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Leakey - Concan - Uvalde - Vanderpool - Utopia


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Our usual far flung national park road trip is likely scrapped. I'd like to make as many Texas river frolics as possible. I'm pretty ignorant about the most fun swimming holes and float areas down that Frio/Nueces/Sabinal area. My kids (8 and 10) are decent swimmers, although I suspect they will prefer running water over shallow rocks to calm and deep holes. That may be me projecting my fear of slimy river bottoms, I dunno. 

What are your favorite places to go? What are worth fighting the crowds and what out of the way places are worth exploring? 

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I don't think there's going to be any place without crowds honestly.  We've been going to Guadalupe river St park.  Their entry limits have kept it quiet, and since state Park don't allow alcohol it keeps the crazy drunks away.  But my kids are still little and are happy to just splash in the shallow water.

My wife was looking at this https://friorivervacationrentals.com/lodging.html

Thinking about renting a house/cabin for a couple of days.  They should all have private access.  

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I nabbed a couple of nights in June at a place with shared Dry Frio access, and am sharing a bigger house with SIL and nieces on West Frio north of Leakey just before school (hopefully) returns. But I can easily take off more days and pop down a time or two. Plus when we they are there for a week I am willing to brave a popular float with some of the kiddos. 

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for swimming holes - garner, blue hole, hamilton pool, barton springs, christoval, balmorhea.  there's a city park in kerrville that has nice swimming in the guad.  the ingram dam, near there, is also a great spot.  there used to be a private campground on the blanco in wimberly called little arkansas that was a badass spot.  

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Been going on and off to that area since the mid 80s. As a kid, that's a great place to spend a week in the summer.

We were just at Neal's in Concan over Memorial Day weekend. The area has been in a drought. The Frio is flowing but any long float will involve a lot of walking. There are spots along the river that are waste deep, some areas even neck deep. Just depends on where you are on the river.

If you don't have immediate access to the Frio from your property, then your options of public pay parking spots with river access is going to be CROWDED. That area is crowded as shit during the summer. Most park and pay lots will have a fuckton of people with canopies, coolers and chairs along the river bank. Keep in mind those property lines are river front limited before you are on someone else's private property. Rightly so property owners down there take the private in private property pretty seriously. Be ready for everyone's speakers trying to blare over their neighbors. If you can find a little stretch of the river not overrun with people, it's glorious.

I read that Garner is limiting overnight camping spots to enforce social distancing. Awesome that you got reservations, especially this late in the year. IMO the day campers ruined Garner. That place is a clusterfuck now. But hopefully the limitation on camping and day camping numbers improves the experience. Too bad the nightly pavilion dance isn't going on. That's a wonderful right of passage for kids. 

Edited by crash_davis
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Definitely do lost maples. You can even do some fishing in the pond next to primitive camping section C, although the rainbow trout they stocked are probably dead by now with the heat we've had. There's still some bass and large catfish in that pond. 

I'd also stop at Lost Maples Cafe in Utopia for some buttermilk pie. Helllllll yeahhhhhhhhh

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Re Garner, what follows is based on normal summer days. Not sure if or how this applies with the limiting of people.

There is what we call Old Garner and New Garner. Old Garner are the campsites from the Pavilion to Old Baldy to Rock Beach. Old Garner also includes the campsites around the original entrance but that area sucks because you're far from the river. The stretch of river front from Old Baldy to Rock Beach is hella crowded with day campers. Avoid that area like the plague. If it's your thing, it's worth it to put up with that area because there's a big ass tree that you can climb and jump from. That river area is probably the deepest in GSP. The damn area can be deep, just depends on if/when they dredge that area of all the river rocks.

The newer parts are the 3 campgrounds when you take a left at the T coming into the park. I forget their names. The river front in those areas will be crowded but very manageable because the day campers do not have easy access to that stretch of the river. I recommend staying in one of those 3 campgrounds.

The other great thing to do is to hike. Hike early in the morning because it gets hot as fuck when the sun beats down on you. You can hike to Crystal Cave but the crystals were removed back in the 60s when people used to break them and take them home. It's about a 30 minute hike one way from parking at the Pavilion. The other hike is to the top of Old Baldy. Halfway up veering to the the left is IceBox Cave. That's the OG term from the people back in the 60s. The new term is Refrigerator Cave. It's a huge crack about 30 yards into the face of Old Baldy. Halfway up Old Baldy, It's about a 10 minute hike from the main trail up Old Baldy. Inside the cave, you have to walk sideways most of the way through the "cave". Flashlights are a MUST. When it wasn't so popular, we'd play a game where we placed a tennis ball deep in the cave and someone else had to go into the cave without a flashlight to find it. Now there's usually a line to get in the cave. Go early.

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15 minutes ago, StruggleBus said:

Definitely do lost maples. You can even do some fishing in the pond next to primitive camping section C, although the rainbow trout they stocked are probably dead by now with the heat we've had. There's still some bass and large catfish in that pond. 

