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Paddle Texas

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Paddlers on the Lighthouse Lakes Trail enjoy up-close views of birds and other wildlife. One trail leads to the 1857 Lydia Ann Lighthouse. (Photos by Kevin Stillman)

By Melissa Gaskill

Thousands of miles of coastal shoreline, 3,700 named streams, and 15 major rivers in Texas all beg to be explored, and kayaks offer a great way to do so. I first boarded a kayak about a decade ago, and have since used one of these versatile craft to explore all over Texas and beyond. Easy to paddle and maneuver, kayaks put you right on the water, the better to see what lives in and on it. Most people get the hang of paddling smooth water and gentle rapids in a matter of minutes. If you’d like to see Texas’ natural wonders from a new perspective, try kayaking. You can take a guided trip, or head out on your own to explore one of the more than two dozen official coastal and inland Texas paddling trails—or anywhere the water beckons. Here are a few of my favorite destinations.

Buffalo Bayou Paddling Trail, Houston’s 26-mile-long Buffalo Bayou Paddling Trail affords a new perspective on Texas’ largest city.Houston

This trail starts at Texas 6 and follows the bayou 26 miles to Allen’s Landing in downtown Houston. That’s too far to complete in one day, but nine access points make it possible to choose paddles ranging from 15 minutes to a few (or many) hours.

On a warm spring day, my husband, Corey, and I put in at Woodway Memorial Park, a tiny parking area with a narrow trail to the water at Loop 610 and Woodway, for about seven miles of paddling. The first half of the trip, we could hardly tell that the bayou bisects one of the country’s largest cities. Tall willow, pine, and sycamore trees lined the sandy banks, and we spotted more than a dozen great and little blue herons, a pair of hawks circling in the blue sky, cardinals, turtles sunning on thick logs, and two-foot gar splashing at the surface. Except when we passed directly under roads, we heard nothing but the water, breeze, and birds. The second half became more obviously urban, with views of manicured lawns, apartment buildings, and finally, the  gleaming Houston skyline, quite an impressive sight from our bayou-level vantage point.

altThe trail stops at Allen’s Landing, a complex of historic buildings named for the land-speculating Allen brothers, who laid out the original city grid oriented to the waterway in the 1830s. Intrepid paddlers can continue eight more miles to the Houston Ship Channel turning basin.

Buffalo Bayou Partnership and Bayou Preservation Association, along with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, collaborated to create this trail. The Buffalo Bayou Partnership offers monthly trips that include kayaks, a guide, and shuttle back to your car. Another option: Buffalo Bayou Shuttle Service, which offers both guided tours and shuttle service for you and your kayak. You can arrange pick-up downtown to the put-in and leave your car at Allen’s Landing.

Alternatively, if you’re with a group and are interested in renting 10 boats or more, North Lake Conroe Paddling Company (which offers individual kayak rentals for Lake Conroe and Spring Creek) can arrange a trip on the bayou, too.

Post-paddle refreshment: Splurge on a steak at downtown’s Strip House (713/659-6000,, or toast the day’s adventures at the venerable La Carafe Wine Bar, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (713/229-9399).

Rest up at: Hotel Icon, two blocks from Allen’s Landing (, 713/224-4266), or the Four Seasons Hotel, two blocks from Discovery Green (713/650-1300,

   Coastal Bend Kayaking offers guided treks of the Lighthouse Lakes Trail and other Gulf Coast destinations.

Lighthouse Lakes Trail
Aransas Pass/Port Aransas

This is the first official paddling trail in Texas, established by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1999. The Lighthouse Lakes Trail consists of four loops that explore the black mangrove estuaries, sloughs, and seagrass flats between Aransas Pass and Port Aransas. The loop trails range from about one mile to almost seven miles long. One trail leads to the 1857 Lydia Ann Lighthouse on North Harbor Island. Wander the maze of mangroves and get close to great blue herons, egrets, pelicans, and other resident birds; or fish for flounder, red drum, and spotted sea trout. Lucky paddlers might even merit a dolphin escort across the channel.

