PADRE PARK – kayak or paddle board the SAN ANTONIO RIVER along the riverwalk trail

Thought there was nowhere good to paddle inside the 410 loop? Think again. Padre Park is just 5 miles south of the Alamo, and one of the few places to paddle along the San Antonio river that I actually recommend.

Paddle boarding and Kayaking on the San Antonio River at Padre park

I love the fun kayak shoot at the dam, and people also like to fish on the down-river side. It’s easy to put in, has calm & level water, and a fun park for kids to play at.

But there are a few drawbacks. Let me explain:

Waterfront and Beach: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This one almost doesn’t apply to Padre Park – It does have nice concrete curb to put in above the dam and kayak shoot. But its not a “waterfront” in the traditional sense, and it’s not a “beach.” What it does have is a wonderful access to the miles and miles long San Antonio Riverwalk. Not the tourist trap “Riverwalk” but the real river walk that you can ride your bike along with the family.  

Paddle boarding and Kayaking on the San Antonio River at Padre park

Clean, Calm Water: 3.5 out of 5 stars

It’s calm, smooth water, great for beginners and kids, and great for paddling. It’s pretty natural river, so I do keep my eye open for the occasional boulder or log that may be shallow below the surface. But It’s not the kind of river property you love to swim in. Mostly because the bottom is super uneven with boulders sporadically that make me nervous as a swimmer. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not filled with flesh-eating bacteria or algae plums, but it’s a park and river stretch designed for paddling, not for swimming access. And I’m sure with it being as slow moving as it is, that it does have it’s days where there are a lot of leaves or pollen chilling along the side.

Parking: 3 stars out of 5

Here’s my dilemma – I’m lazy, but I like to paddle. I want the parking to be as close to the river as possible.

At Padre Park, the easy, spacious parking lot is right by the playground, but a solid 150-foot walk down the hill to the waterfront. You’re going to carry whatever you paddle for a bit. If the parking were closer, it might get a 4.5 star rating. Only places like Louise-Hays park in Kerrville get 5’s. Covered, waterfront parking… incredible!

I unload in the parking lot then hoofed my paddle board to the top of the small dam & water shoot to put in. I bet on a major holiday week that you’ll need to stop near the playground to unload, then go park farther away.

Padre Park riverfront by the San Antonio Riverwalk south of the Alamo

Picnic and day-use area: 3.5 out of 5

It’s a solid park – play area, covered pavilion, grass, charcoal pit, grassy hill. Probably some ants around, so not a bare-foot ‘grassy knoll’. It’s not a huge play and picnic area though,

Overall – 3.5 out of 5

Decent all-around place, one of the better places near downtown to paddle board as well as kayak, and right by Mission San Jose if you want to add some variety to your trip.

The stretch of river isn’t much longer than a mile before the next dam and spillway, so it’s not an all-afternoon paddle trail.

 If you’re coming from Stone Oak, The Woodlands in Houston, or Dallas, then you’ll probably not think highly of the surrounding neighborhoods. But my recommendation is relax and enjoy – you came for Padre Park, the San Antonio River and Riverwalk.

Boerne Lake – the best lake to paddle near San Antonio?

Looking for a lake with swimming, picnic areas, plenty of parking, kayaking and more? What if you wanted to stay within a short 20-30 minute drive north of The Rim or La Cantera mall in north San Antonio?

You’re probably looking for Boerne Lake at Boerne City Lake Park. And you’d be happy if you found it, too – it’s my standard “go-to” for a close place to get on the water, and my favorite “close-to-home” option in the off-season.

Here’s why:

Waterfront and Beach: 4 out of 5 stars

There’s a wide, well-kept boat ramp to put in whatever you’re going to paddle, as well as a great dock for fishing or enjoying the frequent and fantastic sunsets. There’s 2 or 3 good but smaller beaches along the lakefront of the park that comfortably accommodate a few groups each.

The best beaches are highlighted in Green.
The boat ramp and fishing pier area is in Yellow.

Clean, Calm Water: 4 out of 5 stars

Why not a 5? Isn’t is a common place for open-water swimmers training for triathlons?

I reserve the ‘5 stars’ for that crystal clear water you’ll find few places such as the San Marco’s river – but Boerne Lake is calm (no motor boats allowed there) and a clean place to swim without wondering about weird bacteria or algae… looking at you, Austin and Galveston.

Boerne Lake can get windy, especially in the fall and winter, and I’ve seen more than one kayaker have to get more of a workout then they bargained for. When I stand-up paddle board there, I prefer to go on days when it’s not windy.

Photo Credit: Isabell Marie Deal Photography

Parking: 5 stars out of 5

You can unload or launch at the lake edge, or park alongside any of the day-use areas. I love how you can park along the road as well as the different parking lots along the way. On busy holidays or weekends when everyone wants to be at the lake at the same time, the parking can spill back into their overflow, but I’ve never heard of it running out of parking.

After you come through the gate you can go left to the boat-ramp side + 70% of the beach area, or go right and hit the rest of the park.

