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Water, Water Everywhere

Kicking Back at Canyon Lake
Written by Michelle Burgess. Photographs by Will van Overbeek.

Airborne with Texas Flyboard Rentals

It is nearly dusk on the lower Guadalupe, one of those incomparable evenings when skies are clear, humidity is low and the only insects in sight are lightning bugs. The river is low and has been since the drought came along in ’05, and maybe that contributes to the blessed dearth of mosquitoes. But water flows deep enough for the handful of fly fishermen who have spread out along this stretch to get a hit every 20 minutes or so. They aren’t speaking—it’s not even clear if they’re together—and are too far away for me to hear the zzz-zzz-whoosh as they rhythmically cast their lines over and over. I can hear the burbling Guadalupe itself, but just barely.

Instead, the voice of Ernest Tubb floats over from the deck of the next house, where a couple in their 40s or 50s offers up a mirror image of me—feet up, drinks in hand, faces turned to the lolling, gray-green Guadalupe. Our playlists complement each other, and we have fallen into a mutually satisfying unspoken agreement over the past couple of days: their Patsy Cline and Buck Owens and Dale Watson at cocktail hour, my Pat Green and Robison brothers and Turnpike Troubadours when the sun goes down. 

The beauty of a Canyon Lake vacation is in moments like these, and in those that are decidedly busier. As the self-proclaimed “Water Recreation Capital of Texas,” the area offers plenty of action—extreme or less so—for both boat owners and those whose only accoutrements are a swimsuit and towel. Situated about 18 miles northwest of New Braunfels and an hour from downtown San Antonio, the reservoir and community surrounding it also provide an ideal home base for further exploration of the Hill Country.

Canyon Lake getaways can be as luxurious or as laid-back as you’d like; dozens of accommodations run the gamut from rustic cabins to plush resorts.

Canyon Lake getaways can be as luxurious or as laid-back as you’d like; dozens of accommodations run the gamut from rustic cabins to plush resorts. We’re staying at Treehouse Lodge, a multi-decked structure that can comfortably accommodate up to 24 and whose eight-story tower peeks over the treetops and is visible from the road across the river. For about $925 per day, you get the whole kit and caboodle, making it ideal for a family reunion or group retreat. It is less than 15 minutes from the lake and about the same distance to Gruene. Grand in size and views, the lodge also features a full kitchen, a gas grill, and shelves full of DVDs and books.

From the front, the vacation rentals neighboring ours appear to be mostly Mid-Century ranch homes with scrubby yards and mismatched fences. But from the back their true glory is revealed. Sprawling decks support hammocks, barbecue grills, and well-worn patio furniture. Yards slope down to the water, where square wooden docks accommodate porch swings and Adirondack chairs. Low fences separate neighbor from neighbor but are only a few feet high so as not to block anyone’s view of the river. You’re close enough to get to know one another if you’d like, but far enough away to easily leave it at a friendly wave instead. 

I’ve earned my time on the deck, and my beer. Because while my crew—my 22-year-old daughter, Hillary, and a gaggle of her friends—is more than OK with the unpretentious accommodations, there’s only so much sitting still that they can handle. Yesterday, they tried flyboarding with Texas Flyboard Rentals, a husband-and-wife-owned business that is one of only a few such operations in Texas. It’s an exhilarating adrenaline surge of a sport for the brave of heart and strong of body; propelled into the air by powerful blasts of water, most people soar between 10 and 25 feet above the lake. 

Dinner was at Baja BBQ Shack, a favorite for live music and moderately priced appetizers (like brisket queso), burgers, barbecue, and seafood, plus a lively outdoor bar with potent “Tex-aritas,” bacon-spiked bloody marys, and a fine view of the lake. Outside, it’s no shoes, no shirt, no problem—and as the evening progresses, no strangers. 

Outdoor seating at Baja BBQ Shack, a casual restaurant on the north shore of Canyon Lake, affords broad views of the water and cool breezes.

Today we spent the afternoon kay-aking the Guadalupe with boats from Gruene River Company, where you can rent inflatable tubes, two-person rafts, or solo kayaks and select a trip of two to six hours. While not as heart-pumping as flyboarding, our group (OK, just me) took a few tumbles into the water. The minimum age is 6—4-year-olds are allowed on some milder trips—and recommendations include sunscreen, shoes, and a waterproof camera; after our experience, I can see why. But while I may be exhausted, I’m the only one who’s currently awake—and it’s only 8 o’clock. They’ll be getting their second wind about the time I’m ready to turn in.

For us, the brief respite is the perfect topper to an amazing weekend that saw the oldest of my offspring graduate from the University of Texas. Our trip feels a lot like summer camp, with its easy rhythm and mix of physical activity and downtime. 

We follow a flexible schedule, but each evening finds wet swimsuits hanging in the showers, and waterlogged tennis and boat shoes tossed haphazardly around the deck and rustic living room. Despite frequent sunscreen applications, all of us have pink noses and cheekbones and random patches of skin we couldn’t quite reach. When we fall into bed at night, we sleep hard.

As the self-proclaimed “Water Recreation Capital of Texas,” the area offers plenty of action—extreme or less so—for both boat owners and those whose only accoutrements are a swimsuit and towel.

The novelty of flyboarding notwithstanding, the trip has an undeniable old-fashioned quality. There is wi-fi, but phones do not become a distraction. Instead, board games are played, books are read, Shiner is consumed, crazy dances are created. It’s a different experience than what I would have had just a few years ago, when I had three teenagers, or a decade ago, when they were all in elementary school. I can’t say I miss the anxiety that naturally comes from being a mother on vacation with young kids. Just as I’ve earned my respite on the deck, I think I’ve earned a quickie vacation where the only person I have to fend for is myself.

In a week, Hillary will be at work full-time and her friends scattered across the country for jobs or internships, or enjoying a final couple of months before starting grad school. But for a few days, they’ve gotten to take a time-out from responsibilities, something we all need every once in awhile. Their sunburns will fade, but I hope the memory of how it feels to step away from real life for a few days will stick with them.

I know it will for me.

Canyon Lake

Canyon Lake, created in 1964 by impounding a section of the Guadalupe River, lies in northern Comal County. For information on lodging, restaurants, and activities, contact the Canyon Lake Chamber of Commerce, 800/528-2104. 

The Treehouse Lodge, on the Guadalupe River at the Ponderosa Crossing, sleeps up to 24 people. Call 800/385-4013. 

Baja BBQ Shack, on the north shore of Canyon Lake at 280 Marina, opens daily for lunch and dinner; frequent live music. Call 830/935-3122.  

Texas Flyboard Rentals offers guided flyboarding sessions starting at $125 for instruction and 30 minutes of exhilarating flying time. Riders must be at least 14 years old
(18 if a parent or guardian isn’t present). Call 210/887-2630. 

Gruene River Company, at 1404 Gruene Rd. in Gruene, rents inflatable tubes, two-person rafts, and kayaks; the company offers put-in and pickup service. Call 830/625-2800.

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