I'd also stop at Lost Maples Cafe in Utopia for some buttermilk pie. Helllllll yeahhhhhhhhh

You can also go to the city park in Utopia and swim in The Sabinal. The Sabinal is dammed at the park so it's a small lake/big ass pond. There's also a tall ass tree that you can climb and jump from. The locals float the Sabinal because it's about 1/100th as crowded as the Frio. Just need to arrange access to the river for take out. 

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This topic is germane to my interests. I've been perusing the VBRO's for Camp Wood, Texas this morning and there's some super amazing (and pricey) looking places. My family and by sister in law's family are sharing a house in Hunt, Texas, the weekend after July 4th. Really excited, and close enough to do many of the things on this thread. I'll be curious to hear from anyone here how the crowds are at Garner and Lost Maples when they visit this summer, so please keep us posted on this thread. 

God I love the Hill Country. 

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Plans thus far:

• Swam, kayaked, and SUP on Lake LBJ this week for a bit. My in-laws have a place in Grabite Shoals in the water. May go back soon hit the Slab near Kingsland early on a weekday soon while the Llano is flowing. 

• Will walk the South San Gabriel off 183 next week on a weekday, before the summer dries it up. Dino tracks and wading.

• Got a cheap place for a couple of nights on the Dry Frio in June. Just me and the family. Already have day passes for Garner and Lost Maples. 

• Day pass for Guadalupe River State Park for late June.

• Locked up 3 nights near Hunt on the Guad for July.

• Got 5 nights on the Frio near Leakey in August.  Splitting it with my sister in law. The cousins have a ball together. Will do day trips and passes from there.

• Still pending: Perdanales SP and Colorado SP. Maybe Blue Hole in Georgetown. Been meaning to check out Hancock Springs in Lampasas (currently closed for out of county residents). May pass up the Wimberly area swimming holes this year. I figure they may be too crowded. Ditto for Guad and Comal near NB. Might check out Devils Watering Hole. Not sure if the kids would hime to Barton Creek greenbelt places (and they might be busy). 

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Zubers River Camp (formerly Magers) is right across the Frio from Garner. You can cross at the dam and get over to Old Baldy if that's your schtick.

Much nicer place to camp than the actual park that has 9:00 curfews and prohibits displays of alcohol consumption.

 

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  • 3 weeks later...

Lunch and swam a Utopia Park. Very nice.

Got a cheap cabin on Dry Frio. Nice swimming hole 4 to 5 ft deep. Perfect for my kiddos. Kids even enjoyed neighbor goats which I didn't even think to mention to the. Garner day passes on the way out on Tues. 

Didn't being enough beer.  Dry precinct. 

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  • 1 month later...

Summer rankings thus far by my 10 and 8 year olds:

1. Frio River - Garner State Park, river crossing

2. Dry Frio River - Blue Hole, Frio Cielo Ranch

3. Guadalupe River - Ingram Dam

4. South Llano River - South Llano River State Park

5. Llano River - The Slab, Kingsland

6. North Fork Guadalupe River - Wagon Wheel Crossing, FM 1340 near Hunt

7. Colorado River - Emma Long Park Beach

8. South Fork San Gabriel River at 183 near 29 

9. Colorado River - Lake LBJ (Granite Shoals)

10. Sabinal River - Utopia Park

 

To be ranked (forthcoming expedition) 

• Nueces River - Quince / Camp Wood

• West Frio River - forthcoming VRBO rental

• Garner redux

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13 hours ago, CleverNickname said:

Summer rankings thus far by my 10 and 8 year olds:

1. Frio River - Garner State Park, river crossing

2. Dry Frio River - Blue Hole, Frio Cielo Ranch

3. Guadalupe River - Ingram Dam

4. South Llano River - South Llano River State Park

5. Llano River - The Slab, Kingsland

6. North Fork Guadalupe River - Wagon Wheel Crossing, FM 1340 near Hunt

7. Colorado River - Emma Long Park Beach

8. South Fork San Gabriel River at 183 near 29 

9. Colorado River - Lake LBJ (Granite Shoals)

10. Sabinal River - Utopia Park

 

To be ranked (forthcoming expedition) 

• Nueces River - Quince / Camp Wood

• West Frio River - forthcoming VRBO rental

• Garner redux

how big is the gap from the top 2 or 3 to the rest of the list?

 

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3 hours ago, NoName said:

how big is the gap from the top 2 or 3 to the rest of the list?

 

Kids loved the slide at Ingram Dam, so not too much. Then it's a gap. The South Llano near Junction has a surprisingly healthy flow, but it is not as clear and pretty as the Frio. The Slab was pretty rad, but I imagine that's heavily dependent on the daily flow. Wagon Wheel Crossing was really pretty and deep enough for my kiddos, but probably boring for older kids. 

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Heard from friends of friends who just got back from the Frio. Said it's low as shit. Don't bother tubing cause it'll be more of a river walk dragging your tube along the way.

It was low when we went over Memorial Day. Area desperately needs some good rain.

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3 hours ago, HenryJames said:

How crowded was it?

