For about a year after COVID-19 vaccines became a thing, once-normal outings came with a new sense of wild abandon after months of … whatever’s the opposite of wild abandon. Music festivals. Plane rides. The mall.
Nothing tested my faith in science like the giant human soup known as Schlitterbahn.
I re-entered the world craving a trip to the Hill Country’s biggest waterpark. My first dip back into its waters in 2021 felt scandalous. So many people. So much moisture! Another visit last summer reminded me how free it feels to show a little skin, get a little wet, and embrace the house that waterslides built.
As the last gasp of non-hellish temperatures gives way to fire from the sky, consider why Schlitterbahn’s splashy appeal endures.
It’s a Hill Country institution.
The original location in New Braunfels, situated on the Comal River, is the platonic ideal of a waterpark.
The Henry family took over a tree-shaded resort in 1966 and transformed it into a waterslide attraction that opened in 1979. Today, it’s home to 51 attractions on more than 70 acres, according to the official website. (Over the years, additional parks were opened throughout Texas, including one in Galveston, but most have either been rebranded or shuttered.) The original Schlitterbahn tourism dollars still gush from one of the shortest rivers in the world and into a Texas town founded by a German prince.
The name Schlitterbahn, from the German words for slippery and road, is a magic phrase for generations of Texas kids, those Teutonic syllables rolling off their tongues with ease (even if they can’t spell it).
Not to mention the iconic jingle: “The hottest, coolest time in Texas. Come play! Schliiiter-bahn-bahn.” Burned in our brains.
Its wide and wild world of slides
A trip to Schlitterbahn feels like traversing Westeros by way of Atlantis.
Its original section to the west feels the most connected to the fresh waters of the Comal. Amid body slides like Downhill Racer and Soda Straws (watch your butt at the bottom), black rubber doughnut tubes abound. Riding the Whitewater course is like a weekend tubing trip with fewer empty cans.
In Surfenburg to the east, Dragon’s Revenge gets you cozy with your companion’s legs as you snake through tight twists. You catch your breath with a lazy float on the Kristal River. What kid didn’t fight for one of the alligator floats?
At Blastenhoff, one might think towering thrill rides like Master Blaster and the ink-dark Black Knight, with their treacherous stair-climbs to gaping maws of serpentine chutes, are the stars.
No. It’s that circular Torrent wave pool that binds the whole castle of tube rides together. You haven’t grown up in Texas until you’ve pressed your body to the vent wall at its beginning and launched your body into a rush of fresh swells roaring out of the wave machine. Who needs a tube when you can glide on your feet?
I think the sense of shared joy keeps me coming back to Schlitterbahn. You can (and should) bring a picnic. There’s free parking. Six Flags could never.
The waterpark runs a free tram connecting its different sections. There’s something about that slow, open-air ride through the residential streets of New Braunfels, surrounded by your fellow aquatic pilgrims. Not to wax too poetically, but that might be my favorite (and the driest) part, and the one that felt the most absent from my life a couple of years ago.
Just a few dozen people, in various states of undress, feet struck from hot asphalt, water evaporating from shoulders, all in a liminal state together moving toward bigger, better splashes.
Find park hours and tickets at schlitterbahn.com/new-braunfels.