I brought the GoPro & phone in a drybag along with me on PaddleSMTX’s Crystal Kayak Glow Tour and had a blast taking it easy on the San Marcos river. There’s a way to have fun there the right way, and a wrong way, so I’ve outlined why I had a good time, and how you can be sure to have a good time yourself.
I’ll review my tour’s start-to-end experience:
- Parking and accessibility – Is this easy to get to?
- The Shop – The storefront and amenities (if that applies)
- The Tour – How it works, and how it went
- The Equipment – The quality and variety of equipment available
- The Water – How long, fast, clean and smooth is the river trail?
- The Staff – Who’s behind the business?
- The Overall Value – what do you get for what you pay?
Parking takes planning
The tour met at the popular Rio Vista Park and swimming area. This at the ending spot so you can get to your car when the tour is over, which is nice, but it’s a happening place so not all the nearby parking has freed up by the evening. People are leaving all the time during the late afternoon or evening, so just wait a couple minutes to grab a spot that opens up. It’s was a short walk to the shuttle bus meet-up
How’s the Storefront or amenities?
No storefront, shop or concessions – just meet for the shuttle and they have all the equipment on a trailer.
They do have dry-bags for your things that can go in the kayaks.
Shuttle and drop off:
Everyone in the group rides the 15-passenger van up the road a short ways to drop off – a swimming park and day use area with a really nicely developed riverfront area for getting in the water. Think “river meets side-of-swimming pool.” I love how this is really common in Texas city parks.
Quality and Variety of Equipment to rent:
PaddleSMTX has inflatable stand-up paddle boards and crystal kayaks – each can be fitted with the underglow. ProTip – It wasn’t until near the end us on the tour realized we could toggle the colors on your LED panels by pushing a button! Everyone in the group had fun starting a mini dance floor along the river bottom for a while after that.
Kayaks: On the glow tour I tried the Crystal Kayak – they are all double kayaks with clip-in seats. The seats’s 4 attachment clips only attached the 2 to the sides, not the 2 to the bottom, so that lets the seat recline and adjust pretty easy. The kayaks were solid.
SUP’s: The Stand-up Paddle boards are mid-quality inflatable boards, so are ‘par for the course.’ The thing is, this is a really easy-moving river you basically float down, so anything better would be overkill. The paddle boards have 3 small fins (about 4-5” each) instead of one large 8-10” rear fin, so the board can coast fine in any shallow part and not get snagged on anything.
The Water and Paddle Trail – How long, fast, clean and smooth is the water?
This is the reason that makes this tour special, the crystal kayaks special and PaddleSMTX special.
The San Marcos river begins as 100% clear water from Spring Lake just a stone’s throw north from the launch-spot. Spring lake gushes out 70-degree spring water year round so it’s cool in the summer and steams on the cold winter morning. The river height is always constant becasue Spring Lake has a dam that regulates the flow down the river, and down river there are a couple man-made features or dams that let the water pool up before spilling over – the result is a solid mile stretch of clear, calm and even-flowing river.
It takes minimal effort to paddle against the current except if you head upstream to where the river narrows between some riverside sidewalks at Sewell Park. Once the tour turns downstream, all I needed to do was just relax and steer.
Overall the trail is just under a mile, and only takes about an hour.
It makes for a casual float – the tour guide will point out different things about the parks, bridges, what Texas Wild Grass is, and help you spot fun things along the way like any turtles or a bat hiding spot.
If you have a waterproof camera, take a picture of your neighbor from under the kayak! In hindsight, it would be even cooler if you wipe away any small puddles you spalshed inside before the photo…
Who runs the tours? Who is behind the business?
The thing what was obvious on my tour was the guide loves the river and loves his job.
Did you know PaddleSMTX is a family business started and run by 5 brothers (all Texas State Bobcats). Their story is cool – ask whoever your guide is about it – because odds are one of the brothers will be with your group!
I think these guys are doing it right. They know a great spot, offer something unique I normally wouldn’t have access to like an evening glass-bottom kayak trip, and offer it for a reasonable value. I tip my hat to their ability to differentiate themselves and stay relevant in what can seem like a “commodity rental” business.
Value: Last but not least – was the Glow Tour worth it?
At $34 for a shuttle, 60 to 90 minute guided tour plus rental, it’s about right. Not a killer deal, but not overpriced.
Two things made it special: First you get to be out on the water during the time of day when most people are gone. Second, there are very few places in Texas where you will find water as clear and clean as the San Marcos. You can take a kayak or SUP tour anywhere. You can’t take one like this many places for a thousand miles.