The Frio River is known for being “low and slow” – which equates to fun for the whole family. According to the USGS, the Frio has had, over the past 20 years, an annual average flow of around 81 cubic feet per second. So is the Frio River safe to float? Yes, as long as you respect it. Read on for some important things to keep in mind when enjoying the river.
Because of its low and slow nature, the Frio River is a wonderful vacation destination for the entire family. Unlike the Guadalupe River, which is known as the “Party River”, the Frio vibe is much more laid-back and definitely the most family friendly option of the two. This river has more of a pristine, raw beauty that can be compared to almost no other place on Earth.
When spending time in even a place as beautiful as this however, everyone must understand that a certain respect must be had for Mother Nature and her great outdoors. Having said that, the following is a list of inherent safety concerns that everyone must keep in mind when spending time in any outdoor setting, let alone determining if the Frio River is safe to float for you and yours.
Heavy Weather (and knowing when to ask, is the Frio River is safe to float?)
The Texas hill country is known as “Flash Flood Alley”. The good news is, if there is every even the possibility of flooding while you are vacationing at the river, the local authorities will make it well known. Life safety is taken very seriously at the Frio River. Just be sure to heed all warnings by local authorities.
Even though outfitters, campgrounds and local authorities will issue warnings well before a flash flood situation could be a possibility, it’s always wise to be weather-aware anyhow. This simple step could end up saving lives and should never be overlooked. Always monitor the weather wherever you are or plan to go.
TIP: Remember that there are no lifeguards just hanging out on the river, therefore, you and your group must keep your own safety in mind at all times.
As goofy or uncool as it may sound, everyone in your party should have access to a PFD (personal flotation device). Even though inner tubes are not considered life saving devices, they can be useful in the event of a water emergency.
The Frio River isn’t typically considered a dangerous river, but remember, anyone can drown in only a couple of inches of water. ALWAYS make sure children and non-swimmers have the option to use a life vest or other US Coast Guard approved personal flotation device.
There are many spots in and along the river that form nice, tranquil pools for river-goers to stop and lounge around in. Deeper water can usually be found near cliffs where the river curves and has eroded the landscape.
Keep in mind that since the Frio River is a slower moving river, there are almost always spots where you will have to get out of your tube to traverse over bars (gravel and rock deposits) to get to deeper waters, so closed-toed footwear is highly recommended. That brings us to our next topic – protecting your feet.
Protect Your Feet
This topic is so important for floating the river that I’ve written on the subject a couple of times. The bed of the Frio River, like others in the Texas hill country, is comprised of limestone, shale and siltstone.
River rock ranging from pebbles to the size of cars can be found in and around the riverbed. Even though some of these rocks will have smooth edges, they can break toes just as fast as any other rock.
Always, no, ALWAYS wear something sturdy to protect your feet and toes while in and around the river. I speak from experience when I say that open-toed sandals are not a good idea because they provide absolutely no protection for the little piggies. Fish hooks, drink cans and broken glass are all hazards that could be lurking below the water as well.
Broken and missing toenails abound, play it safe and grab something like these. I can’t live without my Keens. I’ve found that these make for some of the best river shoes due to the adequate toe protection and the drawstring that keeps them on your feet… not to mention their stylish look when worn out of the water! They also perform really well while swimming, almost like swim fins, due to their wide soles.
Exposure To The Sun
Sun exposure is a serious topic that deserves some attention. It’s a well known fact that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer and that excessive sun exposure is a contributing factor. Keep in mind that river tubing trips can and often do last all day.
Don’t forget the sunscreen and cover up exposed skin whenever possible. A bad sunburn can completely kill an otherwise successful river trip! I speak from experience. Sunburn, however is only one side effect of sun exposure. Staying hydrated is equally, if not more important, even on cloudy days.
Hydration And You
Beer generally consists of about 90-95% PURE WATER, and really good water at that, but the small percentage of alcohol in the beer is enough to cancel out the benefits of all that high-quality water. All kidding aside, dehydration can happen without you even realizing it. Alcohol speeds that process.
