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Nueces River, photo by TRPA member Mark Boyden

Nueces River


First appearing on early Spanish maps as the Río Escondido, or hidden river, it was later named Río de las Nueces, “River of Nuts,” by early Spanish explorers and the trees were a chief source of protein to the Coahuiltecan indigenous peoples who lived there before Anglos appeared on the scene. The headwaters of the Nueces rise from aquifers in Real County and Edwards County, then flow over 300 miles south and east as it is dammed at Lake Corpus Christi. The Nueces then flows into Nueces Bay at the Gulf of Mexico. Flowing through limestone bluffs of the Edwards Plateau, the Nueces is one of the most scenic river trips in Texas. In the Upper Nueces, there are many spring-fed creeks along the way that feed the Nueces to maintain steady flows. High water levels can bring Class III rapids that can be dangerous. Another dimension of the Nueces basin are the outstanding pristinely clear tributaries Rio Frio and Sabinal. Perhaps we can explore those in more depth with your help.

Recreation and Access

Access is good on the upper 100 miles, offering trips of various lengths. There are several privately owned and operated campgrounds suitable as base camps from which to explore different reaches of the river. The Nueces is too low to paddle much of the time, but after a good rain it is a very nice river to paddle and when the aquifers become well charged after lengthy rains, the Nueces can be a pure delight for whitewater paddlers for weeks at a time. Take all safety precautions.

Class (I-VI)I-III
LengthAt least 6 runs from 4.0 miles to 12.6 miles
Minimum Flow75 cfs
Ideal Flow150-500 cfs
Maximum Flow2,000 cfs
Current River ConditionsUSGS: Barksdale, Below Uvalde
Put-in mapsBarksdale, Camp Wood, CR-414, CR-408, TX-55 North of Uvalde, Chalk Bluff Park
Take-out mapsCamp Wood, CR-414, CR-408, TX-55 North of Uvalde, Chalk Bluff Park, CR-405
BoatsCanoes, Kayaks
SeasonYear-round, weather /flow permitting
HighlightChalk Bluffs, clear water, fun splashy whitewater

Featured Runs

[4.2 miles] (TG Canoe & Kayak)

Natural Features

The basic natural feature of the Nueces River is the aquifer from which it issues, the Edwards Aquifer. The big springs that contribute to Guadalupe flow – Comal Springs and San Marcos Springs first come to mind. But many other springs of lesser flow in the Edwards Aquifer also feed many creeks of the Nueces River that make paddling possible in its upper reaches during periods without rain. The Sabinal and the Rio Frio are major tributaries of the Nueces in the Edwards Aquifer region. Vegetation along the Nueces River is diverse and includes Pecan, Hackberry, Oak, Ashe Juniper, Sycamore and Bald Cypress in the Upper Nueces Edwards Plateau and Hill Country region, giving way to Mesquite, Sagebrush and cacti of the the semi-arid coastal plains. This riparian habitat commonly sees Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Vermillion Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Warbler, Green Kingfishers, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Blue Herons, Red-Tailed Hawks, Turkey and Black Vultures, Aoudad sheep.

Bald Cypress, Taxodium distichum, are among the biggest, tallest and longest-lived trees in Texas. Some have reportedly reached an age of 800 to 1,200 years. Bald cypress were around with the dinosaurs. When young, they’re shaped liked Christmas trees, but as they age, the crown tends to open up and the branches lift skyward, forming a massive, lofty, overarching canopy. Bald eagles and ospreys take full advantage of the height of these trees to nest on the river. Cypress are famous for their “knees”, which are thought to provide oxygen to the roots and/or to serve as anchors.

Conservation and Threats

S.B. 155: Restricting Motor Vehicle Use In Protected Freshwater Areas, Effective September 1, 2003. In 2001, the Nueces River became the flashpoint in a controversy over ATV recreational use within Texas river streambeds. Local conservationists under the banner of Nueces Canyon River Friends sounded the alarm and sought the assistance of Texas Rivers Protection Association. In 2001 a TPWD taskforce was organized to fairly study the issues. In the 2003 legislative session, Senator Judith Zaffirini successfully led the effort and S.B. 155 was passed. Now, it is illegal to drive a motor vehicle in a linear fashion on most rivers in Texas, with the exception of Canadian River in the Panhandle.

Historical and Cultural Significance

Coahuiltecan indigenous peoples lived as far north as the Edwards Plateau in the Nueces River valley.

Conflict with Mexico continued when the United States annexed Texas as a state in 1845. Mexico claimed that the new border between Texas and Mexico was the more northward Nueces River, while the United States contested the border was the southerly Rio Grande / Rio Bravo. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, that brought an official end to the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), was signed on February 2, 1848, at Guadalupe Hidalgo, north of the capital where the Mexican government had fled with the advance of U.S. forces. By its terms, Mexico ceded 55 percent of its territory, including parts of present-day Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah, to the United States. Mexico relinquished all claims to Texas, and recognized the Rio Grande as the southern boundary with the United States. The United States paid Mexico $15,000,000 “in consideration of the extension acquired by the boundaries of the United States” (see Article XII of the treaty) and agreed to pay American citizens debts owed to them by the Mexican government.


Among the most common fishes in the Nueces River Basin are Striped bass, Largemouth bass, Guadalupe bass, White bass, Blue catfish, Channel catfish, Rio Grande Cichlid, Black & White Crappie, Freshwater, Red and Black Drum, Alligator gar, Spotted Seatrout, Bluegill, Redbreast, Redear and Warmouth Sun Fishes. Nueces River Angling Records

Additional Resources

Nueces River, Photos by Mark Boyden