Make reservations for Hidalgo Falls Day Use (Not for HF River Festival)
The 13-acre park at Hidalgo Falls is owned by the TRPA. It is located on the Brazos River about eight miles from Navasota. The park is private (locked gate) and available for use only by canoeists and kayakers who have been certified with TRPA. It is not open to the general public for fishing, sunbathing, picnicking or swimming. The fast moving water and play features of the rapid are rarities in this part of the state. Over the years, volunteer fire departments in the region have used the falls for training firefighters in swiftwater rescue. For whitewater enthusiasts, it offers a class II rapid with numerous surfing waves, holes, eddy lines and play spots. For flatwater paddlers, it provides a convenient and secure access point for float trips along a very historic stretch of the Brazos as well as a place to learn swiftwater techniques and rescue skills. The Hidalgo Falls Festival is an annual event (Columbus Day weekend).
Recreation and Access
|Length||Less than 1 mile|
|Ideal Flow||12-23′, (See Gauges and Levels below)|
|Current River Conditions||USGS – Bryan, USGS – Washington, USGS – Hempstead|
|Put-in maps||SH-60; Koppe Bridge Rd, Batts Ferry Rd, Hidalgo Falls|
|Take-out maps||Hidalgo Falls, SH-105|
|Boats||Canoes, Kayaks, SUP|
|Season||Year-round, weather/flow permitting|
|Highlight||TRPA members only. Only whitewater play spot in Central Texas|
There is always enough water in the Brazos (and even through the rapid) for float trips. Much of the flow is determined by releases from dams upstream on the Brazos (e.g., Lake Waco) and tributaries such as the San Gabriel and Little Rivers. There is usually about a 3.5′ difference between the Brazos gauge in Bryan on Hwy 21 and the Hempstead gauge: if the Bryan gauge says 12′, the Hempstead gauge reads about 15.5′. If the Hempstead gauge is more than 3.5′ higher, that means that Lake Somerville is releasing into Yegua Creek upstream of Hidalgo, and that, too, needs to be added to the Bryan gauge. [Aaron Smith devised a relatively accurate calculator for the river level at Hidalgo: subtract the Bryan level (e.g., 22.24) from the Hempstead level (e.g., 27.07), then multiply that figure (4.83) by 0.55 (=2.66) and add it to the Bryan level to get the current Hidalgo level (24.9).] To see how much water is being released at Lake Somerville, go to the Corps of Engineers website. This is also helpful for those who might want to try a 14-mile float from where FM 50 crosses Yegua Creek to its confluence with the Brazos (4 miles), and then 10 miles on the Brazos to Hidalgo. (The problem with this trip is the 50 mile shuttle.) Playboaters prefer the level to be at least 12′, with 17′-22′ being super play levels. At 22′ there is a great surfing hole at “Spin City” near the bamboo trail. At 23′ a fantastic surfing wave forms at the bottom of the rapid. Above 24′ most of the rapid washes out.
For a “fly-over” view of the river and the property, see the photos taken by James Williams. James also took some photos of boaters playing on the river, working on the property, and enjoying our grand opening on May 5, 2001. On the same page are some photos of Texas Task Force One with a National Geographic film crew at Hidalgo on Sept. 21, 2004 making a documentary about swiftwater rescues.
Gauges and Levels
To anticipate release flows, the following can be used as a rough gauge: The water at the Brazos at Waco gauge will reach Highbank about 24 hours later. It will take another 20 or so hours to reach Bryan, and another 18 hours or so after that to reach Hidalgo Falls. [For those interested in float trips: it is 32 miles from SH-60 west of College Station to Hidalgo Falls; to shorten that, put in at Koppe Bridge Rd (28 miles) or Batts Ferry Rd (26 miles). It is 3.5 miles from Hidalgo to SH-105 and another 2.8 miles to Washington on the Brazos Historic Site. Taking out at the park is difficult due to the river’s high banks there and thick poison ivy. It’s much better to take out at SH-105.]
To check the levels, consult the USGS gauge near Bryan. If the area between Bryan and Hidalgo (say, College Station) gets a lot of rain, the river could be up at the rapid and it might not show on the Bryan gauge. Just compare the Bryan and Hempstead gauges, subtract the inflow from the Navasota River from the Hempstead gauge, and you can get a pretty good idea of what is happening.
The TRPA property at Hidalgo Falls is a controlled access site. Two other landowners access their property through the same gate, so TRPA users must respect their property boundaries and adhere to the regulations spelled out in the access agreement. To get the combination to the lock on the gate at the entrance to the property (which is changed every year in mid-April), paddlers must go through certification either on-site or in a club meeting. Only TRPA keeps track of donations, memberships, work hours, and organization support. Therefore, only the local Hidalgo Falls Committee Members: Patti Carothers (713) 828-7582 and Jessica Featherston can issue the lock combination.
