Toobin’ the Guadalupe in Texas

When Texas heats up, people from all over the state flock to the Hill Country in Central Texas. And despite my near-death experience on the Guadalupe, toobin’ on this beautiful river is still one of my all-time favorite Texas experiences.

New Braunfels

The lower Guadalupe shoots out of Canyon Lake and runs south through Gruene toward New Braunfels. This stretch of the river attracts kayakers and canoeists, but is famous for its toobers.

Kayaking the Guadalupe RiverCredit 

On a beautiful summer weekend, the Guadalupe is full of men, women, children, and even dogs, floating down the river in rented black inner tubes (aka toobs). Armed with essential provisions like coolers, hats, water shoes, and sunglasses, toobers are prepared for a full day of fun and some of the best people-watching opportunities to be had.

Credit 

For about $20 a toob can be rented from any of the dozens of outfitters lining the area. You can also rent coolers, buy ice, and of course, beer. You can’t have a proper Texas river floating experience without the beer (Disclaimer: If you’re 21).

Let's go TubingCredit

It’s worth spending a little more for a toob with a bottom; it’ll save your rear end from getting scratched by the rocks. These toobs are also great for carrying a cooler. And for most river rats, having a cooler is more important than sunscreen. There’s no Styrofoam, glass, or small containers allowed on the river; stick to plastic coolers and canned drinks. Don’t even think breaking these rules, unless you’re ready to fork over about $500 for a fine.

LonestarCredit

Floating trips can last anywhere from two and a half hours all the way to eight hours, depending on which one is chosen. The longer the trip, the further north you’ll start on the Guadalupe. The level of the river also determines float times. After a good rain, the Guadalupe can be quite fast, and after flooding, it is down-right dangerous. Given flooding conditions, the river is closed. Conversely, during a drought, you could find yourself picking up your toob and walking across dry patches. Still, a “bad” day on the river is better than a good day doing most anything else.

393906-R1-036-16ACredit 

Weekends tend to be a raucous time, especially on holidays. Beer flows as freely as the river and with that often comes obnoxious, drunken behavior. Authorities do patrol the area in an attempt to keep people safe and curb the lewdness. Floating the river is often a giant party on the water, but it’s still seen as an activity for families to enjoy.

Keep things in perspectiveCredit

Campsites and picnic tables are located at various parts of the river. Groups can take a break from floating to eat lunch or just watch their fellow toobers float on by. Ropes hang from tree limbs that stretch over the Guadalupe. The daring (and drunk) play Tarzan and swing out into the river. Flips and often belly busters off of tree trunks delight onlookers. Country music blasts from speakers along the banks.

Although the lively weekend experience is what immediately comes to mind when thinking of floating the Guadalupe, there’s something to be said for having the river to yourself. When I was a teacher and had my summers off, I’d head to my parents’ place near Canyon Lake during the week. On a Tuesday or Wednesday, I could float along and not see another soul for twenty minutes at a time. I enjoyed taking in the beauty of nature rather than being distracted by the people surrounding me.

The Guadalupe RiverCredit

I’ve spent many hours on the Guadalupe, but haven’t been back in several years. The last time I floated the river it’d just been reopened from flooding. The river was extremely high and running very fast. Going through some rapids, my toob hit a tree in the middle of the river and I flipped. The current pulled me under and I was sucked beneath the hollowed-out roots of the tree. I scratched the tree with my hands and gripped it with my legs trying to crawl toward the light, but I kept getting pushed back under. My head was violently beaten by the rushing water. I remember looking up at the darkness and breathing out my last breath. At that moment, I thought I was going to die.

Suddenly an arm latched onto mine and jerked me from the water. I coughed and gasped for air. I trembled. I was so shaken that I didn’t even realize my bathing suit top wasn’t where it was supposed to be. I profusely thanked the young man. Stuck in an island in the middle of the river, there was only one way off, and that was to jump back in and continue the float. Somehow I found the courage to not only jump in, but also finish the rest of my three hour journey.

I’ll go back to the Guadalupe again. I’ll float it with my friends, drink some cold beer, and sing along to the music from the river banks. And if you want a truly Texan experience, you will too.

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60 Comments
  • Laura
    June 19, 2012

    Mmmmm I can smell the cedar after reading this post and wow does it make me homesick despite just being in central Texas a month ago! Unfortunately, the river was still a little lower than I like it after a hard drought year so we opted for the artificial toobin’ at the Schlitterbaun.

