San Marcos Texas

Photo: Erich Schlegel

The San Marcos River wanders in graceful twists and turns through the Hill Country and strolls through its namesake town before joining forces with the Guadalupe and heading seaward. What the river lacks in size it makes up for in aesthetics—its deep pools run cobalt blue, the shallows clear and swift.

Texas’s only whitewater play-park is smack downtown in San Marcos (pop. 54,000) at the Rio Vista Dam, serving as a mecca for paddlers looking to hone their play- paddle skills year-round. Close by you’ll find shade trees, Texas barbeque, icehouses, and legendary music venues like Gruene Hall. Just up the road lies Austin, with its world-class university, keep-it-weird aesthetic and great paddling of its own. For paddlers, though, the heart of Texas is San Marcos, thanks in no small measure to the Texas Water Safari, a 260-mile nonstop paddling race from San Marcos to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a test of physical and mental endurance, sure, but it’s also a window into the Lone Star State’s rich and unique paddling culture. — Jeff Herman

See more: NORTH AMERICA’S BEST PADDLING TOWNS.

This story will appear in the June 2015 issue of Canoe & Kayak.