Picnic and day-use area: 4 out of 5

This is a hard one – I  bounce between 3.5 and 4 stars.

Sometimes I wish more of the day-use areas has better “playable beach” access. But the truth is the picnic and play areas are really well laid out and maintained as the city balances keeping all the natural old oak trees for shade.

I love how much shade this park has on the lake-side of the road, I love how close the parking is, and I love how they have good picnic tables, some pavilions and basic amenities. It’s a great park that serves the city of Boerne well.

Its success is also its biggest problem – Boerne City Lake Park is in a small town (population 20,000-ish) just 20 miles north of San Antonio (population 1-million-too-many). So to prevent the fun, medium-size park from being overrun on those wonderful April and September weekends, they do have a toll-booth operating during certain months or weekends of the year. I think it’s worth it to pay $15 and enjoy my time, but that’s not realistic for everyone’s budget or may not feel worth if it if you just want to swing by for an hour. On occasion then will have a person from the city parks dept (Leslie Knope?) make sure boaters have life jackets and not using motors and such.

Check their website for current hours and if there is a fee (generally on the weekends between Memorial day and Labor day)

Official city park page for updates on hours, potential entrance fee’s, etc https://www.ci.boerne.tx.us/169/City-Lake-Park

Boerne Lake Facebook Page for updates on weather, crowd level, etc. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Boerne%20Lake/123886347659916/

MOMUMENTAL PERSONAL ACHIEVEMENT – I am a terrible fisherman but even I have caught a fish from the pier here.

Overall – 4 out of 5

If you want to kayak, paddle board, do some kayak fishing or pier fishing, it’s a wonderful place. It’s you want to spend the day with friends and family, kids or adults, it’s also a great place for that, too!

Glow Tours and Crystal Kayaks at PaddleSMTX – San Marcos, TX

 

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?

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

 

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Paradise Canyon has everything – Paddle, swim, play, and camp!

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I’ve been to Paradise Canyon in the Summer, Fall, and Winter – and every time was divine. Our tradition is to camp there in February and invite all our friends to swim & paddle there in July.

Here’s why it gets a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars and some pro-tips on how avoid finding yourself without a table in the shade.

Clean, calm water: 4 out of 5 stars

It’s calm for toddlers, deep for adults, clean, cold and fresh. The upper section is full of big rocks to jump off of into the water. The middle section is a big reservoir for swimming and some simple kayak fishing.

Why 4 stars? This isn’t a paddle trail or a place where you can “get lost exploring.” It’s a really big private park, not a lake. About 3/4th of the water is great to play in, but there is a small section with lots of vegetation that isn’t good to swim or even paddle around. It divides up the park’s water features into a two parts so it’s not the easiest to paddle or play end-to-end.

 

Waterfront and beach: 5/5.

Clean, soft grass, steps with railings into the water, curbed waterfront, and lots of big shade trees. Awesome place to veg and tune-out the kids arguing about whose turn it is to inflate the paddle board.

(Shameless plug – We’re renting inflatable Stand-up Paddle Boards with electric pumps for $40/day or $60/weekend.  Check out our rental page here to dial up your experience.)

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Parking: 4/5

Lots of it and all close to the water or camp sites. Parts are bumpy or not the most clear to navigate.

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Picnic and day-use area. 4/5

They put a lot of effort into making sure there is shade, grass, and places to sit.

And the tables… So. Many. Tables. Hundreds of tables. But you can’t just use any table you’d like; We ALMOST got to the end without a catch…

(Pictures during the winter off-season)

Why a 4 out of 5? There are a few things to know about this place…

Things you better know before you go:

Tables are by reservation only – that’s why every single one of them are numbered. Be very sure to reserve a table for any busy holiday or 3-day weekend not just for the table but because it guarantees you a nice spot. EZ Ups and canopies are not allowed on the prime real-estate center lawn, so if you find yourself arriving late in the day on a busy weekend, you might get stuck without a close spot in the shade.

You can bring grills or canopies, but no music or dogs, and a few other rules. Between COVID or any weather issues, be sure to check their website to see what the “rules du jour” are.

This is one successful for-profit operation – they have all kinds of rental gear, food, or other things to sell. They don’t have any lack of creativity finding things to up-sell or rent to you:

Cell reception isn’t great there. Coordinate your directions or meet-up plans beforehand with those friends who are unlucky enough to be on T-Mobile.

Bonus! Camping there in the off-season is fantastic.

Paradise Canyon is one of the best places near San Antonio for camping. Any Texan knows the State Parks are the main game in town – most of them are great, but others are a little lacking when it comes to camping. Private campgrounds are really hit-or-miss, but this is the best little place around. If you plan your trip during a time when there aren’t a lot of people (generally between November through February) it’s totally awesome.

Four great places to paddle at Medina Lake – Part 1

Full Disclosure – I’ve lived in 7 states across 2 countries : 4 in the USA and 3 in Brazil, which made me a believer that everywhere is different when it comes to how people enjoy their lakes, rivers or beaches.

Medina Lake shows how Texas is both unique and fantastic… but only if you embrace and enjoy its differences from other places in the country.

