If you’re lucky enough to have a Summer birthday, then I can’t think of a better way to spend it then floating down a cool Texas river! For our friend Pam’s birthday, we headed down to New Braunfels for a perfect celebration! While this is first and foremost an inspiration for family travel, I do love my Girl Trips with my friends! There’s something so re-energizing about getting away for a day or overnight or longer!
We planned a quick overnight in New Braunfels for her celebration. It’s about a 3.5 hour drive down to New Braunfels from DFW, and we hit the road early, about 7am. After that required pit-stop in Temple at Buc-ees for a potty break and filling up on road snacks, we arrived at The Float In on the Comal River about 10:30am., which was amazing because we were able to get two of those very few, highly coveted parking spots right on the street next to The Float In! We had already reserved a cabana and purchased our day passes and cooler pass online, so all we had to do was check in!
The cabanas at The Float In are pretty awesome! We did reserve about a month in advance, at which time there were only 4 of the 8 not reserved, and they were all booked on the day we arrived, so I definitely suggest booking ahead of time if possible! A cabana includes a picnic table, a grill, a covered sitting area with 4 chairs, and (we assumed) 3 lounge chairs on the sand in front of the cabana. Since we were so early, it was easy to claim those 3 loungers but on a weekend they might be up for grabs. Our cabana comfortably sat the 6 of us, but you could easily squeeze in 10 or more if you have kids! There wasn’t a maximum, either! If you can’t get a cabana, Day Passes allow you to hang out all day at The Float In, and there are tables, chairs, loungers, etc. all over the place, so you can still find a great place to set up. Between the cabanas there are even picnic tables that you can get without paying for a cabana, if you get there early enough! You can even bring your own chair! I absolutely love this anti-gravity chair with a sunscreen from Amazon! I am an Amazon-affiliate and do receive a small commission if you purchase using my links! Thank You for supporting my small business!
We had cabana #2, which is right in front of the Comal Tube Chute! The pros of this location was we had a great view of people coming off the Tube Chute, however the current in front of our cabana was a little too strong for just hanging out in the water. The cabanas with larger numbers offered calmer water, although if you’re on a tube you’re going to be heading down the river!
Heading down the river is exactly what we wanted to do, although it was lightly drizzling at the time! Our early morning arrival and the weather was terrific for keeping the crowds light, and changing into our swimsuits in the small, 2-stall restroom was a easy, but later in the day or on weekends I definitely suggest an alternative! Arrive in your swimsuit, bring a small pop-up to change in, (I love mine from Amazon), or even wear a skirt or one of these neat changing towels!
The Float In rents tubes for $10, but since we had all brought our own tubes, we just filled them up with their FREE air compressor! I love my River Run tube from Academy, with a back, a webbed bottom to the tube, two cup holders, a rope and even quick-release connectors to similar tubes! They also have a quick-deflate valve, a real time-saver when you’re ready to leave!
New Braunfels and the Comal River does not allow glass, styrofoam, or anything disposable on the river. This means fill up reusable water bottles with water or your favorite drink! Alcohol is allowed on the river, but NOT on the street, so make sure it can go back in your cooler or be sealed! I could not find my favorite Camelback Water Bottle when we were getting ready to leave, but I was able to purchase a $15 1/2 gallon water bottle from The Float In, about the same price as Academy, and they filled it up with ice water, although they would also do one of their drinks for a little more!
Other things I took on the river include a couple of carabiners for holding my water bottle and favorite Teva Water Sandals, my small dry bag for holding my phone and sunscreen, my Ricoh WG-70 Water Camera that I absolutely love, always attached to my floating strap, my favorite Sunday Afternoon hat, and these Quick-Release Straps for connecting to other tubes or whatever! What we forgot was a speaker, but keep in mind that New Braunfels does not allow any loud music on the river! We also had a cooler and a cooler tube from Walmart. The Float In does charge a cooler fee.
We jumped in the river right at The Float In, just after the Tube Chute (don’t worry, I’m going to talk a lot more about the Tube Chute in a minute)! It was cold! Not Barton Springs Pool Mother F**king cold, as our friend Katina describes it, but cold! Once in the river and settled in our tubes, we were rather quickly heading down river! A smaller and easy tube chute sits just past The Float In, and was a fun way to get our float trip started!
Here’s a tip, and use your quick releases to detach from other tubes on the chutes, but go ahead and hold on to the rope, especially if you’re floating with younger kids! After the chutes, the water moves pretty quickly and you can easily get separated. Of course, young children and weak swimmers should ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS wear life jackets!
We floated along the Comal River, past Schlitterbahn East (the “new” park), taking selfies, laughing and talking about Pam’s Birthday Float last year, The Covid Float! We floated the Horseshoe on the Guadalupe, but since Governor Abbott had closed all outfitters on the river, they had to get creative to make money, and Shanty Tubes charged you to park at their location, and walk with your own tube to the river, where you floated the horseshoe and either got out, or kept going and called a Lyft Driver to take you back to your car. Sitting just below the Canyon Lake Dam, the Horseshoe is COLD!!! It’s a great float, too!
