In the filtered morning light, the water beneath my raft gleams in shades of emerald―vibrant colors you’d more expect to see in the Caribbean than in Texas. Slender branches on lofty cypress trees paddle in the breeze like lazy windmill blades. I’m spending a week traveling the 432-mile length of the Guadalupe, the most beloved river in Texas. And I’m amazed at the way it enchants just about everyone who sees it.
I watch it charm tween girls so much they forget all about MP3 players and Miley Cyrus. I see it mesmerize grown men and women and send them paddling nonstop for days until they stare like zombies. I look on as streams of college students park perfectly good automobiles and drift away on inner tubes.
Here is a taste of what makes it so bewitching―from the camps and swimming holes in the Hill Country to a grueling canoe race that ends in the Gulf.
From Camp Mystic to Canyon Lake: Find Swimming Holes and Summer Camps
The river starts its journey high in the Hill Country, west of Kerrville, where the South and North forks meander past airy limestone cliffs before they join near the tiny town of Hunt. Some of the country’s oldest summer camps nestle beside the cool waters.
I stop by Camp Mystic, founded in 1926. It’s fishing day, and 104 girls line up on a creek bank, ready to catch a bass, a perch, or maybe even Big Charlie―a 22-pound catfish who’s legendary around here and apparently easily tempted. He’s been landed by as many as six campers in the past. Excitement buzzes each time a bobber dives under with a strike.
“For many of the girls, this is their first opportunity to catch a fish,” says Dick Eastland, who runs the girls’ camp with his wife, Tweety; three of their sons; and two daughters-in-law.
Nearby, I find my own summer adventures on the roads that hug the idyllic stretches from Hunt to Kerrville and down through the aptly named town of Comfort, just northwest of San Antonio. Cypress trees with massive trunks the color of weathered leather line the banks. Only short sections run deep enough for canoeing, but rapids splashing into jade-colored pools at almost every bend invite me to take a swim. Some of the access places are as small and informal as Schumacher Crossing, a postcard vision of the perfect swimming hole near Hunt. Others are as spacious as Guadalupe River State Park.
Late in the day, I stop to watch a sunset bright as a beach ball descend over the shimmering waters of Canyon Lake, the largest impoundment on the river. The lake helps control flooding, but I get a sense of how powerful these waters can be when I hike into a massive gorge near the spillway, cut almost overnight by one of the river’s biggest floods in 2002.