So our rental was like 8 minutes away and it was a weekday. We simply got there early. Around 11:15am. As soon as we left the next group moved up from one beach below dam to our spot (at the best swimming below dam). Only maybe 3 families/groups there at the same time.  We all kept to our own by unspoken agreement.

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Schumacher's was pretty busy every time we drove past, so I only got to walk around a bit. With the picnic area and improved parking and on 39, it's almost too easy to enjoy. Also my kids aren't as in love with the shade/cypress scene. They like it bright and clear. But damn, Schumacher's is so fucking pretty. Same deal when we drove past Hunts Crossing. On an ordinary summer day it would have been fine. Maybe 1 other car. But there are enough little spots out the way you can just pass em up and find your own private piece of heaven. We'll probably go back to hit those up (particularly when my wife is comfortable with rope swings). Plus Mo-Ranch wasn't doing day passes, and that would be fun. 

Edited by CleverNickname
f'd up german spellings
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On 7/22/2020 at 5:52 PM, CleverNickname said:

Summer rankings thus far by my 10 and 8 year olds:

1. Frio River - Garner State Park, river crossing

2. Dry Frio River - Blue Hole, Frio Cielo Ranch

3. Guadalupe River - Ingram Dam

4. South Llano River - South Llano River State Park

5. Llano River - The Slab, Kingsland

6. North Fork Guadalupe River - Wagon Wheel Crossing, FM 1340 near Hunt

7. Colorado River - Emma Long Park Beach

8. South Fork San Gabriel River at 183 near 29 

9. Colorado River - Lake LBJ (Granite Shoals)

10. Sabinal River - Utopia Park

 

To be ranked (forthcoming expedition) 

• Nueces River - Quince / Camp Wood

• West Frio River - forthcoming VRBO rental

• Garner redux

Great job!  Your kids will never forget it.  

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On 7/24/2020 at 4:46 PM, HenryJames said:

oh yeah, that article was totally my inspiration to check out Camp Wood and environs. I think I got similar inspiration from Texas Coop Magazine (which low key is like my favorite periodical in the world). 

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My flicks from a recent trip to the Devils and Nueces rivers.

Nueces at Camp Wood.  My brother and I loved this spot and really wish we had pressed our older brother and his kids to come with us instead of sleep in and go back to Houston.

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St. Dominic in D'Hanis was pretty cool...

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Sunset at the Pecos bridge on 90...

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Devils River.  My suggestion is to bring inflatable kayaks so that you can paddle from the swimming spot in the Nature Area down to Dolan Falls.  We made the mistake of not considering that (we just assumed to get to the falls we would have to do a multi day kayak trip.)

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We also stopped at Chalk Bluff and it was beautiful, just a lot of people.  I mean it wasn't bad, but we were just there for a couple of hours, so a bit expensive for 2 hours ($15 day pass).

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I’m 48 and I’ve gone to Concan/The Frio for years mainly staying close to Concan and several places which are too many to mention.  This year we stayed just a couple miles south of Leakey at Rio Bella just  down from the Alto Frio Baptist Camp.   They have a very nice set up there with an Irrigation diversion damn which forms a nice lake like area which is about waist deep but gets deeper in some spots away from the damn.  Good fishing as well if you want to catch and release with the kids.  Upside is the area is not as crowded and that’s fine with me.

The other thing that was cool about staying up River this time around, we took an evening drive up to Camp Wood and holy crap it’s a fun drive.  Why I never did this before?  And that pic above of Patricio Swayze’s kind of lit my interest in maybe making a quick weekend trip to check the Nueces  up that way.   Much prettier than the mud hole near me down here for sure. 
 

 

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On 7/28/2020 at 7:17 PM, CleverNickname said:

Awesome. How was it for yall?

It was great. Got there first, and there was never more than one other family. Perfect depth for my daughter. 
 

Went and looked at Schumacher, but it was a pain to try to get to the waterfalls. Will come back when my daughter is older.

 

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On 7/23/2020 at 5:36 PM, HouTex said:

This thread make me miss my family’s place on the Dry Frio about 10 miles from Neal’s. My dad sold it in 1986. Tubing down the Frio with a cooler and case of beer was a blast. I love Texas.

Did this for the first time early this year. It was a blast. Never made it to this part of Texas before. Insanely beautiful

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4 hours ago, Zepol87 said:

Did this for the first time early this year. It was a blast. Never made it to this part of Texas before. Insanely beautiful

You will be hooked now.  It's a regular week for us if we don't have an out of state vacation planned.  Even if we do, we will do a four day weekend.

 

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12 hours ago, BottleRocket said:

We just spent a few days in a river cabin rental in Leakey. This is the view from the backyard. I always take the long route from Austin through Hunt and Vanderpool. 706ef2e350218358e3144d58d119e2c0.jpg
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thats gorgeous - mind sharing a link to the rental?

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20 hours ago, dingleberryswitzer said:

Spent that day at garner  on Friday.  Holy shit, it was crowded.  I thought tpwd was limiting entrance, but it was nuts, nobody giving a single fuk. 

Not much flow. I think the tendency to congregate at the dam is higher in these conditions. My plan is to hit the gates at 8am and wear the kids out by 11. 

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