The last tube chute on the Comal had us detach again, and this one is a little more exciting than the first one, and while we all stayed in our tubes, we did get a little wet! Afterwards, it’s a leisurely float past big river houses, cottages and rentals, many with deer grazing just a few feet away from the banks! Around the big bend is the Last Free Exit, which was our Exit. Just downriver, the Comal River joins with the Guadalupe River. The float lasted about an hour and 45 minutes, which is really just perfect! We didn’t pack any snacks and we were all starving! It’s a quick climb up the steps and onto Lincoln Street, where outfitters pick you up and shuttle you back. A shuttle back from the Last Free Exit is also included in your The Float In Day Pass!
Back at The Float In, we quickly dropped off our stuff, and headed to the bar for our FREE drink, that comes with the Day Pass! Valued at $6, we could choose from several frozen drinks or anything at that value. I had the strawberry margarita and it was good and cold! While we brought lots of snacks, we all ordered food from their grill. I shared a 1/4 lb. bacon cheeseburger and fries with my friend Katina, and it was really good! They also have chicken sandwiches and strips, loaded fries, a cheese steak and more!
We spent a day at the Tube Chute about six years ago with Pam and all our kids, when Pam took a spill on the Tube Chute, losing her sunglasses and they still refer to it somewhat jokingly as The Day They Almost Died. The Tube Chute is a manmade attraction built into the Comal River, a fun slide that whisk you down! On a Sunday, it was crazy busy, like tube to tube busy. On that day, we parked at Prince Solms Park, paid our parking and tube chute fee, which allows you to do the tube chute over and over, and walked down to float! Being a part of the Comal River, the Tube Chute is always open, and free except during the Summer when lifeguards are present. We’ve floated it on sunny days in February and a few Summer evenings, but it’s most busy when lifeguards are there, and we’ve seen some rescues, too! We’ve also seen people send their young children down without life jackets! Please put young children and weak swimmers in life jackets! This year, Pam was determined to conquer the Tube Chute, so after lunch 5 or the 6 of us headed to Ride the Chute, with one staying behind to take videos! We didn’t exactly gallantly walk off into the sunset, though. We quickly found out that the only access to the Tube Chute from The Float In is across the river! And again, the water moves very quickly here! I was able to jump (really fall-in) my tube and paddle into the current from the Tube Chute, which moved me across the river to the stairs. It’s mostly shallow enough to walk across, though, but you’re still fighting the current. Once across, we had to walk back across the river to the entrance to the Tube Chute on the paved walkway, where we were stopped and asked for our Tube Chute pass, which we had not purchased, as we only planned to do it once. If you’re floating the river, you are allowed to do the Tube Chute once, and we were allowed across once we promised that we would buy a pass if we were to want to do it again.
The Tube Chute was, of course, a blast! All five of us made it down with no problems, although a couple were caught in the eddys that will just spin you around until you paddle yourself out. I’ve spent 45 minutes caught in one of those on the Hillside Waterslide at Schilitterbahn, until someone came down and knocked me out, getting caught themselves. There are many worse ways to spend 45 minutes, though! It’s my very favorite ride at Schlitterbahn, and usually takes about 45 minutes to an hour without getting caught up in the current!
Wet, tired, and ready to change our of our swimsuits, we headed to the little VRBO we had rented in Downtown Gruene! The Casitas at Gruene are super cute little cottages on the Guadalupe River! We stayed in The Safari, which had one bedroom with two beds, and a day bed and trundle in the living area. There is also a kitchenette with a microwave and refrigerator. For the 6 of us, we might have needed something bigger if we had been planning to stay more than one night, but for our short stay it was perfect! They had cornhole games, a big fire pit, and an ice machine right near our room, then down at the river there were tubes, paddleboards, kayaks, loungers and another fire ring! Our only regret was that we didn’t have time to do it all! We did have a chance to relax by the river after we showered before walking to the Grist Mill for dinner!
The Grist Mill is one of our very favorite restaurants, located in an old grist mill above the Guadalupe River, right behind the iconic Gruene Hall, which was built in 1878 and known as the oldest dance hall in Texas! They were having a free concert that night, and there was a huge crowd! The Grist Mill is equally popular, with a crazy 2-hour wait. But there are so many things to do in Gruene that it’s not that bad! We headed over to browse through the cute little shops, including the Gruene General Store, then grabbed a drink and sat under the big trees in the biergarten at The Grist Mill until they text us that our table was ready! Instead of giving a name, we gave “Pam’s Birthday Celebration”, which was fun to hear them call out! We had a great table under the trees and lights, and we enjoyed steaks and drinks and laughter and a beautiful sisterhood! Our amazing waitress even surprised us with a strawberry shortcake for her birthday!
The next morning we opted to skip the river and go shopping! Gruene has such great little shops but we loved The Best Lil’ Bath Haus, where we watched them combine scents and make for us our own mineral salt scrubs, and the whimsical and unique finds at Rusty Bugs and Roosters. We ended with a yummy lunch at Cantina del Rio, which felt like eating in a colorful treehouse!
On the drive home, and not quite ready for our weekend to end, we were ready to get back in the water, even if nothing but our feet! We stopped at the FREE Rio Vista Park in San Marcos, but it was pretty crowded, so we headed North on I-35 to Austin and went to McKinney Falls State Park. Since we have a Texas Parks and Wildlife state park pass, it was also FREE to visit, and the short 1/4 mile walk to the Upper Falls was well worth it!
I’m already looking forward to Pam’s next birthday! Only 364 days to go!