Not drinking enough water can lead to things like nausea, vomiting and even heatstroke which can then lead to brain damage and even death in severe cases. It’s best to do what comes naturally and stay well-hydrated while having fun on the river. Remember that even though you are lounging around taking it easy in an inner tube bobbing up and down in millions of gallons of cold water, it’s the water you voluntarily swallow that counts.
Alcohol consuming adults, remember what I said about the alcohol in beer, try slugging down copious amounts of water in between adult beverages to stay hydrated.
Taking in at least a half a liter of water per hour of moderate activity in the Texas heat would probably be considered the bare minimum for staying adequately hydrated.
And please don’t forget about the children and the dogs! They will most likely need water and shade sooner and more often than you will. The dog may just drink from the river anyhow, and that’s okay because I’ve seen my dogs drink much worse and be just fine. Keep an eye on your pooch for overheating and provide shade as necessary.
Fish, snakes, snapping turtles (rare) and scorpions are some of the naturally occurring creatures that you could come across while around the river. What you need to watch out for though, that you could actually encounter are rattlesnakes and scorpions. TIP: beware of rattlesnakes near river banks and walking paths bathing in the sun. Also be aware that snakes and scorpions can also be found around campsites and even the nicely manicured courtyards of cabins.
Texas hill country scorpions (striped bark scorpions) are usually found under rocks, brush and rotting wood. Just don’t go turning over rocks and logs looking for them and wear enclosed shoes at night. Even though it’s not fatal if there is not an allergic reaction, the sting hurts. I’ve been stung twice while camping in the hill country. Once was in the foot, you guessed it, at night while wearing sandals. Live and learn.
Minimize activity off of well-worn paths, stay out of underbrush and watch where you put your hands, feet and clothing. Always shake out your blankets, tents, clothing and shoes before putting them on or packing them up. This is good practice while outdoors anywhere in the world, really.
Obeying The Rules
Campgrounds and river outfitters will usually have posted rules and regulations to both keep you safe and out of trouble while on their property and/or on the river. Always check with the office at the establishment you are staying to find out what flies and what doesn’t. They will have some rules stated somewhere. If ever in doubt, ask about.
If you’re one of those “bad boys” that just does what you want, well buddy, knock yourself out, but don’t be surprised when the management or Johnny Law comes and shuts you down – on or off the river. To put it simply, campground management and the local law enforcement officers DON’T PLAY. This goes for public intoxication and underage drinking. I have seen law enforcement officers standing in the river wearing waders stopping young-looking people holding drinks checking IDs on a busy holiday weekend. Again, if you like to bend or break the law, that’s your prerogative, just don’t be surprised when you have to answer for it.
AN “IS THE FRIO RIVER SAFE TO FLOAT” TIP: Do NOT consume alcoholic beverages in the river (a public waterway) before 12 p.m. on Sundays in Texas. State law prohibits this and it’s a really good quick way to catch a citation! Not to sound like your dad, but you’ve been warned.
For more information about public consumption, check the TABC’s general questions here.
So, is the Frio River safe to float?
The Frio River area has been a family vacation destination for decades due to the river’s low and slow nature and its beautiful spring-fed clear waters. Being respectful of your neighbors and your campground’s rules is the best way to ensure that everyone has a safe and fun time.
Don’t over-worry about encountering wildlife, just be aware of your surroundings and you should be fine. Be sure to drink plenty of water – even you Mr. law-breaking, beer-guzzling Badboy, nobody wants to have to give your foul mouth CPR.
Put sunscreen on your kids and at least apply some to yourself. Wear a hat too. You’d be amazed at how much of a difference that can make. If you don’t take anything else from this article, at least take to heart the part about wearing sturdy toe protection. Well, the bit about staying hydrated and watching for flashfloods is pretty important too, but a broken toe can end your trip just as fast. Watch out and care for pets and those with special needs, like non-swimmers and young children.
Now that we’ve got the boring, obligatory safety stuff out of the way, let’s get down to business – the business of talking about having some fun.