest river in the United States.

So, what does Colorado have to do with it? Well, the word “Colorado” is actually Spanish for “color red” referring to the reddish color of the water.

The river itself is important as a source of water for farming, cities, and electrical power providing water for nearly 40 million people! 

If you’re looking to float on the Colorado, check out Bastrop, TX.

A location that offers public intake/outtake points including Fisherman’s Park in Bastrop, Bastrop County Nature Park.

7. Medina River*

Medina River
Image: Medina River. Tara Schmidt. [CC by 2.0] via Flickr

The Medina River is one of the many nice rivers in south central Texas for outdoor recreation.

The river flows 120 miles from the springs in Bandera County’s Edwards Plateau, eventually merging with the San Antonio River.

Everywhere you look on the river, the waters are crystal-clear and the cypress trees provide vast canopies overhead.

Making the perfect shady scene for floating, paddling, or even snorkeling.

Unlike many of the more popular rivers in Texas, the Medina has less of a party-vibe.

The Medina offers a much quieter respite from the world while still being an hours drive from San Antonio.

To make things easy, the Medina River Company in Bandera charges $20 per tube rental and shuttle ride; $10 if you bring your own tube.

8. Pedernales River

Pedernales River
Image: Pedernales river. Lars Plougmann. [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

A tributary of the Colorado River, the Pedernales River runs about 106 miles across the Texas Hill Country west of Austin.

The river flows over huge slabs of limestone making it turbulent in some areas and smooth and tranquil in others.

Even the drive to the river access is scenic, with access to overlooks and hiking trails along the way.

At Pedernales Falls State Park you can even catch a view of the waters as it cascades over the beautiful rock formations!

If it’s swimming you’re looking for at the state park,  it’s best to pack your hiking shoes along with your swimsuit.

As it’s a strenuous 1/4-mile (or more) hike across steep rocks to the swimming area.

This is the perfect destination to cool off when you arrive (just make sure to follow safety protocols).

9. Rio Grande River*

Rio Grande River
Image: Rio Grande River. faungg’s photos. [CC BY-ND 2.0] via Flickr

One of Texas’ most famous rivers is the Rio Grande which runs from south-central Colorado and flows through New Mexico and Texas.

Even all the way to the Gulf of Mexico for a length of 1,896 miles!

The river is actually the 5th longest in the United States and is known for its importance to the wildlife of Big Bend National Park.

The upper 69-mile section of the river lies right within Big Bend and if you’re hoping to visit the river, this is going to be the most beautiful place to do it! 

The Rio Grande is easily accessible from several locations in Big Bend National Park.

Just visit the National Parks website to map out your trip.

You can stand on the riverbank at Rio Grande Village, at the Hot Springs Historic Area.

Or at the Boquillas Canyon Nature Trail and you will view a portion of the free-flowing Rio Grande.

However, the only way to truly experience the river is to float or paddle it!

10. Pecos River

Pecos River
Image: Pecos River moving by. Gary Cascio. via Flickr

The Pecos River (or in Spanish Río Pecos) originates in north-central New Mexico and flows all the way into Texas, finally emptying into the Rio Grande.

The river flows through rugged granite canyons and waterfalls, and passes small, high-mountain meadows!

Because much of the river runs through private property, making a trip on the Pecos River requires careful planning and services are very limited.

If you’re sure the Pecos River is for you, read up on other expert paddlers’ experiences online before you go!

11. San Antonio River

River Walk
Image: IMG_0248. Sara. [CC by 2.0] via Flickr

The San Antonio River is a super popular destination for both city slickers and nature lovers alike!

The river originates in central Texas in a cluster of springs in midtown San Antonio.

It follows a roughly southeastern path through the state including right through the downtown’s aptly named San Antonio River Walk (where you can even hop on a boat cruise complete with dinner and drinks)!

In the downtown area, the river is lined with bars, restaurants, cinemas, museums and shops.

If you move further south though, you can explore a selection of amazing nature parks, too!

The San Antonio River Authority’s website lists 11 nature parks and 6 designated paddling trails to choose from.

It’s no doubt that the San Antonio River is a great spot for paddling, hiking, and picnicking,

If it’s floating you’re after though, look to surrounding rivers like the Comal for some of the best tubing in Texas!

12. Brazos River*

Brazos River
Image: Brazos River. Ed Uthman. [CC by 2.0] via Flickr

The Brazos River is the 11th longest river in the United States at 1,280 miles and is a popular destination for camping and paddling along the way. 

Because the streambed of the river is considered to be state-owned public property it is especially popular for folks looking to camp right along the sandbars!

Because the Brazos is a lesser-known river, you’ll find its waterways a little more secluded than many of the others on this list making it a sweet spot for a relaxing float. 

It’s recommended that you check out Possum Kingdom State Park (how great is that name?) for an ideal spot to launch your tubes just outside the Fort Worth area. 

13. Nueces River*

Nueces River
Image: Nueces River. eflon. [CC by 2.0] via Flickr

The Nueces River runs south eastward from Central Texas into the Gulf of Mexico for 315 crystal blue, beautiful miles into the Gulf of Mexico. 

The word “nueces” means nuts in Spanish is named for the numerous pecan trees that line its banks.

The Nueces is slightly warmer than some of the other rivers (due to the spring-fed Hill Country creeks that flow into it) making it the perfect temp to splash around in!

Chalk Bluff River Resort is one popular option for all inclusive river access, camping (tents and cabins) and even a petting zoo!

All floating devices can be rented right on site!

Other sites along the Nuances include Camp Wood and Wes Cooksey Park.

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