The river is a way of life in San Marcos. Rising up from hundreds of springs in the center of the city, the waterway is a remarkably pristine body of water that’s 10 times cleaner than the EPA standards for drinking water. It’s also 72 degrees year-round, making it the perfect destination for both hot summer afternoons and cool winter days.

Whether you’re in the mood for a leisurely float, whitewater thrills, a sightseeing tour, or something completely unexpected, the San Marcos River is the place to be. Here are five of the best ways to get out on the water and start having some Texas-sized adventures on the river.


1. Kayaking


A kayak trip on the San Marcos River can be calm—or you can take on the area’s whitewater section.
San Marcos Convention and Visitor Bureau

If chilling out in a tube and watching the world float by is a little too chill for you, get your adrenaline pumping with some whitewater kayaking at Rio Vista Park. There are three man-made rapids where you can test your skills and have a blast at the same time. You can even paddle at night as the park stays lit after the sun goes down and remains open until 11 p.m.

Never whitewater kayaked before? No problem! The upper San Marcos River is a great place to paddle in calm waters - perfect for new kayakers or those looking for a beautiful, leisurely adventure. 


2. Glass-Bottom Boat Tours


Get a unique view of Spring Lake, the source of the San Marcos River, by taking a Glass-Bottom Boat Tour. San Marcos Convention and Visitor Bureau

The San Marcos River is known for being so clear that you can see to the bottom, so what better way to experience it than with a glass-bottom boat tour? Head to the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, which is at Spring Lake, the headwaters for the San Marcos River. Tours run continuously every 30 minutes and offer you a chance to sit in a comfortable, covered boat, where you can peer into the water below and observe turtles, salamanders, fish, and more. While you’re there, take a stroll on the wetlands boardwalk for another very cool view of the local aquatic flora and fauna.


3. Diving


Take advantage of the clear water to do some snorkeling. San Marcos Convention and Visitor Bureau

Scuba diving isn’t just for the ocean—you can get your scuba on deep in the heart of Texas, too. The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment offers a unique opportunity to dive into the clear headwaters of the San Marcos River. While you can’t dive recreationally, volunteers can dive in this stunning part of the San Marcos River in order to help preserve the ecosystem. The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment offers a course for those who are already scuba-certified that allows them to have the privilege of diving in this critical habitat in exchange for science-based volunteer work. For those not scuba-certified, snorkeling downstream of Spring Lake is certainly an excellent option for great views of the river.


4. Tubing


A float trip on the San Marcos is one of the area’s signature activities. San Marcos Convention and Visitor Bureau

The San Marcos River is practically synonymous with tubing. If you so much as mention heading down to the river, you can pretty much guarantee that your friends will start airing up their tubes for a day of floating. If you’re looking to tube the San Marcos River, you have the option of either renting a tube or bringing your own.

One of the most popular spots for tube rentals and river shuttles is the Lions Club Tube Rental at San Marcos City Park. Here you can rent tubes all week long (and take advantage of a locals’ discount if you’re lucky enough to call San Marcos home) and float from San Marcos City Park to Rio Vista Park. At Rio Vista Park, you’ll find natural pools to take a dip in and fun waterfall chutes. The journey from park to park takes about an hour, and you’re welcome to sip a cold beer along the way, just as long as it’s not in a glass bottle. For a longer tubing option, rent a tube from Texas State Tubes or Don’s Fish Camp and take advantage of shuttle pick up services along the way.


5. Stand-Up Paddleboard


More and more people exploring the river on a stand-up paddleboard. San Marcos Convention and Visitor Bureau

Stand-up paddleboarding—also known as SUP—is one of the coolest ways to experience the San Marcos River. You can rent a stand-up paddleboard and paddle the mighty river, or you can take part in a nighttime paddleboard glow experience. Picture the moonlit San Marcos River, plus you, your friends, and a whole bunch of technicolor neon. This must-try adventure allows you to take to the water on a SUP that’s equipped with underwater LED lights boasting different colors and settings. Bring your own glow sticks to light up the night even more. The unforgettable tour is guided and takes approximately an hour to an hour and a half.

Kayak Rentals:

CabanaSMTX - clear kayaks
Paddle SMTX - clear kayaks
Spencer Canoes
Texas Canoes and Kayaks


SUP Rentals:

Paddle SMTX


Written by Krista Diamond for RootsRated Media in partnership with San Marcos CVB.