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The Comal River in Texas is gentle, easily accessible and located in the picturesque German town of New Braunfels. On a hot summer day, it is a wonderful escape. I recently spent a quick weekend in San Antonio with a specific goal. We were making it a point to go beyond our usual itinerary – dinner at a crowded River Walk restaurant, a cursory visit to the Alamo and margaritas and shopping at El Mercado. There was so much more and now that my daughter was living there, she had a “live like a local” plan for our two days.
We had just finished a long morning bike ride along the expanded River Walk to visit the other four Spanish Missions and recharged with a stop at a local fruteria. The idea of soaking in a natural body of water was beckoning.
A Tiny Road Trip to a Tiny River
While Fiesta Texas or Schlitterbahn are both wonderful and I’m glad we visited often when our kids were young, neither fit the bill for this weekend.
Time for a tiny road trip to a tiny little river. We drove the 40 minutes north on I-35 to New Braunfels and the shortest river in Texas – the gentle, cool, Comal.
From Spanish San Antonio to German New Braunfels
Parks throughout this German-settled city offer a place to tube or soak. We choose the Prince Solms Park, named for Prince Carl Solms-Braunfels, who founded the city of New Braunfels on Good Friday, 1845. The inland location of New Braunfels fared better than the Prince’s other settlement, Indianola, which was scoured off the Gulf Coast in a hurricane.
Like all city parks with Comal access, Prince Solms Park was packed with locals when we got there around 3:30 on a Saturday afternoon. We decided to embrace the exuberant chaos! It cost $15 to park at a doctor’s office but overall, a Comal visit is a good deal. Lounging in the peaceful park and swimming in the river is free and tubing is just $2 per tube on Saturday/Sunday/Holidays. Also you can bring you own ice chest, chairs, tables and canopies.
How neighbors used to spend weekends
Dogs, kids, teens, grandparents, were all floating and swimming together in much the same configuration that’s probably been around since the residents were speaking German instead of English, Spanish and Spanglish. Large family clusters had set up canopies, tables and chairs and were barbecuing. Others stacked out a square of grass with a blanket. Old school buses were around to take you “up river” so you could float back or you could walk to the end of the park and jump in.
We were looking to chill after that morning’s long ride but you can add some exhilaration to your Comal visit if you are so inclined. The tube chute gives you a rush and you can have a river-eye view of the old and new Schlitterbahn as you float past. Click here for map of options for “rivering” in New Braunfels.
Watch for slippery steps
Algae from the Comal can and does make the wide steps into the river very slippery. Most kids and some adults seemed incapable of grasping that they are actually are at risk. The city has put up many signs warning about the slippery steps. Still we saw human after human doing the classic prat fall when they let go of the railing too quick. It was amazing, as if the signs actually encouraged the attempt to beat the odds. Like I said, the Comal is cheap entertainment.
“Too many Caucasians?”
After soaking for a while, my sore bike riding muscles started to ease. We sat along the steps, watching the spontaneous community that seems to arise when you are basically sitting together in a big, cool bathtub. There was a Mexican couple sharing the steps with us while playing with their granddaughter. I would imagine the little girl was about kindergarten age. At one point, she gave my long-haired son a hard look and then turned to her grandfather.
“There are just too many Caucasians here,” she told her abuelo, in a perfect imitation of a society matron dismayed at the riffraff. Her grandfather was speechless and chagrined. “I don’t know where she heard that,” he offered. We were surprised and then charmed.
Seems like immigration furor has ebbed and flowed in both directions for centuries. As a history buff, I realized her statement echoed sentiment in Texas before we became a republic. That complaint was probably heard frequently back in 1830, when the Law of April 6 decreed a severe restriction on Anglo immigration into what was then Mexico. What will the complaint be 150 years from now?
We soaked a little while longer while having another beer (open containers are only allowed in the river). In the early evening, we said a good- natured goodbye to our disapproving seat mate and her embarrassed family and headed back to San Antonio. It was time to think about eating again.