    • Leah Travels
      June 19, 2012

      I know what you mean about the cedar. Fortunately, I’m not allergic. I was wondering about the water level. The lakes around Austin are still generally low compared to years past. It makes me sad every time I drive on 71 past Bee Caves and cross that big bridge. Last time I was there the boat docks were not even close to the water. Maybe you and I should get together and do one big rain dance!

  • Sandy Moore
    June 19, 2012

    I remember after Bud graduated from SMU, he went with friends to go “toobin”, and ended up loosing his brand new 1994 SMU class ring. Everyone looked for a bit, but they figured it was long gone and heading towards the gulf! Leave your jewelry at home………

  • Leah Travels
    June 19, 2012

    I bet I could retire with all the gold and silver at the bottom of that river, Sandy. I also could have my own sunglasses store, too. You’re right! Leave the jewelry at home. 🙂

  • Kimberly
    June 19, 2012

    I always wanted to go tubing on the Guadalupe when I lived in Texas! I never did, though. Love the photo of Lonestar — the perfect tubing beer, I bet.

    • Leah Travels
      June 19, 2012

      I think floating the river the rite of passage for every Texan, person living in Texas, or visitor to Texas. When you come back you’ll have to make sure it’s on your agenda. Thanks for stopping by and it was great visiting with you at TBEX. I can’t believe you know about West Texas! 🙂

  • Arianwen
    June 19, 2012

    I love tubing. It’s so relaxing when the water’s calm and exciting when it’s fast. That sounds like a pretty terrifying experience you had though. I’ve fallen out while white water rafting before and struggled to get to the surface, but at least there wasn’t a tree in my way!

    • Leah Travels
      June 19, 2012

      I really need to work up the courage to go this summer. I’ve been on other rivers since, but not the Guadalupe. I’ve yet to white water raft for the reason you describe. Heights and rushing water scare the bejeezus out of me!

      • FlyingPhotog
        June 19, 2012

        I’ve rafted on the Guadalupe several times, and actually felt safer than toobing, because we wore life jackets in the raft. For tubing I actually like the Comal better because you’re less likely to drag bottom.

        • Leah Travels
          June 19, 2012

          I haven’t been rafting yet. It looks like a lot of fun though. I’ve done the Comal as well. It’s just shorter, so I usually do the Guadalupe. I hear you about dragging bottom. Thank goodness for the tubes with the bottoms. I’ve scratched my arse a time or two. It’s not fun.

  • Michelle Parker
    June 19, 2012

    Wow Leah im surprised to read you are going to go float again!!!

    • Leah Walker
      April 16, 2013

      I’ll do it eventually, Michelle. Gotta get back on the horse.

  • @mrsoaroundworld
    June 19, 2012

    Again, this is why I need to go to Texas. I must say, Leah, I really like this Tuesday Texas post! I am just not very keen on the “river full of people experience”. Can we close it off just for us? 😉

    • Leah Travels
      June 19, 2012

      If we go on a Wednesday and to another stretch of the river, we’ll practically have it to ourselves. I’m afraid that’s the best I can do without an extremely large donation to the State of Texas. 🙂

  • Leah Travels
    June 19, 2012

    I’m doing it and you’re coming with me, Michelle!

  • FlyingPhotog
    June 19, 2012

    Leah, great review of one of my favorite places in Texas! I had a similar near-drowning experience as well. Scary stuff!

    • Leah Travels
      June 19, 2012

      OH! You’ll have to tell me about your experience. I think had I not been completely sober, I might not be here today. I’ve learned not to mess with Mother Nature.

  • Jeremy Branham
    June 19, 2012

    We have rapids here in northern California. However, there is also the river option here in Sacramento and the area. It’s a lot of fun for people. However, like the Guadalupe, this can be a dangerous experiences especially when you combine the alcohol.

    For me, I did the rapids on the Coloma river and while I never got submerged, I was flipped out on the first rapid (this was river rafting and not on a tube). The water was ice cold and my body started going numb. I was stuck and I had to find my way out. The rapids were a mile long so the entire rapids tour had to pull off and a guide had to come get me. It was embarrassing and scary.

    So these trips can be fun and lazy but also a little scary too.

    • Leah Travels
      June 20, 2012

      What a frightening experience. I’m not sure I’d get back in the water after that. I sure am glad you made it out alive. I thought I’d be embarrassed, but I just was glad I didn’t die. I’ll never underestimated the power of water again.