So let’s review four places to paddle on or near Medina Lake that are all very different from each other.

 

Part 1 of 4: Joe’s Place Marina and Resort

www.JoesMarina.com

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Joe’s place is a privately owned and operated stay-and-play kind of area. Rather than pay one up-front fee, you pay for things a-la-cart – you’ll pay little amounts for the different things you want to do there. You might prefer a “lake day buffet,” instead of a-la-cart. Photos of their price sheet are at the bottom of the page. Whatever you prefer, just know this place is almost never packed except for big holidays like 4th of July. Even on most holidays I don’t think they get to capacity because people from the area describe this place  to me the area’s best-kept secret.

The quality of the water: 4 out of 5 stars

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Would you want to jump and play in the water? Yes! Almost all of Medina Lake is clean, clear water, and this area is no exception. It’s a play-with-the-kids in the water kind of place where the beach and water meet with a gradual incline without a sharp drop off.

Why not a 5? The water level can rise and fall drastically over a few short years, which adds an element of mystery on what the lakefront water will be like.

The surrounding waterfront: 4 out of 5 stars:

Is it easy to put-in and take-out anywhere? Yes – paddling around is easy. If you paddle  far away and try to take-out you’ll be on someone’s private property, so be mindful of where you launch and land. The area is nice but constrained – there are well-marked places for playing in the water whereas your public park waterfront is all free-game. Launch a kayak or paddle board from the same general spot.

joes place swimming area

There’s fresh sand beaches on the waterfront, and they even do scuba diving certifications there.

The parking & accessibility to the waterfront: 3 out of 5 stars

Can you find enough close parking? Yes, it’s fine – nothing special compared to some rare parks out there where you can park almost right by the water.

It’s about a 200-300 foot walk to the water. For ‘yaks and SUP’s, plan to launch/unload then park, or bring a wagon / kayak wheel truck. But if you reserved a covered picnic table area the parking is super close to those.

The picnic & day use area: 3.5 out of 5 stars. Plus you can camp overnight.

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Is it easy to enjoy the day there with friends and family? Yes – but like other private marinas and parks you’ll be a little closer to your neighbors on those rare “busy” days. If you’re a non-committal person, you’ll have to get over that and book your spot on the busy holiday weekends.

It’s a friendly place for fishing, paddling, picnicking, fire pits and all the things that make lake days fun.joes place camping area

Even better, you can stay overnight with the tent camping areas plus a few cabins and RV spots you can book. Like most Texas State Parks, the camping spots don’t have a ton of space between your neighbors. That’s par for the course at most places to camp within an hour of San Antonio.

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Oh! I almost forgot! There is tons of shade with all the big old tree’s. That’s a huge plus.

So to recap – It’s a hidden gem… but a different kind of gem. A great place for friends and families to have fun, but expect to pay for the things you want a-la-cart instead of a flat entrance fee. Plan for it – don’t worry about it once you arrive – just enjoy!

So why not a 4 or 5 star day-use rating? Five stars are reserved for the hands-down best-in-Texas places in all aspects. Joe’s is a good place. There’s nothing bad about it, it’s just not the place you drive 1,000 miles to experience – it’s above average: a 3.5 out of 5.

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Seguin Paddle Trail at Starke Park

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Max Starke Park and the Sequin paddle trail could be the best place to paddle between San Antonio and Houston.

Special thanks to local SUP hero, long board legend, and guest writer Rusty.

NOTE: These pictures were taken on New Years Day! Imagine how nice this place is in the summer =)

The quality of the water: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

The entry point is approximately 30 yards prior to a small dam that diverted water to the old Seguin power plant – now its a restaurant.  This keeps the water nice and calm for a gentle entry.  The paddle distance is approximately 4-5 miles up river where Hwy 46 crosses the river.  The view along the river consists of much of Starkey Park, to include the golf course.  Otherwise, private homes line the river.  Keep an eye out for the boat wrapped around the tree from a prior flood.  There is one bend in the river where the water often collects a layer of slime but it is very small compared to the overall length of the paddle.
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The surrounding waterfront: 5 out of 5 stars.

The entry point into the river includes a concrete wall with gentle stairs to descend from the parking lot.  The concrete wall also has ladders to provide for easy exit.  On any given weekend you will find families swimming in this spot which can produce a bit of a crowd.  If you go early it’s a ghost-town.
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The parking & accessibility to the waterfront: 5 out of 5 stars.

As Starkey Park includes a golf course, the parking lot is directly adjacent to the river.  There’s also parking along the road that follows the river.  No parking restrictions are applied to park visitors.
Unlike Fiesta Texas, parking here is close, plentiful, spacious and free year-round.

The picnic & day use area: 5 out of 5 stars.

Along the river from the entry point and adjacent to the parking areas are a large number of picnic tables.  Many locals come down to the park just to hang out or have a picnic and are generally friendly and curious about paddle boarding.  Again, if you get there early you will not only have the river to yourself but also the ability to grab the picnic tables closest to the river entry point.
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