Relax and Go Tubing

Float your cares away on a crystalline stream in the gorgeous Hill Country of Texas.
Annette Thompson

Life doesn't get much better than this. Here I lounge in the middle of the Frio River, hands and feet dangling in the cool waters while the sun warms my face. Today I'm going with the flow, dawdling the day away at a leaf's pace through some of the most gorgeous country in God's creation.

Garner State Park, in the Hill Country between Leakey and Concan, Texas, serves as the river's centerpiece. Folks congregate here to plumb its clear depths, languish atop its slow-moving currents, and wander the surrounding movie-perfect countryside.

The Frio begins 27 miles north of the park on the Edwards Plateau. There, rainfall percolates down through the limestone strata, carving caves and underground streams. When that same water bubbles back up to the surface as springs, it forms the river.

Floating on the Frio makes me feel like a kid again. If I get too hot, I'll splash a handful of the sparkling water on me--or maybe I'll wait for a shady spot or a deep pool where it feels like iced tea. By the time the chill works its magic, I'll float back into the comforting blanket of sunshine. Sometimes, I'll dive to the bottom--it's all rock and pebbles without silt and mud--for a good drenching. The Frio is the only place I feel comfortable opening my eyes underwater.

 

Most of the time, I concentrate on the views around me. Stretching as far as my eyes can see, verdant grassy valleys spread out. After a good rain, the scent of blooming purple sage grows so strong that the river smells like an aromatherapy spa. In the distance, the fields abruptly end as limestone and golden mesas jut skyward. Mesquite and sotol plants dot the rocky hillsides in a palette of varying shades of green. Above it all, the sky at midday seems bluer than the tropical sea; by sunset, it glows orange, burnt red, and bruised violet--a colorful good-bye to the day.

Closer to my inner tube, an allée of bald cypress trees marches down the riverbank. They're accompanied by pecan, walnut, and sycamore trees.

The river remains shallow in most places--it's usually only a few feet deep. Sometimes I have to walk my tube to keep from bottoming out.

I started today at a river crossing 4 miles north of the park. Every 30 minutes or so, I pass families along the banks where moms and dads lounge in lawn chairs in the water while their children in inner tubes paddle and splash nearby. Some waders try their hand at fishing. I think it just gives them an excuse to take their shoes off and get wet.

This is as adventuresome as I get. Some folks who visit the Frio around Garner State Park desire a bit more excitement. They rent paddleboats and kayaks near the dam. A few swing out over deep spots and drop from knotted ropes. The Frio treats us all to nature's best swimming holes.

Swimming pools, schlemming pools. From now on I'm turning my nose up at those chlorinated concrete holes. Instead, I'd rather frolic in the Frio.

 

Frio River Lodging and Dining
Want to spend a day splashing around in the Frio River? Here are some details to make your trip more enjoyable.

  • Location: Take U.S. 90 west of San Antonio for an hour to Sabinal. Turn right on State 127 and follow that to Concan. Turn right on U.S. 83. It leads to Garner State Park where you can get maps and information.
  • Garner State Park: HCR 70, P.O. Box 599, Concan, TX 78838; (830) 232-6132 or www.garnerstatepark.com. Admission is $5 per person for day use. Children 12 and under are free.
  • Float Trips: Expect to pay less than $10 for ferry services upstream, which are available from a number of outfitters.
  • Garner State Park rents new PVC pink and yellow tubes for $5 a day (with a $5 deposit). It also offers shuttles upstream. (For use in the dam area only, you can rent paddleboats for $6 per hour and kayaks for $8 to $10 an hour.)
  • Parkview Riverside RV Park, situated across the Frio River from Garner State Park, also ferries tubers upstream; (830) 232-4006 or www.parkviewriversiderv.com.
  • Happy Hollow Grocery, located on U.S. 83 north of Garner, provides a shuttle service; (830) 232-5266 or www.texashillcountryguide.com/johnnie.html.
  • Lodging: We like the rustic accommodations at Frio Canyon Lodge in Leakey. A little more casual than a common chain motel, it's basically clean and funky. A swimming pool and shady trees set off it's motor courtyard; (830) 232-6810. Rooms start at $85 during the summer.
  • Rent a cabin at Garner, or camp there in a tent. Cabin rates from $70, tent sites from $10. For RV camping, we recommend Parkview (see above).
  • Dining: You can't beat the breakfast tacos at the Garner Grill in the state park. Meals there during the remainder of the day lean heavily on fast food, such as burgers, chicken tenders, and fries.
  • We liked Mama Chole's Mexican Restaurant in downtown Leakey on U.S. 83 so much, we ate there twice. Go for the excellent enchiladas, and pour on the salsa; (830) 232-6111.
  • Get your camping and picnic supplies at the Utopia General Store on Farm Road 187 east of Garner; (830) 966-3444.