Rising on the Llano Estacado near Lamesa in Dawson County, the Colorado begins its course of 862 miles making it the fifth longest river flowing through Texas and the longest flowing entirely within the State of Texas. Along the way it flows through the West Texas plains, through hill and canyon country to the seven Highland Lakes just northwest of Austin, then down to Bastrop, Smithville and Columbus on its way to the Gulf of Mexico on Matagorda Bay. It drains a basin of about 39,900 square miles and takes in the flow from several forks of the Concho River, the Pecan Bayou, and the San Saba, Llano, and Pedernales rivers. Unfortunately, the Colorado has seen more than its share of dams that have radically altered the topography surrounding the river channel, not all for the better. But, the river does serve as the major drinking water resource for Austin and much of the Lower Colorado River region. It is also a part of Texas that is steeped in history because of significant historical events that occurred along the river corridor.
The first commonly paddled section of the Colorado River runs from Highway 190 in San Saba County down to Lake Buchanan in Lampasas County, about 90 miles west of Austin. This is a rather remote section of the river requiring one to three days to paddle it, depending upon starting point, water flow and paddler stamina. Most of the trip will be flatwater, particularly in mid to late summer when it is hot and dry, thought here may be a few minor riffles and rapids on occasion. This reach is about 46.5 miles from US Highway 190 to Canyon of the Eagles on Lake Buchanan, though there are a few other access points along the shores within a couple of miles. Some of the private roads and camps along this section may be closed during deer season.
The section around Colorado Bend State Park offers spectacular scenery accentuated by bald eagles soaring in the skies close to where they nest (eagles also nest on the other sections of the Colorado, and will be discussed on another page.) The river is teeming with fish, with several species of bass being the predominant catch. Many creeks feed the Colorado as it flows through the Texas Hill Country, and during periods of heavy rain the river rises quickly to dangerous levels, but returns to normal levels soon thereafter.
Services that cater to paddlers are few on this section, though there are liveries and shuttles available on Lake Buchanan. Most of the adjacent land is privately owned, so picking a campsite requires some planning and careful observation to avoid trespassing. Natural campsites are abundant, including gravel bars and sandbars in the river - these can become dangerous places to camp if the river rises during the night due to rains north and west of the river within its drainage basin. With many side creeks and small canyons to explore, this section of the Colorado is a great place for almost anyone to enjoy provided proper preparations, planning and logistics are considered, especially as concerns camping along the river. The very short side trips up Deer Creek and Fall Creek are the icing on the cake, and are a "must see" if you are here already.
San Saba and Lampasas Counties in central Texas, near Killeen, Temple, Lampasas and Austin. Lake Buchanan is at the bottom of this section and Lake Lyndon B. Johnson is nearby. The Pedernales River flows just south of the area.
Austin 73 miles; Dallas 222 miles; San Antonio 120 miles; Houston 225 miles; Oklahoma City 387 miles; Little Rock 541 miles; Kansas City 735 miles; Albuquerque 676 miles; Phoenix 984 miles; Denver 910 miles; Salt Lake City 1,271 miles (all distances are approxinate and depend upon starting point, destination put-in at the river and route taken.)
Clear and clean, flowing over limestone and gravel. Except during long, hot, dry periods this section generally has adequate water for paddle trips, though some walking may be required occasionally.
Spring and fall are the optimum seasons and winter can be good if sufficient rain has fallen and you are prepared for the colder temperatures (it sometimes gets below 40° in Texas in the winter.) Summer is usually best avoided unless adequate local rains have fallen recently. March through June and late-October through December generally offer the optimum conditions for paddle trips.
This reach of the Colorado River is generally a Class I stream with possible Class I+ to II+ rapids in high water conditions. The biggest hazard usually encountered on this section is a strong headwind coming off Lake Buchanan. The headwinds should be taken very seriously, as they can cause whitecaps and standing waves that can swamp and/or roll a canoe in addition to blowing you back upriver. Allow adequate time on your trip for the possibility of headwinds.
Highway 190 crossing west of Lampasas at 0.0 miles (GPS coordinates: N 31° 13' 06.59" / W 098° 33' 52.77"); Flat Rock (fee required), just southwest of Bend on Highway 580 at 15 miles (GPS coordinates: N 31° 05' 19.19" / W 098° 44.14 23.75"); RR 580 crossing, about one-half mile northwest of Lometa, at about 16 miles has very poor access; Sulphur Springs Camp at about 22.3 miles (fee required); Colorado Bend State Park (access fee is required, and camping fees are required if staying overnight) on river right at about 30.0 miles (GPS coordinates: N 31° 05' 56.23" / W 098° 30' 44.14"); Canyon of the Eagles on Lake Buchanan at about 46.5 miles (GPS coordinates: N 30° 52' 38.60" / W 098° 26' 19.99"). There are several other potential access points, both public and private, along the shores of Lake Buchanan.
Note: If you pass Colorado Bend State Park, then your next takeout is 12+ miles below, on Lake Buchanan. The waters of Lake Buchanan can be rough if the headwinds are blowing, so allow plenty of time to cross the lake. Rolling waves are capable of flipping a canoe, so exercise caution when crossing the lake in strong winds.
Colorado Bend State Park has primitive camping, but also has picnic area, a boat launching and recovery ramp, water and chemical toilets. There are three campgrounds on Lake Buchanan starting at LCRA Canyon of the Eagles (N 30° 52' 38.60" / W 098° 26' 19.99") on river/lake left and moving downriver to LCRA Cedar Point (N 30° 52' 06.96 / W 098° 27' 06.41") on river/lake right to Llano County Blackrock Park (N 30° 46' 00.28" / W 098° 27' 05.23") on river/lake right near Buchanan Dam. Numerous primitive campsites can be found in the riverbed and along the banks, though the ones on the banks are probably going to be on private property - AVOID TRESPASSING if possible, and never camp on private land without permission. There is a commercial outfitter offering tent camping, cabins and other facilities on the shores of Lake Buchanan. There at least two privately owned commercial campgrounds along the river between miles 20.0 and 25.0 that may be available for day use or overnight camping.
There are at least three outfitters offering canoe, kayak, jon boat and powerboat rentals, shuttles and other related services on or near Lake Buchanan.
This section of the Colorado River is beautiful, scenic and very interesting, especially if you enjoy wildlife and the natural Texas plantlife that grows there. Springtime, when the wildflowers are in bloom, is absolutely gorgeous. Seeing eagles soaring overhead is a thrill not to be found on most rivers (or anywhere else, for that matter!) It is generally best to plan on at least two days to paddle the 30 miles of the section ending at Colorado Bend State Park so that you have time to explore some of the creeks, side canyons and other features that you will encounter along the way. Take care to avoid those mean headwinds, especially if you are not a strong paddler with a lot of stamina!
If paddling this section there are many wonderful and gorgeous natural features adjacent to the river, many of which are accessible by boat. These include Deer Creek and Fall Creek, both of which are found after the river widens into the headwaters of Lake Buchanan. Deer Creek is on river left and Fall Creek is on river right. Each features a spectacular waterfall that you can paddle under to cool off on a hot summer day, and the vista is just super. Gorman Falls, located adjacent to the river in Colorado Bend State Park is another special place to stop and visit along this run.