  • the lazy travelers
    June 19, 2012

    in pa, you can’t take beer with you when you go tubing! this looks way more fun.

    • Leah Travels
      June 19, 2012

      They’ve cracked down a bit because of the litter, but the tourism the river generates is huge. If they outlawed beer the money would go bye-bye. There are trash boats along the way to throw your cans in (at least there used to be). I think the Lazy Travelers would have a lot of fun here.

  • Raul (ilivetotravel in Twitter)
    June 19, 2012

    This reminds me of shooting the ‘Hootch (the Chatahoochee river) in Atlanta though the Guadalupe may be a faster river on average. I really like the idea of going during the week and enjoying the natural beauty of the place with more peace. And I agree that the cooler deserves its own toob!

    • Leah Travels
      June 19, 2012

      I never did the ‘Hootch when I was in Atlanta, although it sounded like a lot of fun. Maybe one day…with a cooler, of course.

  • D.J. - The World of Deej
    June 19, 2012

    Holy cow Leah!…I read this entire thing thinking how much fun it would be and then reached the end! Thank goodness that guy was there…the world wouldn’t be the same! And I mean that in the most sincere way possible:)…

    • Leah Travels
      June 19, 2012

      It is fun! You just don’t need to go after a week of flooding. Oh yeah, I thought that guy was there just waiting for a bathing suit top to come off. Shame on me! He was there to help people. I guess he did get to see a girl topless…me! LOL

  • Nomadic Samuel
    June 20, 2012

    This looks like a massive amount of fun. I mean even dogs are enjoying it 😛

    • Leah Travels
      June 20, 2012

      Samuel, it really is one of the best times to be had in Texas. Even if you go by yourself, five minutes in you’ve made a river full of friends. There are lots of other rivers to float, but this is the granddaddy.

  • Leah Travels
    June 20, 2012

    Houston got some rain yesterday, so it’s tolerable, at least for a little bit. At 103 degrees, I bet a day on the river does sound nice.

  • Cynthia
    June 20, 2012

    Sounds like a great time! Floating on the river. I always liked tubing on the Ichetucknee River near Fort White, Florida. Due to a continued drought though the water levels have been way too low to enjoy a good run. Enjoyed the article and photos of the Guadalupe.

    • Leah Travels
      June 20, 2012

      Thank you, Cynthia. I’m afraid we’re suffering the same fate as far as rain goes in Texas. I’m not sure of the current river level, but even a few dry patches won’t keep the die-hard toobers away. Here’s hoping for some good rain in the South.

  • Mateo
    June 20, 2012

    In a traumatic cooler capsizing incident on the Guadalupe I lost a blue Converse Chuck Taylor, cut my foot, and lost all the ice. We did manage to rescue all the beverages although they did not make it to the pick up point. It was tough drinking river temperature drinks but we managed. Awesome post once again.

    • Leah Travels
      June 20, 2012

      That sounds like a typical river float to me…lose a shoe, but risk life and limb to save the beer. You must be an experienced river floater.

  • Fiona
    June 20, 2012

    Leah this looks like such fun (in a very lazy kind of way!) Love the idea of “Texas Tuesday” too – looking forward to seeing more post about Texas 🙂

    • Leah Travels
      June 20, 2012

      Thank you, Fiona. And you’re right, it is a lazy day unless it’s been raining hard. Then you better hold on tight.

  • Tawny- Captain and Clark
    June 20, 2012

    We really need to make a trip out to Texas soon. It sounds like there’s a lot of fun to be had. Toobin’ is now on the list!

    • Leah Travels
      June 20, 2012

      Yes! You should have taken that RV through Texas. You totally missed out! Texas could use a little Captain and Clark.

  • Pola
    June 20, 2012

    OK it really seems like the San Antonio area has a lot of fun stuff around it! Perhaps on my next, non-working trip, I’ll be able to try some “toobing.” 🙂

    • Leah Travels
      June 20, 2012

      There’s tons of stuff in the Austin-San Antonio area. I could write for months on that area alone. You showed me Chicago, so I’ll show you Texas. Just say when.

  • Craig Zabransky
    June 20, 2012

    I’ll never forget when they asked my cross country amigo and I if we wanted a 3rd tube? I was confused and then she told us for our cooler… Ah, the things you learn in Texas.

