Texas Travel

Why the Frio River Is the Ultimate Texas Summer Destination

Even when the river's running low, it's a trip every Texan should take at least once.

By Kyndall Krist June 29, 2016

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The cool, crisp Frio River lives up to its name.

Image: Kyndall Krist

The Frio River is a well-loved Texas summer destination for many, but this was my first time making the four-hour drive from Houston to Concan, Texas, about 80 miles west of San Antonio. The spring-fed Frio River snakes through the magnificent Hill Country and staying at Neal’s Lodges for a long weekend helped us to take advantage of every last bit of it. 

I was immediately impressed with the crisp, crystal-clear water of the Frio, though it turned out that floating the river was far from our group’s favorite activity. With the recent increase in heavy rains across Texas, we were under the impression that the river would be moving relatively quickly, so we chose a nice, long route for our float trip. We were mistaken, as it turns out.

Instead of a swift-moving current through hilly scenery, we ended up enduring five hours of direct, skin-scorching sun, paddling through low-current dead zones, and bracing ourselves through rapids and waterfalls in our path. In the end we were a little banged up, and enjoying the scenery was a little difficult as such, but hey—at least we brought plenty of beer, crucial for any Texas float trip. 

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The swimming hole at Neal's is a popular place to spend the afternoon.

Image: Kyndall Krist

Despite the floating mishaps on our first day, we continued on to much more relaxing and enjoyable parts of our trip. Namely, setting up our canopy and inflatables on the riverside of Neal’s swimming hole where we shifted between lazily sipping our Lone Star beers, rocketing down Neal's enormous waterslide, and leaping from rocks into pockets of cool, deep water. 

Non-river-related activities were offered as well, my personal favorite being the Neal Ranch. During the summer, several horseback trail rides are offered daily, which take riders through the 100-acre ranch, complete with unexpected exotic animals such as zebras and African ibexes.

Outside of the trail ride, we spotted a giraffe named Jax who patiently waited for us to feed him leafy treats. There’s also a petting zoo currently occupied by a baby deer named Linda, chickens, bunnies, hogs, several mischievous goats, and a local dog keeping vigilant watch over the animals from outside the fence. 

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Jax likes his snacks.

Image: Kyndall Krist

Joe Jimmy’s provided on-site nightlife during our stay, including a bar for the adults and an arcade for kids (and kids-at-heart). An outdoor dance floor accompanies these attractions with a sizable stage regularly featuring live country music, so it wouldn’t hurt to pack some dancing boots. Finally, if you’ve ever had the desire to see a live diamondback rattlesnake up close, Joe Jimmy’s has that covered as well—but don’t worry, he’s well-contained in an enclosure.

Even when the river isn't running at its highest, and even if you do get a little sun-scorched, floating the Frio is still an essential Texas summer activity. Staying at Neal's, with its bounty of boot-scooting and barbecue, horseback riding and pig-petting, only adds to the entire experience. Below, a few other helpful tips for your next Frio trip:

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Pro tip: Don't pass up the waterslide at Neal's.

Image: Kyndall Krist

  • BYOB: Some of the surrounding counties are “dry” (meaning no alcohol is sold), so pick up your booze beforehand.
  • Bring water shoes: The Frio River has a rocky bottom.
  • If you’re set on floating the river: Consider the shorter options.
  • Protect your skin: Bring mass amounts of sunscreen and aloe vera—you’ll thank me later.
  • Neal’s has several lodging options: Cabins, condos, RV sites and tent camping are available, but make sure to book your stay well in advance—they fill up fast.
  • Stock up on house supplies and toiletries: While the cabins and condos provide some basic pots, pans, utensils, and bedding, they are not fully stocked. If you forget something, Neal’s country store has supplies (and souvenirs!) for sale.  
  • Utilize the property’s many grills: Part of the fun is doing your own barbecuing, but if you don’t feel like cooking Neal’s Café offers a delicious down-home menu and a breathtaking view from the balcony.  
  • Rent a golf cart: It was super handy for getting around the property and definitely worth the money.
  • Look up: The stars at night are spectacular.
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