San Marcos, TX is a vastly growing city located between Austin and San Antonio where Texas State University students and other locals enjoy the hill country views and the rushing San Marcos River. After living here for almost three years, I have come to find some of the most exciting spots in San Marcos for those seeking to explore the outdoors.
Rio Vista Park
One of the most populated yet still exciting spots is Rio Vista Park, which is located down the street from the TSU campus, close to where the river runs under the interstate. Rio Vista is a well-known park to local families that host cookouts and enjoy swimming near the small “falls”. The park also has tennis courts available to the public, but if you don’t really want to sharpen your tennis skills, the river may be a nice spot for you to explore instead. This area of the river includes small rocky rapids where many like to sit on the rocks and watch as floaters or kayakers attempt to ride down. The majority find themselves tumbled over and scrambling for their soaked belongings, so enter at your own risk! I’ve done it while floating, and it was not my favorite experience, but it was either do it or be the only one who doesn’t. Peer pressure! Rio Vista is also the ending point for one of my favorite short, free floats. My friends and I would grab our tubes and jump in at Sewell Park located on campus then float down to Rio Vista. To avoid a long walk back, we usually plan ahead and have someone in our group leave their truck at Rio Vista so we can have a quick ride back. This float usually lasts around 1.5-2 hours depending on the flow of the river at that time.
As mentioned above, Sewell Park is a popular hangout spot for students because it is located pretty much in the middle of campus. Students are able to rent camping gear as well as kayaks and paddle boards to use on the river. Sewell Park features sand volleyball courts and pavilions that are available for rent for parties or events. The park is also a great place to start a snorkeling adventure! Recently, my roommate and I went snorkeling with Snorkel TX – a snorkel tour guide company in San Marcos. This is a perfect opportunity for snorkeling newbies like myself because they provide all the gear and teach you everything you need to know about snorkeling in the river. We started the tour at Sewell then ended at Rio Vista Park. It was a breathtaking experience, and since then my roommate and I have actually purchased our own snorkeling gear to go on our own since we both had such an awesome time!
If you are like me and enjoy less populated areas for some quiet time, I would recommend exploring what I have come to call “Fairyland”. Located right across the road from Rio Vista, “Fairyland” is a more hidden area with lots of different river access points and a few cool trails. This is a great spot to bring your pups or human friends and hang out in a more private area. There are plenty of trees around to hang your hammock and read a good book while listening to the smooth rush of the river. Even though it is still close to town and the interstate, you still feel like you are in your own world away from the hustle and bustle.
Similar to “Fairyland” is another one of my favorites – Stokes Park. When I lived at the Woods Apartments, which are right across the street from the park, I was there almost every day in the summertime. This spot has a beautiful yet small waterfall, and many take the risk of jumping from the top into the water. While this is something that is done often, I must warn that it is still dangerous because of the varying water levels. There are also some trails leading to the bottom of the waterfall and winding back down the riverside. This area tends to stay less populated, but on weekends it may become crowded. Still, it is a beautiful escape.
Located off Wonder World Drive, Purgatory Creek is a prime location for hiking and biking trails. The trails are all genuinely beautiful and include some cave-like features, and I do recommend bringing a map of the area or saving a picture of it on your phone because it is always easy to get turned around. Dogs on leashes are allowed, and my dogs always have a blast on the trails with me. There are not always water spots on the trails so be sure to bring water for you at your pets! Exploring this area in the morning is my favorite because it tends to be less crowded and more peaceful.
If you are interested in a long float on the river, San Marcos has a few floating options for a small fee. Texas State Tubes is located at 101 River Park Drive, just outside the city. Texas State Tubes offers transportation to and from Austin to float, or if you are already in San Marcos, you can park and float there! They have a shuttle that brings you back to your car after the 3-4 hour float. You can bring your own tube or rent one from them, and they offer student and military discounts! Check out their website for what to bring and what not to bring. Another great place to float is Don’s Fish Camp. Also located just outside of the city, Don’s offers tube rentals and a shuttle service, as well as campsites on the riverside! This is perfect for those who want to spend more time outdoors enjoying the river.
Kayaking & SUPing
If you love kayaking or paddle boarding through the water, Paddle SMTX offers SUP Glow Tours on the river, and this is something that I have been dying to do. They also rent out regular kayaks and paddleboards, but the glow tours are their most popular attraction. I have seen them on Groupon, so always check there for discounted tours! I plan on experiencing this tour for myself pretty soon, and I am sure I will not be disappointed. They even offer a SUPZilla Paddle Barge, which is a paddleboard big enough for 4-6 people!
Now after you enjoy all of the amazing adventures in San Marcos, be sure to celebrate with great drinks and delicious food on the square. If you have no idea what I am referring to, locals refer to the strips of bars as “the square” because, well, it makes the shape of a square in the middle of town. You can almost always find me at my personal favorite - Railyard Bar & Grill - because they have tasty burgers, allow dogs and have pool tables, ping-pong, darts and more.
While there are so many more interesting parts of San Marcos, these are at the top of my list. Hope to see some fellow adventurers out in my favorite city soon! Good luck on all your future adventures!
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