San Marcos River Is the Place to Make a Splash

By Michaela Jackson on May 4, 2011 at 7:57 pm EST
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PHOTO CREDIT: Jesse Knish

Weekends in the beautiful Hill Country town of San Marcos find thousands of people washing away the week in the local river.

Flowing gently through the city, the San Marcos River is one of the cleanest, clearest in the nation. The crystal spring water maintains a temperature of 72 degrees year-round – perfect for tubing, swimming, scuba diving and kayaking.

“The upper San Marcos River is listed as the crown jewel of San Marcos by the Chamber of Commerce and is the centerpiece of the city’s master plan,” says Rodney Cobb, director of parks and recreation for the city of San Marcos.

March through September, when the Texas heat is at its fiercest, is the ideal time to tube the river. The local Lions Club rents tubes in City Park beginning in May and hands out thousands of tubes over the course of the season.

“We have most of our tubes out on the weekends, and we keep 1,000 tubes in stock,” says Mike Rhoades, president of the San Marcos Lions Club. “We’ll have people in line waiting for tubes.”

The ride takes roughly 45 minutes, depending on how fast the current is moving.

Nearly 100 percent of the money the Lions Club brings in goes to local San Marcos charities.

Between September and February, kayakers are out in full force, careening through the river’s challenging waterfalls. In fact, Rio Vista Falls, a triplicate waterfall area, has hosted Olympic pre-trial events.

People aren’t the only water lovers who appreciate the San Marcos River. Spring Lake, which is adjacent to the river’s headwaters, is the site of Texas State University-San Marcos’ Aquarena Center.

A glass-bottom boat tour introduces passengers to the many animals under the water, as well as the springs, which add 150 million gallons of water into the river each day, and a 12,000-year-old archaeological site.

“Forget what you think you know about boats,” says Jane Moore of Aquarena Center. “Aquarena glass-bottom boats hold up to 25 people, who are seated on wooden benches, leaning inward on the viewing rail to peer through the glass panel on the bottom of these unique, historic wooden boats.”

The Aquarena also gives visitors an up-close view of the underwater world through a natural aquarium with a floor to ceiling view. Some of the species seen in Spring Lake and in the San Marcos River cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

A floating wetlands walkway puts visitors in the envi­ronment of the river, surrounded by nature and wildlife.

“Where else in the world could you go to enjoy an under­water view at the headwaters of a pristine river, and glide across a lake that has survived all droughts of record at a location continuously civilized for 12,000 years?” Moore asks.

For outdoor recreation that’s a little more on the dry side, the City of San Marcos maintains 1,000 acres of parks, the largest of which is a 500-acre parcel in the Hill Country. The recreation areas offer hiking trails, rock climbing, camping and nature walks.

The city also organizes athletic leagues, outdoor concerts and festivals throughout the year.

“San Marcos is a great place to live, work, play and visit,” Cobb says. “The kids can play sports, attend events, tube and play in the river, and Mom and Dad can shop in our historic downtown and at the malls. There really is something for everyone in the family.”

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