Floating down the San Marcos River.
Floating down the San Marcos River.

Coolest Rivers in Texas for Kid-Friendly Floating & Tubing

Lounging on a rubber inner tube and soaking up the summer sun while dipping your toes into chilly river water is basically a Texas rite of passage. There's no time like the present to introduce kiddos to the great adventure that is floating down the river. While any river will do, these five Texas rivers near Houston are our go-to spots. They've all go family-friendly runs (i.e. few or gentle rapids), great tube rental services, nearby accommodations, and gorgeous views to top it all off.

Whether you go for the weekend or carve out a bit more time to soak in all that tubing has to offer, these rivers make the perfect family vacation. Stick with our list of kid-approved river trips near Houston and you won't be disappointed, and for more summer trip ideas, check out our favorite family-friendly lakes close(ish) to Houston.

1. Frio River - Concan (west of San Antonio)
Drive from Houston: 4 1/2 hours
Why we love it: I spent many summers with family and friends floating down the Frio River, and I can say from personal experience that the river's temperature definitely lives up to its name! The river water always flows cold and feels amazing in the hot Texas sun. Families flock to this river year after year to stay in a plethora of quaint cabins that line the river banks. Garner State Park on the Frio River is home to great campsites for families who prefer to pop a tent in the great outdoors.

The park also hosts a nightly dance throughout the summer that is fun for all ages. Tubes can be rented at the state park and at several other private outfitters along the river. Frio River Outfitters at Happy Hollow Grocery is a great spot to rent tubes, stock up on sunscreen and snacks, and hop on the shuttle to a relaxing river ride. After a full day of tubing fun, try taking the entire family to Neal's Dining Room for a delicious home-style meal.

Families gather to celebrate summer at the Comal River in New Braunfels. Photo courtesy New Braunfels Convention & Visitors Bureau

2. Comal River - New Braunfels
Drive from Houston: 3 1/2 hours
Why we love it: The main attraction in New Braunfels is most definitely Schlitterbahn Waterpark, but no trip to this hill country city would be complete without a trip down the river that runs through part of the famous water park. The Comal River is well-known for it's calm, cool waters, making it a great choice for families with smaller kids who want to try their hand at river tubing. It's actually one of the shortest navigable waterways in the United States.

The headwaters start at the springs at Edwards Aquifer and flow throughout downtown New Braunfels, eventually merging with the larger Guadeloupe River. Renting tubes at any of the New Braunfels area outfitters is simple and easy. You can park your car, rent tubes, and a shuttle will take you to and from the river. 

3. San Marcos River - San Marcos
Drive from Houston: 3 1/2 hours
Why we love it: This particular river is often referred to as the less-crowded version of the Comal River. Located in beautiful San Marcus, a float down this river is typically about a mile long and includes mostly parklands or the scenic Texas State campus on either bank. The San Marcos Lion's Club offers tube rentals and shuttle service that starts at San Marcos City Park and ends at Rio Vista Park, with unlimited shuttle rides for the entire day. They also have life vests on hand to rent for smaller children.

San Marcos is just a short drive from Austin, so you can also take advantage of all the capital city has to offer for kids on your next trip to the San Marcos River.  

Scenic views make for a beautiful backdrop on river runs. Photo courtesy New Braunfels Convention & Visitors Bureau

4. Guadalupe River - New Braunfels
Drive from Houston: 3 1/2 hours
Why we love it: Easily the most popular Texas river to float, the Guadalupe River offers many miles of scenic river floating. Sections of this river can get rowdy and crowded with college kids, but have no fear, it is possible to float this famous Texas river with children of your own. Knowing where to float on the Guadalupe is key, as certain areas are home to quick-flowing rapids that could be overwhelming for kids.

Find a campground or resort like Lazy L&L Campground with customized floats where your family can float down a milder section of the river which offers some of the thrills that the Guadalupe is known for, but at a much slower pace. The "horseshoe" section of the Guadalupe River is also a great option for families, as it flows a bit slower than the more rapid-ridden areas. While it can be crowded on weekends and holidays, tube outfitters like Tube Haus provide tube rentals and shuttle rides for easy access to this part of the river. 

5. Brazos River - Glen Rose (southwest of Fort Worth)
Drive from Houston: 5 hours
Why we love it: Houstonians may be familiar with the end of the Brazos River that runs near the Texas coastline, however a more tube-friendly are of the Brazos River exists in north Texas near Caddo Lake. The section of the Brazos near Caddo lake is typically very flat and slow-flowing, making it a great option for lazy tube rides and families with little ones.

The area of the river near Possum Kingdom State Park is the most popular section of the river to float. Another great campground to try when floating the Brazos is Tres Rios, which lies at the intersection of the Brazos River, Paluxy River, and Squaw Creek. 

Your family can attend live music events on the Trinity River each summer. Photo courtesy Trinity River Vision Authority

6. Trinity River - Fort Worth
Drive from Houston:
5 hours
Why we love it: Like the Brazos, parts of the Trinity River may not be unfamiliar to those in the northern parts of the Houston area, but the best tubing areas of the Trinity River lie near the DFW metroplex. The Trinity River Vision Authority hosts summer events like "Rockin' the River" at the Panther Island Pavilion with live music and festivities to promote tubing and tourism along the river. 

If floating isn't your thing, but you still want to be out on the river, you can also rent canoes or kayaks at nearby sections of the Trinity from Trinity River Expeditions where you can take guided or unguided expeditions down the Trinity River. 

7. Medina River - Bandera
Drive from Houston:
4 hours
Why we love it: This underrated Texas river is as scenic as it gets. Not too far from kid-friendly San Antonio, the Medina River offers hill country views as you float down it's calm waters. Rent tubes from The Medina River Company where they will shuttle you and your entire crew up the river for a few hours worth of floating back to your vehicle. 

If your family is into camping, camping at Twin Elm Ranch offers river access with tube rentals, as well as RV hookups, cabin rentals, and activities like horseback riding and hay rides. 

8. South Llano River - Junction
Drive from Houston:
4 1/2 hours
Why we love it: This area of the hill country is known for a laid back vibe and slower pace. Northwest of San Antonio, you'll find the easy-flowing waters of the South Llano River where your family can float, swim, and play the day away. Two hour floats are typical on this section of river near Junction at South Llano River State Park where you'll also find campsites for RV and tent camping with restrooms and showers on site. Fishing, canoeing, and hiking are also popular activities at the South Llano River. 

Top Photo: Tubing in San Marcos, Texas/Photo courtesy Visit Austin

This post originally published in 2018.

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