The old Aquarena Springs on Spring Lake that boasted beautifully manicured & landscaped grounds with a well managed program that controlled non-native plant growth in the lake is history. The Texas State University, ( then SW Texas State University) purchased the property under the ruse of utilizing it for a convention center and Aquatic Biology study center. Under GROSS mismanagement, this former gem of San Marcos & Central Texas has been reduced to a rat infested stinkhole. Misinformed students still offer glass bottom boat rides in the one or two boats that can still operate. You will venture about 30 - 50 ft into the lake, hear some misinformation about the lake and city history and return to the dock..for $9. The wonderful restaurant, the Inn on the Lake, the visitor center that really did have historical information as well as correct information on native aquatic life are in disrepair and smell of filth and improperly cared for fish tanks and student projects. The lake is being allowed to return to its "natural state" which will be anything but natural with the introduced aquatic plants. It is shameful, wasteful and borders on criminal misuse of public funds and the public interest. Skip it and Enjoy the river below the falls of the "Old Ice House" which has been any of a number of restaurants. You can't swim there anymore. You'll have to go below the University owned "park" that butts against the headwaters. Rio Vista Park is beautiful but has become so crowded it's difficult to get there. You can go to City Park and shuttle there or float down from City Park and shuttle back. The river is beautiful and clear. One of my favorite childhood & college memories. You can canoe from Rio Vista Park to Pecan Park in Martindale, Tx or if you're up to it, all the way to Luling, Tx some 18-20 miles down river. Great fun but requires some porting around dams. I'll never forgive the University and the Aquatic Biology Dept for decimating Aquarena Springs, however.
This is the park that everyone hangs around at when the weather is nice. It is a spring-fed river, very fast-moving and full of interesting colors. There are grassy hills all around and you can go in the water if you don't mind some algae and seaweed. It's very close to the school, there is a Joe's Crab Shack right across the street as well.
Visit Aquarena Center for a glass bottom boat ride. They also offer environmental educational tours, exhibits, a tour of General Burleson's log cabin (the first home in San Marcos) and a gift shop.
Aquarena Springs is the fresh water source of the San Marcos River and home to several endangered species. I haven't visited since I was very young and at that time it was more like an amusement park. Now, Southwest Texas State University owns it and Ralph(i think that was her name) the swimming pig is gone. We really miss that pig.