Guide To River Camping in Texas
March 16 2021 – Bernard McCloskey
As the passion for the great outdoors begins to grow, many campers create their own camping bucket lists. A list of adventures they want to embark on, hikes they want to enjoy and out-of-the-ordinary lands on which they want to pitch their tent.
For many campers, both experienced and newcomers, Texas holds a special draw. This draw might come from growing up with cowboy westerns or knowing the great history of adventure in the state.
It could be due to the sheer vastness of the state and the sense of wonder that goes along with that. In many ways, Texas represents all we love about the great outdoors.
Over the past few weeks, we have celebrated camping in the Lone Star State through a series of posts as we bid to create Crua’s Ultimate Guide to Camping in Texas.
We highlighted the vastness of the state as we turned our attention to the best state parks for camping in Texas. We’ve offered advice on how to prepare for camping in Texas and what to expect in each of the four seasons in Texas.
The sheer diversity of the great state of Texas is something we have pointed out again and again. There is no one way to camp in Texas.
A camping trip to Texas could mean a peaceful family outing in the prairies. It could mean a stay by one of the many great lakes, sandy beaches, or removing all amenities for a more primitive experience in the outback.
So far in our guide, we’ve given our insights on all of the above and highlighted some of our favorite locations for each. Now we want to look at one of the more adventure-filled trips. This is our guide to river camping in Texas.
What is River Camping?
A quick note on what exactly is river camping. River camping is pitching your tent by the river and enjoying all the activities that the river has to offer. A river-orientated camping trip can be one of the most fun experiences for any camper.
This goes doubly for camping in Texas where there are some fantastic rivers with 15 major rivers flowing through the state. There are also a huge number of named streams and waterways. There’s a lot of choice for river camping in Texas.
There are activities aplenty in river camping. Obviously, if you want to stay put there is ample opportunity for swimming, fishing, or exploring the riverbeds. However, day-long trips downstream are what river camping is all about.
In Texas, the majestic rivers are perfect for canoeing and kayaking. If you plan ahead, you can easily find places that rent equipment near a river campsite.
Another much-loved activity is tubing. What better way to explore a river and immerse yourself amongst the wildlife than by relaxing in your own inflatable tube as the water guides the way.
As we already mentioned when we examined the seasons of Texas - the Summers can sometimes get uncomfortably hot. River camping provides the perfect medium in those hot months.
For many, having a river nearby and basing your adventure around the fresh waters is the only way to survive. It also creates an unending list of activities so you can really make the most of your trip.
Keeping Safe While River Camping in Texas
Although we highly recommend river camping and see it as the perfect active holiday, the river must be respected. This shouldn’t put you off but we wanted to highlight a few things to keep in mind.
Keep your distance - This word of warning is for your belongings more than anything. Especially if you are heading out for the day, make sure you set up camp a good distance away from the river. A rise in water level can sweep your belongings away or destroy them altogether. Make sure to keep everything on high ground and never camp on a dry riverbed.
Know the river - Once you have chosen which of the many wonderful rivers you want to camp by, it’s time to plan ahead. Make sure you familiarize yourself with streamflow-data and become aware of current water conditions. A good place to find out more is at the United State Geological Survey.
Let others know when venturing alone - Even if you are just breaking off from your group momentarily for a quick dip or to explore the riverbed, always let a member of your group know. This is especially important for younger members of your party.
Beware the dangers - River camping is a safe and fun experience once you know the dangers. Know what to do if you capsize a kayak, don’t sneak up on any wildlife that congregates by the river, and practice caution when partaking in all water activities.
Top Locations For River Camping in Texas
With river camping, there is nothing stopping you from embarking on a primitive camping adventure in Texas. However, with so many major rivers going through state and national parks, river camping caters to all levels. A fully equipped campsite can heighten the enjoyment of a relaxing camping trip by the river.
Below are just a few of the majestic rivers of Texas at which to enjoy your river camping adventure in Texas.
Guadalupe River - Guadalupe River State Park
Located just a short drive from San Antonio and Austin, Guadalupe River is arguably Texas’s most well known. Four miles of river flows through the park and caters for a host of water activities. River revelers can swim, canoe, fish, or go tubing.
Off the river, there are many beautiful hikes with stunning scenery all around. Equipment such as fishing rods can be rented from within the state park itself. A popular state park with a host of campsites to choose from.
Frio River - Garner State Park
The crystal clear, cool waters of the Frio River bring thousands of people to Garner State Park each year. In one of the most picturesque settings in all of Texas, the Frio River flows through the state park for almost three miles.
River campers can enjoy the beautiful scenery and all the activities mentioned above. Paddle boating is just another activity that is immensely popular in this area. While embracing the crystal clear beauty of the Frio, you can set up camp in one of the many campsites available within the park.
Sabinal River - Lost Maples State Natural Area
The scenic Sabinal River meanders through the corner age of Lost Maples State Natural Area. This is not a state park so amenities can be slightly less sophisticated than in the previous two mentioned.
However, there are still over thirty standard campsites to choose from. The Sabinal River is one of the most beautiful waterways in the entire state. Each fall countless people come to see the renowned fall color.
However, all year round river camping enthusiasts can take in the incredible wildlife and the breathtaking, steep canyon walls that highlight the river’s beauty. Activity-wise it’s much of the same. Lots of fun, lots of hikes, lots of activities and never enough time.
