Cruise With Kingfishers

Trinity River Above Anahuac

We were a good hour and a half into our cruise when “Captain” Jack Kinsey eased his 24-foot pontoon to the marshy edge of a bayou we’d wandered into. He reached for his net to snag a wayward, seemingly ordinary piece of driftwood. But what I saw as a washed-up stick, Kinsey saw as “wood with character,” perfect for a homemade “gone fishin’” sign. This was just one of many things he and I saw differently. When I looked out onto a sea of Chinese tallow trees, for instance, I saw a mess of brown and green while he saw pink—a tucked-in family of roseate spoonbills. “I’ve seen every tree and limb down here, so if something’s different, I catch it,” says the 58-year-old Kinsey, who has lived in the Anahuac area all his life “except for tour in Nam.” More than just a guide to birds (like kingfishers and great blue herons), our three-hour excursion turned out to be a tutorial in the area’s history and ecology as well. Birding tours by appointment: 936-549-7425; tours start from Fort Anahuac, which is on Texas Highway 563, one mile south of Anahuac; $150 for up to six people for a half-day or more. Stacy Hollister

Take a Hike

Pedernales River at Pedernales Falls State Park

No matter where I found myself in Pedernales Falls State Park, it wasn’t long before the sound of water found me. A gurgle here, a trickle there, the whoosh of the namesake falls on the park’s outskirts. After a two-mile hike along the rocky Wolf Mountain Trail, I came to the park’s primitive camping area, a scrubby congestion of oak and juniper bookended by the Mescal and Tobacco creeks. I wandered among the sites, exploring the smaller trails that led to the edge of a bluff with a sprawling view of the Hill Country. And suddenly, there it was again: I couldn’t see the Pedernales, but I could hear it. Pedernales Falls State Park; from Johnson City, go about 9 miles east on FM 2766; 830-868-7304; day use $4, hike-in camping $8 per night for up to 6 people, sites with water and electricity $18 per night for up to 8 people, $2 entrance fee per person (ages 12 and under free). S.H.

Get in the Swim

Guadalupe River Near Hunt

The big daddy of Texas Rivers is many things—a beloved sanctuary for bass fisherman, the waterway of choice for tubers and canoeists—but on a recent spring day, the stretch of the Guadalupe at Schumacher Crossing, just outside Hunt, was a private playground for a friend and me. A nearby historical marker tells of one John Randolph Schumacher, who in the twenties built a succession of dams on the river to tame devastating floodwaters. At this inviting spot, his handiwork created a mini-cascade of frothy waters, a gentle current, and a tranquil swimming hole, while Mother Nature provided the gnarly cypresses that guard the banks. Who knew that man and nature could get along so swimmingly? About 1 mile east of Hunt on Texas Highway 39. S.H.

Join the Party

Guadalupe River below Canyon Lake

Due to its abundance of rapids, scenic beauty, and location about halfway between Austin and San Antonio, the lower Guadalupe is probably the most heavily tubed stretch of water in Texas. Swarmed with college crowds from UT, A&M, and Texas State, this is the party river. Whether it’s six people on an inflatable raft blaring their waterproof radios or a solo tuber with his well-stocked cooler floating close at hand, Guadalupe revelers can often resemble a mobile frat party. If that’s not your thing, try hitting the river in the early morning or on a weekday, when it’s a bit quieter. Just remember that it’s illegal to take polystyrene-foam or glass containers on the river (canned beer only) or to consume alcohol before noon on Sundays. Bummer, dude. Outfitters: Shanty Tubes—from Interstate 35 in New Braunfels, take exit 191 and head west on Texas Highway 306 for about 13 miles; right after the stoplight at the intersection with FM 2673, Shanty Tubes will be immediately on your right; 830-964-3990,; tubes $10, rafts from $20 ($40 minimum), includes shuttle. Rock ‘n’ R River Rides—from Interstate 35 in New Braunfels, take exit 189 and head west on Loop 337 for 2.3 miles; just after you cross the Guadalupe, take the Gruene Road exit, turn right onto Gruene Road at the stop sign, and continue for .75 mile; 800-55-FLOAT,; tubes from $14, rafts $30, includes shuttle; group rates and discounts available. Stayton Bonner

Shoot the Chute

Comal River in New Braunfels

Beginning and ending within the New Braunfels city limits before merging with the Guadalupe, the spring-fed, 2.2-mile-long Comal is the shortest river in Texas. Mostly quiet except for two sections of rapids (one of them an S-shaped concrete slide called “the chute”), the Comal is a happy medium between the quiet San Marcos and the loud Guadalupe. While the chute will keep things interesting for the older kids, the river’s still too laid-back to attract the more rowdy, rapids-loving crowds. The Comal’s brief length and slow drift keep the hazards to a minimum, making it a perfect stretch for relaxed groups of floating families and laid-back drinkers. Outfitter: Texas Tubes—from Interstate 35, take exit 187 (Seguin Avenue) and head west on Seguin all the way through the town center; when it ends at the railroad tracks, turn right onto Meusebach; 830-626-9900,; tubes $10, includes shuttle for first trip. No polystyrene-foam or glass containers allowed on the river, nor drinking on Sunday before noon. S.B.

Ride the Rapids

Frio River at Garner State Park

Flowing over a bed of limestone and gravel, this refreshingly frio spring water is swimming-pool clear. In between the Frio’s myriad waterfalls and rapids, you’ll spend most of your tubing time looking at limestone bluffs and native birds like mourning doves and golden-cheeked warblers rather than at the fancy houses and immaculate lawns that tend to line river banks in less remote areas. In addition to tubing, enjoy the area’s beautiful Hill Country solitude to the fullest by hiking Garner State Park before camping out under a vast, starry sky. Outfitters: 4J River Way Cabins and RV Camp—from Kerrville, head west on Texas Highway 27 for about 5 miles; just before Ingram, turn left onto Texas Highway 39 and continue for about 35 miles until 39 ends at U.S. 83; head south (left) on 83 for about 30 miles, turn left onto RM 1050, and drive for a little under 1 mile; 4J River Way is at the bridge ½ mile east of the entrance to Garner State Park; 830-232-6202,; tubes $4, shuttle $10 per group. Garner State Park—830-232-4200,; tubes $6, shuttle $3 per person. No glass containers allowed on the river. S.B.