San Antonio & Austin Area Hikes

Guadalupe River Trail
By Tom Taylor & Johnny Molloy
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Key Info
Length: 1 mile
Configuration: Out-and-back
Difficulty: Moderate
Scenery: Lush woods and the Guadalupe River
Exposure: Shady
Traffic: Light
Trail Surface: Gravel, dirt, and roots
Hiking Time: 30 minutes

Access: Open to day use
Maps: None
Facilities: None

In Brief
Known to fly fishermen throughout the state as the premier spot for the long rod, this isolated trail located near the Canyon Lake Tailrace also offers hikers a quiet reprieve from the busier parks in the summer. Lush foliage creates an ideal spot for watching the river's visitors and inhabitants go about their business.

From I-35 South, take FM 306 west to South Access Road. Turn left on South Access Road and look on the left for the park entrance. There are two parking areas. Turn into the second parking lot. A large sign at the end designates the beginning of the trail.

The water from the Guadalupe River exits the Canyon Lake Dam just upstream from here and offers the coldest year-round water in the state. Anglers from all over the state know it as the only place where rainbow trout exist throughout the year, and it is a closely guarded secret. Just down river a ways inner tube, kayak, and canoe enthusiasts begin a traditional spring and summer float trip that can lead the hard-core floaters all the way to New Braunfels.

The river recreation here is commonly thought of as anything but tranquil. However, this well-hidden trail begins and ends before the sometimes rowdy floaters begin their trek. For birders, anglers, and nature watchers, it is a small oasis of tranquility located in one of the busiest summertime getaway spots in the state.

A short hike through the thick bottoms of the river, this trail offers birders a chance to see the endangered black-capped vireo playing in the tall tops of the trees. Another draw is the population of wading birds that one would normally observe on the lakes or near the coast. The shallow pools and eddies here create a natural environment for birds like sand pipers, egrets, and herons to probe for a meal or rest in the tranquility of this lush watershed.

The trail begins by descending a short earthen staircase at the end of the parking lot. There is a wooden bridge located almost immediately after the stairs, then a second one within 500 feet. The first half of the trail is very well kept, with wood guards keeping the gravel of the trail even and easy to traverse. The river is barely visible through the dense trees, but the sounds of the water are always present. The thick plants and wildflowers are natural attractants for a variety of butterflies in the spring and summer. The canopy and the cool air coming off the river keep this hike relatively cool throughout the year.

Numerous spurs lead to the river, where it is generally shallow enough to wade. Anglers use these trails to get to prime fishing spots.

You'll encounter a bench and scenic overlook of the river 0.2 miles into the trail, where you can watch the wading birds and anglers play in the river. Even if you aren't an angler, the display put on by a skilled fly fisherman can be entrancing. The hypnotic rhythms used to deftly place the delicate lures within striking distance of hungry trout will entrance most observers, who quickly learn that the sport has more to do with casting than catching fish. It is an art form that one must observe to truly appreciate, and this is a great location to see it.

The trail continues at its current state for another tenth of a mile until it reaches a set of wood-and-earth stairs leading downward, where it narrows into a simple dirt path. If you're wearing shorts, you might want to consider turning back at this point. The thick ground cover hugs the trail for the remainder of the hike.

At this point the habitat becomes very inviting to black-capped vireos. Listen for their singing and scan the treetops for motion. The tiny, reclusive birds can be seen hanging from the branches, darting back and forth between the trees. You'll have to be very still and quiet to get a good look at this endangered bird. They offer their songs, however, to even the nosiest of passersby.

The attraction of the water and surrounding woods is irresistible to numerous small mammals. Squirrels are abundant both in the trees and on the ground, and nutria can be heard rummaging in the weeds and along the bank. Looking like a cross between a beaver and a big rat, the herbivorous nutria can be somewhat alarming the first time you see one. They are usually harmless and want nothing to do with people, so they'll insist you watch them from a distance. Most of the small holes you see along this and other river trails in the area are made by them rooting for food.

The trail continues to push into the thick woodland until you reach a point where you simply can't go any farther—a little over half a mile from the trailhead. Not far off the trail, there is a wetlands restoration habitat. This trail is under a constant state of improvement; hopefully it will someday connect with the wetlands viewing area. Maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, both areas would make a great wild attraction in this otherwise busy area.

As you return, take the time to observe the damage floods can do the landscape. Numerous large trees lay on their sides, victims of raging floods. The last bad flood occurred in the fall of 1998, and some of the area is still recovering.

Published: 25 May 2004 | Last Updated: 11 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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