To access Hidalgo Falls, paddlers must fulfill one of the following:
Must be current individual TRPA member at the minimum Protector level – $25/yr. (click here to join online or to get a form to mail).
Only after a qualified applicant agrees to the Terms and Conditions and participates in a Site Orientation will the access combination be issued. All member visitors and their guests must abide by the rules described in the access agreement.
Users of the TRPA property should access the river from the trails going down to the river near the Paddle Sports Outpost at Hidalgo Falls and across from the campground. Currently TRPA does not recommend access from the slide area to the bamboo thicket (the points of access traditionally used by paddlers playing in the rapid) due to safety concerns. Access to the river across the easement area is for putting in and taking out boats only (no fishing, hunting, swimming), and no parking is permitted in the easement area since it is not TRPA property.
TRPA History with Hidalgo Falls
In April 2001, thanks to contributions of more than $65,000 by 160 individuals and paddling organizations throughout Texas, TRPA was able to purchase 10.1 acres of property at Hidalgo Falls on the Brazos River near Navasota. Since then, hundreds of canoeists and kayakers from across the state have used the property, developed camping facilities there, and spent many hours clearing debris. In March 2003, another sixty paddlers, with the support of local, state, and national groups, donated an additional $17,000 to acquire two more acres. In November 2003 we sold three of our acres downstream of the rapid, and with $15,000 contributed by another thirty paddlers, we added another four acres immediately overlooking the rapid. In 2009 and 2010 paddlers again contributed over $25,000 to drill a water well, install a septic fields, and build a bathhouse (with toilets, showers with hot water, and lavatories).
Property taxes, electricity bills, and maintenance costs each year exceed $1000, so the paddlers and their friends and families who use the property need to provide donations above and beyond their regular TRPA dues. We have also created a fund to be used to purchase additional acres surrounding Hidalgo Falls if they become available. Our long-term goal (which might take decades to realize) is to protect the property near the Falls from residential or commercial development and to create a park to pass on to future generations of river enthusiasts where they can come to enjoy a unique natural resource in this part of the state.
Conservation & Threats
TRPA ownership of this property guarantees access for future boaters to this unique river resource. Bacterial infections are easy to contract. Use soap and clean water, especially with open sores on hands or feet.
The Hidalgo Cliffs rise above the falls, twenty feet above river level. They are surrounded by rolling hills that support post oak forest. The falls are a series of exposed limestone shoals that were formed by the erosion of the adjacent Hidalgo escarpment. In the four miles downstream from the rapid, archaeologists have unearthed Pleistocene mastodon bones from the riverbank.
Historical and Cultural Significance
Late in Sam Houston’s term as President of Texas, he sought to end conflict with all native tribes in Texas. The Bird’s Fort Treaty of 1843 did not include negotiations with Comanche and the absence of the Comanches caused President Sam Houston to call another council to meet at Tehuacana Creek near Torreys’ trading post and “Falls of the Brazos” in Falls County in April 1844. The April council convened without the Comanches, but by October 7, 1844, negotiations began at the “Falls of the Brazos” (map) between Houston and a part of the southern Comanches, Kichais, Wacos, Caddos, Anadarkos, Hainais, Delawares, Shawnees, Cherokees, Lipan Apaches, and Tawakonis. The treaty of peace and commerce was signed on October 9, 1844 and ratified by the Texas Senate on January 24, 1845 at Washington on the Brazos, 6.3 miles downstream of Hidalgo Falls.
Hidalgo Falls was a temporary obstruction to upstream steamboat traffic in the 19th Century. At low water levels, steamboats would wait there until a rise in the river allowed them to steam past the falls. Stephen F. Austin is said to have crossed the river often at Hidalgo Falls. It is said that you could tell if you had a good riverboat captain if he could get his boat upstream of the rapid and back down before the river level dropped stranding the boat upriver near Millican or Port Sullivan. The remains of an early 20th-century lock and dam system still loom large in the river, downstream of Hidalgo Falls and just upstream from Washington on the Brazos, birthplace of the Republic of Texas.
- Paddle Sports Outpost at Hidalgo Falls
- Photos at 2004 Hidalgo Falls Festival
- Photos at 2017 Hidalgo Falls Festival
- Hidalgo Falls Facebook Page
- Houston Canoe Club Report on Brazos Lock & Dam
- Drone Video: Brazos & Hidalgo Falls
- Video: 30 Mile Marathon near Hidalgo Falls, 2008