Frio River

Frio River: A scenic spot far from big city life
By Kelley Shannon
Original publication: June 2011

LEAKEY, Texas _ Gurgling cold water trickles over white rocks, huge cypress and oak trees shade the river’s banks and a night sky boasts a canvas of stars.

This beauty along the serene Frio River serves as a refreshing reminder that, thankfully, much of Texas remains removed from city life.

Even with this year’s dry weather and low stream flow, river outfitters and other businesses in the Frio Canyon from Leakey south to Concan want visitors to know there’s still plenty to do at this scenic spot on the western edge of the Texas Hill Country. But it may not involve floating down the river.

“All your deep swimming holes, they’re still going to be there,” said Kendra Bingham, who’s been fielding calls at Josh’s Frio River Outfitter in Leakey.

Though some water is still flowing, those who try to ride inner tubes or kayaks along the Frio may find themselves doing a lot of walking, local officials say. River outfitters can recommend the best water spots, such as Garner State Park, and give updates on the latest river conditions.

Townspeople in this usually quiet community are also preparing for an annual party with their July Jubilee set for Saturday, July 2. It features a parade, street dance, arts and crafts and a rodeo on that Friday and Saturday night.

Getting to the area requires a drive on twisting, up-and-down country highways and the willingness to surrender your cell phone, since cell signals are unpredictable here and a peaceful respite is the aim.

Families and nature-lovers make annual pilgrimages to the cabins and camps along the spring-fed Frio River. Church and student groups head for these hills, as does a growing contingent of motorcycle riders.

“The vista is so beautiful. It’s huge,” Gary Anderson, a 60-year-old retiree from San Antonio, said during a spring trip to Leakey. He rides a Harley Davidson and has been traveling to the area with friends for about four years. “We don’t speed. We don’t race. We just cruise.”

The Leakey Mercantile offers visitors groceries and supplies, whether it’s a loaf of bread, a favorite beverage or one of Barbara Elmore’s delectable buttermilk pies or chocolate sheet cakes. “I have little secrets in there,” she explained.

At the Leakey Feed Lot, a roadside restaurant featured in Texas Monthly and Bon Appetit magazines, visitors stop in for what owners Annette and Farrell Elliott proudly describe as “good grub.”

For weekend breakfasts, diners dig in to huevos rancheros, veggie omelets or pork chops and eggs. At lunch and dinner, they enjoy fresh-made burgers and the popular chicken-fried ribeye. Mashed potatoes, fried okra and corn on the cob round out the meal at this friendly café that’s open six days a week and closed on Wednesday. Don’t forget to sign the guest book.

It wasn’t just business that led the Elliotts to give up their city jobs in Austin for their new venture in Leakey. It was the appealing lifestyle they’d experienced as travelers to Frio River themselves.

Annette Elliott, 50, recalled that her husband wondered, “How awesome would it be to live in Leakey and own a restaurant?” Visualizing that adventure once they realized the Feed Lot was for sale, the Elliotts set out to make their dream come true and “doors just kept opening,” Annette Elliott said. “No guts, no glory.”

“It doesn’t feel like work,” added 53-year-old Farrell Elliott. And there’s the bonus of river life and the star-studded nights billed as “the Leakey light show.”

Visitors can gaze at the night sky, do some bird-watching, find a bat cave or take off on a bicycle ride from any number of lodging spots throughout the canyon _ Frio Bluff Cabins, Clearwater Ranch, Neal’s Lodges and River Haven Cabins, to name a few. D’Rose Inn and Cabins caters to motorcyclists and bicyclists.

And while it’s most visited in summer, don’t think the Frio River experience is exclusively for warm-weather vacationers.

The crisp, cool air and fall foliage of nearby Lost Maples State Natural Area _ along with off-season lodging discounts along the Frio canyon _ make for an ideal autumn trip.

It’s the perfect opportunity to once again trade your cell phone for a dose of Texas tranquility.