Deep in the Texas Hill Country, scenically situated on the Guadalupe River, lies a well-kept secret: James Kiehl River Bend Park. This small county park is as peaceful as they come, especially compared to popular nearby state parks like Guadalupe River State Park and Pedernales Falls State Park, both of which are always teeming with visitors, no matter the season. But if you’re craving a bit of tranquility (and a slice of unspoiled Hill Country beauty), James Kiehl is well worth checking out.
The History of James Kiehl River Bend Park
Dedicated to James Kiehl, a local Army soldier who served in the Iraq War, James Kiehl River Bend Park is located on the Guadalupe River in Comfort, Texas. Tragically, Kiehl was just 23 years old when he lost his life in Iraq when his convoy took a wrong turn, and he was ambushed. Today, visitors can pay homage to Kiehl and other Kendall County servicemen and women by visiting the park—in a quiet, shady pecan grove near the river, there’s a Texas sandstone monument featuring Kiehl’s story, along with ADA-approved benches and picnic tables. It’s a nice, serene spot for reflection.
What to Do: Swim, Fish, Picnic, Repeat
The nature at James Kiehl is outstanding. Think towering, gnarled cypress trees, crystal-clear waters, and a dark-green canopy that provides plenty of shade during those legendarily hot Texan summers. Even on its busiest days, the park doesn’t see nearly as many visitors as the nearby state parks do, making it the perfect spot for swimming, fishing, birding, picnicking, or just relaxing and reading a good book by the river. For those interested in doing a kayak trip (with James Kiehl as the takeout point), be sure to check out Kerrville Kayak and Canoe—in addition to kayaks, they also rent paddleboards and canoes.
The gorgeous water and natural scenery are the main attractions at James Kiehl, although if you'd like to stretch your legs a bit, there are 1.5 miles of multi-use trails in the park: The Pecan Loop, the Prairie Loop, and the River Loop. The River Loop leads down to the water’s edge, where you can usually find a quiet spot if you walk far enough down the clear-cut trail. Your efforts will be well-rewarded.
The park is also a prime birding destination in the Hill Country—birding groups from Bexar, Kerr, Kendall, and Gillespie counties hold regular bird walks here, and the Hill Country Chapter Master Naturalists and KCPP conduct a monthly bird and wildlife census. There are regular rare bird sightings, too, as reported by the Travis Audubon Society. (The KCPP Bird Census takes place every fourth Tuesday, at 8 a.m.; bring your binoculars and join in on the birding fun.)
How to Get There
The drive out to James Kiehl is all part of the fun. Located directly between Interstate 10, FM 473, and Sisterdale Road, the park is situated smack-dab in some of the prettiest scenery that the Hill Country has to offer: sunlit fields flanked by giant oak trees, quaint farms, winding creeks, rolling green hills. Enjoy the ride down the dirt roads, but don’t miss the park—you’ll definitely need to pay close attention to your GPS to make it out here; there’s not a lot of signage.
And, if you’re looking for places to stop along the way, definitely make time for Sisterdale. This charming town (actually an unincorporated farming community) is a Hill Country gem. While there’s no gas station here (be sure to fuel up in Comfort or elsewhere along the way), there’s an 1890’s-era dance hall, a cotton gin-turned-winery, a neat old general store, and a couple of shops to check out. In fact, enjoying a glass of locally made Merlot at Sister Creek Vineyards is the perfect way to cap off a full day on the river.
Hours and Admission
James Kiehl River Bend Park is open from dawn to dusk, and admission is always free.
Tips and Info for First-Time Visitors
- There’s no potable water here (and the nearest store is in the town of Comfort, which is about a 10-minute drive away), so be sure to pack plenty of water.
- Dogs are allowed but must be kept on leashes at all times.
- There are no lifeguards at James Kiehl, so it’s swim-at-your-own-risk.
- The path down to the river (especially if you plan on walking for a while to find a quiet spot) is steep and rocky, so be sure you’re wearing sturdy footwear.