R & R at the Frio: A secluded riverside retreat southwest of Austin
Summer hits and Austinites eagerly flock to any body of water that can help in beating the one hundred degree heat. Places around town like Barton Springs, Lake Travis, and Hamilton pool are perfect for day trips, but if you’re looking to book a mini-vacation a bit further out, you might consider heading southwest to The Frio.
The Frio River is an unexpected oasis just three hours outside of the capital city. With towering cypress trees and thick foliage, Southwest Texas has the lushness you’d expect to find in the Pacific Northwest, but the wealth of Texas wildflowers serves as a quick reminder that you’re still in the Lone Star State.
A large portion of my extended family lives in Austin, and we’ve been trying to pull together a vacation for a couple of years. Every summer, plans of an all-inclusive resort in Mexico or a house in Cape Cod fall through and “maybe next year” becomes the easiest solution.
Realizing that a big trip wasn’t going to materialize anytime soon, we booked three nights on the Frio, a second choice that was as successful as it was cheap and convenient.
We stayed in Concan, Texas, a town due west of San Antonio where out-of-towners outnumber residents, and the local hot spots are called Neal’s, Andy’s and Fat Rob’s.
Concan is just a short drive away from Garner State Park, a popular (and often overcrowded) camping destination — but enjoying the river doesn’t necessarily involve roughing it. There are several “resort” options along the river, but I suggest checking out one of the many free-standing houses for rent.
My family stayed in a modest and slightly outdated three-bedroom house. The quirky knick-knacks and family photos made us feel like we were at home, if only mildly uncomfortable, with the new surroundings. We spent a great deal of time outside on the porches and decks, chatting and listening to the hypnotizing sound of cicadas.
Our party of 15 comfortably squeezed into the house, which was just a short walk from a nearby river bank. After four or five hours in the sun, it was nice to retreat to the air-conditioning and endure a soul-crushing game of Monopoly, for example, before heading back down for an evening at the water’s edge.
Sections of the river are suitable for cannonballs and rope swings, but the place where we spent most of our time was pretty shallow, perfect for the small children to splash around and catch minnows without being swept downstream (most of the time).
The current is cool and consistent, but fairly slow. You can find people tubing, but more commonly you’ll see groups sitting in lawn chairs in the middle of the river, drinking beer and listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd on their waterproof speakers.
We didn’t have to look hard to find a secluded place away from the crowds of sunburned 20-somethings so we could enjoy the sounds and serenity of nature. Our spot (which we went back to every day) was the perfect mix of sun and shade, sandwiched between a water chute and an island of smooth, skippable river rocks.
Unlike many other Central Texas rivers (i.e., the Comal), this little piece of paradise, in a corner of Texas that you’ve probably overlooked, hasn’t been completely overrun by tourists and is definitely worth exploring when in need of a quick dose of R & R close to home.