Grab a tube and ride one of these rivers.
COMAL RIVER, New Braunfels (from Interstate 35, take the Texas Highway 46 [Loop 337] exit heading west, turn left on Common Street [the second stoplight] for 1 mile, left on Union Street for 1 block, then right on South Street; 830-620-6262). A spirited ride down “the chute”—a concrete, S-shaped slide down Stinky Falls—launches you into the calm, turquoise waters of the shortest non-navigable river in the world (the 2.2-mile Comal begins and ends, merging with the Guadalupe, within the New Braunfels city limits). You can spend all day in perpetual tubing bliss: drifting down the waterway, then catching the shuttle back to the chute to do it all over again. Shuttle fee included in tube rental.
FRIO RIVER from Leakey to Concan (in the Hill Country; from Concan, head north on U.S. 83 for 8 miles to FM 1120; put in at the low-water crossing; 830-232-6131). This stretch of the Frio makes a picturesque scene—spindly cypress trees and limestone cliffs line the banks of the cool, clear, jade-colored water. Expect powerful currents and rapids when the water level is high.
LOWER GUADALUPE RIVER below Canyon Lake, Gruene (from Interstate 35 just north of New Braunfels, take exit 191, head west on Texas Highway 306 for 1 mile, turn left at the Texaco station onto Hunter Road and continue until it dead-ends into Gruene Road, then turn right and cross the river; 800-572-2626). With generally calm waters and a few small rapids, this popular (and crowded) stretch of the lower Guadalupe provides the quintessential tubing (or “toobin’,” in river rat vernacular) experience. You can float all day on the river—from the first bridge through Hueco Falls and Gruene—along with rowdy clusters of families, frat brothers, and friends, towing a well-stocked cooler (in its own tube, of course).
MEDINA RIVER from Peaceful Valley Road to Tarpley Crossing/Texas Highway 470 bridge (in the Hill Country; from Bandera, head north on Texas Highway 16 for 4 miles and turn right on Peaceful Valley Road for 1/4 mile; enter where the road crosses the river; 830-796-3553). This approximately four-mile (three-hour) stretch of the limestone-bedded Medina curves adventurously through wooded canopies and scenic Bandera County pastures (complete with cows and goats). Call ahead to check river conditions; the tubing is best when the water level is moderate.
SAN MARCOS RIVER at City Park, San Marcos (from Interstate 35, take exit 205, head west on Texas Highway 80, which becomes Hopkins Street, for 1?2 mile [passing two railroad crossings], turn right on Bobcat Lane [passing another railroad crossing], then left on Jowers Road to City Park and Lion’s Club Tube Rental; 888-200-5620). The pristinely clear, calm, 72-degrees-year-round San Marcos River—home to such protected ecological rarities as albino lobsters and Texas blind salamanders—has somewhat limited public access. The best entry point is City Park for a tranquil, one-mile ride to a small waterfall dam at Rio Vista Park. Jennifer Olsen
What Lies Beneath
Where divers and snorkelers see wonders down under.
BALMORHEA SWIMMING POOL, Balmorhea State Park (in West Texas; from Fort Stockton, head west on Interstate 10 for about 47 miles, then south on Texas Highway 17 for about 7 miles; 915-375-2370). Clear spring waters and a beautiful desert setting draw divers and snorkelers from as far away as New Mexico to mingle with minnows and turtles. Standard pool amenities make for family fun. Diving from 8 a.m. to midnight daily; $3, children under 13 free.
DIABLO EAST DIVE COVE, Amistad National Recreation Area(from the Del Rio courthouse, head west on U.S. 90 for 12 miles and turn right at the sign for Diablo East, just before the bridge; 830-775-7491). Divers and snorkelers can now enjoy sparkling clear waters in the spring and summer, thanks to the flourishing hydrilla, which also provides an excellent environment for catfish, sunfish, largemouth bass, and such scaly oddities as gizzard shad and alligator gar. When the lake level is cooperating (which, at 37 feet below normal, it isn’t right now), you can explore old, submerged Mexican ranch buildings. Free.
FLOWER GARDEN BANKS NATIONAL MARINE SANCTUARY (in the Gulf, 105 miles directly south of the Texas-Louisiana border; 979-779-2705). The northernmost coral reefs in the continental U.S. teem with colorful Caribbean species. Go in February and March to swim with schools of hammerhead sharks or in late summer to see the coral spawning, though you’ll have to book early. Group outings only; call Rinn Boats of Freeport (979-233-4445) for your local tour operator. Weekend trips start at around $350 per person.
SPRING LAKE, AQUARENA CENTER, San Marcos (921 Aquarena Springs Drive, 512-245-7541). You’ll have to take a two-day scientific diving course to enjoy this federally protected habitat. Along with day and night dives, you’ll spend time in the classroom studying the area’s unique ecological balance. Snorkelers and the less educationally minded can still get up close and personal with turtles and crayfish in the San Marcos River between the Aquarena Springs Drive bridge and Rio Vista Park. Call to book a diving course; $195 per person.
“VALHALLA” MISSILE SILO (30 miles south of Abilene; 915-686-7333). Excellent visibility and the been-there, done-that factor are enough to make jaded scuba junkies trek to West Texas for the creepy thrill of diving this flooded cold war relic. Not for the novice; you’ll need a reasonably thick wet suit, lights, and your equilibrium as you float above the tangle of metal debris the salvage crews left on the silo floor, 120 feet down. Group outings only; call the Family Scuba Center in Midland (915-686-7333) for your local tour operator. Prices range from $45 to $120 per person.
WINDY POINT PARK ON LAKE TRAVIS (from the intersection of RR 620 and FM 2222, west of Austin, take 620 south for 1 mile, turn right on Comanche Trail, continue for 3 miles, and turn left on Bob Wentz Park Road; the entrance is immediately on your right; 512-266-3337). Windy Point Park features handy equipment carts, platforms for diving instruction, and on-site tank fills and is