Texas rivers provide places to relax, cool off, and have fun. Learn more about what rivers around the state have to offer during the hot summer months.
Rivers define several of the borders separating Texas from its neighbors, and they form an important part of its history and identity. They’re also just plain fun to float down with your friends. Whether you want to have a relaxing float, challenge yourself at rafting or canoeing, or catch a few fish, you can find somewhere to do it in one of the state’s many rivers.
» READ MORE: Texas Parks & Wildlife’s Stream Flow Map
The rivers mentioned here are just a short-list highlight reel of everything Texas has to offer. Chances are that wherever you are in Texas — with a few arid exceptions — you aren’t too far from a river where you can escape from the summer heat.
What are the biggest rivers in Texas?
Texas has several particularly famous rivers, including some of the biggest rivers in the country. A few notable rivers include the following:
Rio Grande River: At nearly 1,900 miles, the Rio Grande is by far the longest river in Texas, and the 4th-longest in the United States. Only some of that length goes through Texas, though. The river starts in southern Colorado and makes its way through New Mexico. From El Paso to Brownsville, it forms the border between Texas and Mexico.
Red River: This river starts in New Mexico and flows through the Texas Panhandle before it forms much of the Texas-Oklahoma state line. It ends its roughly 1,300-mile course in Louisiana’s Atchafalaya River.
Colorado River: At about 862 miles, the Colorado River is the longest river located entirely within Texas. It begins in West Texas and empties into Matagorda Bay on the Gulf of Mexico.
Nueces River: This river rises in the Texas Hill Country and flows for 507 miles to Corpus Christi Bay. It is notable for historical reasons. From 1836 to 1848, the Republic of Texas claimed the Rio Grande as its southern border, while Mexico placed the border at the Nueces. It took a war between the U.S. and Mexico to sort out that dispute, among others.
What are some good Texas rivers for summer recreation?
You don’t have to go way out of your way to find a major waterway in order to have fun on the water. This state has about 191,000 miles of rivers and streams, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. That’s about 80% of the distance to the moon, but you can stay much closer to home. The following rivers offer a variety of opportunities for fun and relaxation, possibly near you:
San Marcos River
The San Marcos River rises in San Marcos Springs near the town of the same name. The upper portion of the river is very popular for tubing, kayaking, and swimming. It is also the starting point for the canoe race known as the Texas Water Safari.
In addition to being the longest river that is exclusive to Texas, the Colorado River forms several lakes built by the state from the late 1930s to the early 1950s. The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) built six dams along the river to create a series of lakes known as the Highland Lakes. While the primary purpose of these lakes involves power generation and flood control, they are also available for recreational activities like boating and fishing:
Lake Buchanan (pronounced “buh-CAN-un”)
Lake Marble Falls
A few miles downstream from Lake Austin, the City of Austin built the Longhorn Dam in 1960. The resulting lake went by the name Town Lake for more than forty years. After the death of Lady Bird Johnson, the former First Lady, in 2007, the city renamed it Lady Bird Lake. Kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding are popular activities on this lake. Notably, the city prohibits the use of gasoline-powered watercraft.
The Trinity River is vitally important to some of the most populous parts of the state. The river rises near the Oklahoma state line before flowing through both Dallas and Fort Worth. It ends at Galveston Bay east of Houston. The river basin provides water to both metro areas, and to many more cities and towns in between.
The river has many lakes. Numerous areas of the river are also designated for recreational activities like paddling or kayaking. The upper forks of the river are reputed to have some of the best fishing in the state. The further upstream you go, the clearer the water gets. Lake Amon G. Carter, for example, is located almost as far upstream as one can get and comes highly recommended for fishing.
The Frio River rises in several locations in the Hill Country and flows for more than two hundred miles before joining the Nueces River in South Texas. The uppermost stretches of the river offer some of the state’s best areas for activities like swimming, canoeing, and fishing. The river runs through Garner State Park in Uvalde County. One of the most famous swimming holes, called the “Blue Hole” is located on the Frio River, although it’s on private land with limited access.
The Devils River is a tributary of the Rio Grande. It forms in the Hill Country and then flows for about ninety miles. The river ends at the Amistad Reservoir, located on the Rio Grande near Del Rio. Thanks to its remote location, the river has avoided many of the problems, such as pollution, that affect other Texas rivers. The lower part of the river offers some of the best rafting and canoeing in the state, but it’s not for the faint of heart.
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