This is easily one of my favorite hikes in Texas. Not only is it beautiful, but its historically, hydrologically, geologically, and paleontologically significant. Not to spoil the surprise, but on this hike you will get to see dinosaur tracks, fossils, waterfalls, crystal blue pools of water, caves, and cliffs.
And, it’s all downhill. That alone makes it pretty wonderful, right?
I ended up there several years ago, back in the beginning days of Brandon and my relationship. As my readers know, he is a water resources engineer, so I thought he would enjoy seeing it. My best friend Courtney wanted to meet him, and so this was our excuse for that to happen. Her husband is a hydraulic engineer so suffice it to say, this was their cup of tea.
Awwww, look at young Brandon!
Courtney dangles her husband precariously off the edge.
The most amazing part of the gorge tour experience is to stand at the bottom of the gorge and imagine the sheer force of water that carved it out in one single event–the flood of 2002.
Before that time, the landscape was gently rolling hills, much like the landscape above the cliffs you see in this picture. There were no cliffs, no waterfalls, no gorge, and the dinosaur tracks were a good 25 feet underground.
Then, in one week in the summer of 2002, the land upstream from the Guadalupe river received 34 inches of rainfall, nearly all of which flowed directly to Canyon Lake. The lake filled so quickly that it spilled over into the spillway, an area reserved for times of severe flooding.
The spillway served as a kind of emergency outlet for the water, like a drain hole on the side of a sink. It had never been used before, so it was completely flat and forested.
Over 67,000 cubic feet per second gushed through, uprooting trees and shooting them 1.3 miles downstream towards the river. Once the trees were out of the way, the water started pummeling through the rock like a massive jackhammer.
Boulders the size of cars were tossed up into the waves and bounced downstream like toys.
For six weeks, the water dug through the limestone. In that time, over 1.5 times the entire amount of water in Canyon Lake flooded the spillway. Finally, the water retreated into the lake and left the gorgeous gorge in its wake.
The devastation downstream, where the spillway met the Guadalupe, was extreme, but the silver lining in all of this is that now, the public is invited to see all of it!
And it truly is remarkable.
As you walk down through the gorge, you pass through eras of history with every step. The water peeled back the rock layer by layer, creating a cross section of history.
At one level, we saw fossilized waves from the time of the Permian Sea (when Texas was only a twinkle in God’s eye.)
At another level, dinosaur tracks.
At nearly every layer, we saw fossils.
The place is a fossil lover’s paradise!
One of my favorite aspects of the tour was that it is guided by an expert.
By the time our hike was over, we felt we had certainly earned a lazy afternoon in the river.
The Canyon Lake gorge can be seen from South Access Rd. on the south side of Canyon Dam, but if you ever have time to pop in for a tour, I recommend it. You will not be disappointed!
Plan Your Visit
- Location: Canyon Lake, Texas (1.5 hours from Austin and San Antonio)
- Length: 3 hours
- Difficulty: Medium
- Fee: $10 (some exceptions–university, scout, and high school groups admitted free)
- Guided by an expert in the site’s features and history
- Reservations not required but highly recommended!
- Website: www.canyongorge.org/tour