Rio Grande - Big Bend National Park
The Rio Grande, one of the principal rivers of the Southwest, is famous for its haunting beauty. The Big Bend National Park is one of the few places where you can appreciate the Rio Grande as a truly wild river. The area around the river offers some of the most impressive wilderness scenery.
Located right next to the famous body of water, the Rio Grande Village Compound may be the best campsite in the Big Bend National Park.
Set among a large grove of cottonwood trees, the site has everything you need for an epic blowout—grills, picnic tables, running water, and flush toilets.
On top of fishing and paddling, the Big Bend National Park is a great place for hiking, wildlife watching, and simply lounging in a hammock.
Red River - Horseshoe Bend
Stretching across northern Texas, the Red River is one of the largest river basins in the Great Plains. The majestic river is named after the reddish siltstone and sandstone that surrounds it.
There are many great spots for primitive camping in the Horseshoe Bend area. If you want to go fishing for striper or canoeing on the river, far enough from the city, the Horseshoe Bend RV Campground may be the perfect spot for you.
It is a quiet recreational area that offers access to the Red River beachfront. There is also a shower/restroom facility nearby, so you won’t feel too primitive.
Not so far away, you’ll find Eisenhower State Park. There, the Red River forms a big and beautiful water reservoir known as Lake Texoma. Even though it’s far away from the Gulf of Mexico, it is one of the best locations for beach camping in Texas.
The Confluence on the Pecos River and the Rio Grande
A big part of the folklore of the frontier, the Pecos River is a wild and scenic river corridor. It originates in New Mexico, passes through high-mountain meadows and rugged granite canyons, and empties into the Rio Grande. Rafting and canoeing are the most popular activities on the Pecos River.
If you are seeking out free camping in Texas, you can set up a trailer or pitch a tent anywhere on the riverside just north of the confluence. The place where the two rivers meet is great for launching boats. A daily boat permit costs around 4$.
You can also find formal campgrounds on the edge of the Pecos River or nearby. The Seminole Canyon State Park is right next to the confluence. The park’s campground offers everything you may need—restrooms, hot showers, and electrical and water hookups. Insulated tents are great in campground to cut down on the noise.
Its deep canyons and rugged terrain are home to armadillos, raccoons, and white-tailed deer. There are also a few nice biking and hiking trails in the area.
Paluxy River - Dinosaur Valley State Park
Along the Paluxy River, you will find one of the most unique campgrounds in Texas. On top of great spots for fishing, paddling, and swimming, the Paluxy River offers campers a window into the very distant past. In the bed of the river, you can find mesmerizing displays of fossilized dinosaur footprints.
The Dinosaur Valley State Park offers many primitive campsites with lantern posts and fire rings as well as campsites with water and electric hookups that are maybe better for a family tent.
Walking in the footsteps of dinosaurs is just one of many interesting activities you can do in the area. For instance, you can explore 20 miles of hiking trails, ride a horse, look for a geocache, and watch for wildlife.
There is an amazing diversity of flora and fauna in the Dinosaur Valley State Park. Keep an eye on armadillos, beavers, lizards, and golden-cheeked warblers.
You will also see two dinosaurs, one brontosaurus, and one T-Rex. Don’t worry, they won’t bite you. These life-sized animatronic statues only serve to greet visitors to the park.
Brazos River - Possum Kingdom State Park
Rolling through lush bottomland and rugged mountains, the Brazos Rivers coils across the Lone Star State like a snake.
In West Texas, the Brazos River is considered to be an untamed, muddied torrent. But the lower Brazos, the section of the river that runs through the Possum Kingdom State Park, is a completely different story.
There, the waters of the Brazos River are calm, clear, and teeming with fish. Along the river, you will find many fishing access sites and quiet campgrounds. The park area alone is home to more than 100 campsites. There are also many privately-owned campgrounds next to the river.
You’ll find an abundance of float-tube and kayak rentals in the area. Make reservations as early as possible if you plan to camp along the river. The sites fill up quickly.
Some of the best camping and fishing spots are located right next to Possum Kingdom Lake, a big reservoir of water on the Brazos River. But if you are into angling, you may want to pitch a fishing tent on the section from the dam.
There, you’ll find healthy populations of carp, drum, trout, and catfish. However, the primary game fish in the area is bass. You can easily navigate this section of the Brazos River by kayak or canoe.
Colorado River - Colorado Bend State Park
One of the most beautiful portions of the Colorado River actually flows through the heart of the Lone Star State. It is just a 2-hour drive from Austin.
Late fall and early spring are the best seasons to set up camp at the edge of the river. While the summer in the area is hot and humid, it can also be a good time to visit.
The mighty Colorado River has carved out an extensive case system, offering campers an opportunity to head underground for cooler temperatures.
Of course, swimming is also an option. Aside from the Colorado River, there are many other places in the park where you can take a refreshing dip.
The pristine water of Spicewood Springs maybe even more inviting. Make sure to hike to the Gorman Falls, where the spring-fed waters emit a pleasant, cool mist.
A camping adventure in Texas is intensified by pitching your hiking tent near one of the many majestic rivers. Fresh flowing water adds something a little bit special to any trip.
Our advice is to take in the scenery, embrace the wildlife and allow yourself to be open to adventure. There is nothing quite like river camping in Texas. Go out and enjoy it!