    I am glad I discovered this series… TexasTuesday.

    stay adventurous, Craig

    • Leah Travels
      June 20, 2012

      Necessity is the mother of invention. Add a bottom to a toob and you never have to be without your beverages. I think that’s pretty damn smart. So you’ve done this, Craig?

  • Francesca
    June 20, 2012

    I shivered as I read that last part. Would you believe me if I told you that almost the exact same thing happened to me as I canoed the Pine River in Michigan? It took a while for me to get back on the water again after that. But I’d still like to try toobin’. I have a good friend from Oklahoma who always talks about “floating” (the Illinois, maybe?). Always seemed like so much fun!

    • Leah Travels
      June 21, 2012

      Yes, I would believe it Francesca. I think it happens more than we know. The day that I had my accident, a girl died in the exact spot I almost did. They shut the river down that afternoon. Talk about freaking out. I’m not sure about the river in Oklahoma. The only one I know there is the Red, which separates part Texas from Oklahoma (Thank goodness! LOL…Sorry, Sooners).

      • Francesca
        June 21, 2012

        Ha! I knew the Oklahoma bit would get a reaction out of you, you Texan 🙂

        • Leah Travels
          June 21, 2012

          Yeah, don’t get me started making Oklahoma jokes. I have some Okie fans out there. 🙂

  • Fidel
    June 21, 2012

    I went tubing in Arizona once. It’s a fun experience. Love this post of yours, Leah.

    • Leah Travels
      June 21, 2012

      Thank you, Fidel. Oh, I bet tubing in Arizona would be awesome. Think of all those canyons you could go through!

  • Traveling Ted
    June 21, 2012

    I think I would prefer the weekday canoe trip instead of fighting the masses, but a tube and a cooler full of beer does sound appealing.

    Sorry to hear you had such a scary experience when it was flooded. Sweepers, down trees in the water, can be dangerous in low water, but they can be lethal during flooded water. Glad someone was there to help you.

    • Leah Travels
      June 21, 2012

      Maybe you could do the river on two different days. That way you could get the peace and the party. There is the part of the river on the other side of Canyon Lake that doesn’t get as much action. Let me know if you want to head down here. There’s lots of stuff for an outdoor enthusiast like yourself.

  • Stephanie
    June 21, 2012

    Great write-up! We always go in the dead of heat in July and it’s always so crowded but never a dull moment!

    • Leah Travels
      June 21, 2012

      Thanks, Stephanie. I think it’s best in the heat. That water can get quite cool, but not enough to keep the drinks cold without a cooler. 🙂 There is a lot to see and I’ve gotten quite an education over the years. Ha!

  • lola
    June 21, 2012

    yes! tubing on the river is a great Texas pastime that should be experienced by all once in their lifetime 🙂

    i, of course, endorse the Gruene bit of tubing as it’s my favorite little Texas town.

    • Leah Travels
      June 21, 2012

      Settle down, Lola, I’ll have some goodness from Gruene on down the line. But yes, it’s a fabulous Texas experience.

  • The World Wanderer
    June 21, 2012

    Sounds like the perfect way to spend a summer day! Guess, I am going to have to head to Texas sometime soon – I had no idea this existed!

    • Leah Travels
      June 22, 2012

      That’s part of the reason I started writing Texas Tuesday. What seems completely normal to me is unheard of to others. Texas (and me) would love to have you!

  • Kristin Shaw
    June 22, 2012

    What a scary experience! I applaud your courage to go back to the river anyway. This sounds like so much fun!

    • Leah Travels
      June 22, 2012

      Well, I haven’t been back yet. Don’t applaud me so quickly. You should do this. I think the age limit for the Guadalupe is 6, but the Comal right by it is 3. It’d be great fun for your family.

  • John
    June 22, 2012

    Seems like a great way to beat the texas heat!

    • Leah Travels
      June 22, 2012

      It really is, John. Surprisingly, the water is pretty cool. If you get hot all you have to do it jump out of your tube for a bit.

  • Jennifer
    August 14, 2013

    We have something similar in Arizona called the Salt River. Tubing season is short, but it is a lot of fun and the perfect way to stay cool. A bus drops you and your tube off at one end and picks you back up on the other. And everyone totally gets and extra tube for a cooler!

    • Leah Walker
      August 19, 2013

      Yeah, it sounds very similar to the toobing in Central Texas. Maybe we should do a river floating exchange program.

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