Take along a copy of the photo map, available on the trail’s website or from local outfitters, along with a compass or GPS, as it’s easy to get turned around in the maze of channels and mangroves. The trails are bordered by Aransas and Lydia Ann channels, South Bay, and Corpus Christi Bayou, so you won’t end up in Mexico, but a missed turn could mean a long paddle back. If you’d like a guide, you can take a four-hour eco-tour of the trails with Slowride Guide Services in Aransas Pass, which also offers fishing excursions in the area. A company called Coastal Bend Kayak also offers guided trips in the area.

If you prefer to embark on your own, launch at the trailhead park on Texas 361, near Offshore Adventures at Crabman Marina in Aransas Pass, which rents kayaks. (Island Surf & Kayak Shop in Port Aransas does, too.)

Post-paddle refreshment: A hearty Stopher Burger at Port Aransas Brewing Company, a few blocks from the ferry landing. Call 361/749-2739;

Rest up at: The 1886 Tarpon Inn in Port Aransas is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Call 361/749-5555;

El Camino Real Paddling Trail
Colorado River, Bastrop

This Colorado River trail runs roughly six miles, about a two- to three-hour paddle, from Fisherman’s Park in Bastrop to the Tahitian Village subdivision just past the railroad bridge. I made this trip with fellow kayak aficionado Paula Baker, renting kayaks at Rising Phoenix Adventures, which shuttled us to the put-in. Once on the green river, we passed a few houses, crossed under the Loop 150 and Texas 71 bridges, then passed a waterfall on the east shore. At that point, signs of civilization slipped away for a while. We enjoyed a constant escort of dragonflies (some of which hitched the occasional ride), turtles, herons, and fish. A number of wooded islands split the river, and trumpet vines decked with bright red flowers covered thick trees on the bank. A few fun but easy rapids spiced up the route.

The takeout is a small, shady swim beach popular with locals. It makes a pleasant place to wait for shuttle pick-up, and the ride back to the outfitter’s office takes about 10 minutes. Rising Phoenix Adventures also will shuttle you and your own kayak to the put-in and from the take-out for $25 per boat.

Post-paddle refreshment: Piled-high burgers at the Roadhouse, on Texas 21 across from the entrance to Bastrop State Park (and just a few minutes from Rising Phoenix). Call 512/321-1803;

Rest up at: Sleeping cabins (shared restrooms and running water in common campground) at LCRA’s South Shore Park on Lake Bastrop. For reservations, call 512/389-8900; for information, call 800/776-5272;

Columbus Paddling Trail
Colorado River, Columbus

This 6.5-mile route stretches from Business 71 under the North River Bridge to Beason’s Park, which has picnic tables, restrooms, and free parking (in case you provide your own shuttle service).

Here on the beginnings of the coastal plain, the Colorado River sports sandy banks ranging from gently sloping beaches to steep cliffs. The river banks alternate between lines of bald cypress, sycamore, and willow trees, and open meadows populated by fat and happy cows. The warm fall day that my friend Paula and I navigated this paddle, the river ran fairly low and some of those cows were cooling their hooves in the water. Fortunately, they yielded the right of way and we avoided any bovine showdowns. We slipped through a few gentle rapids and encountered a couple of shallows where we almost ran aground, but in general the current kept us moving at a leisurely pace. Dozens of egrets, great blue herons, killdeer, and terns lined the shore, and turtles sunned on exposed logs and rocks. Paddlers can fish for alligator gar, carp, channel catfish, Guadalupe bass, and sunfish along this trail.

The put-in is behind Howell Canoe Livery, which rents equipment and provides shuttle service from the take-out. Proprietor Frank Howell uses an aerial photograph to give an overview of the trail, including landmarks to look for. If you have your own kayak, you can put-in here for $10 and Howell will shuttle your car to the take-out.

Pre-paddle refreshment: All-you-can-eat buffet at Schobel’s Restaurant, on Business 71 just off Interstate 10 in Columbus. Call 979/732-2385;

Rest up at: Waldhutte cabin, a secluded B&B between La Grange and Columbus. Call 979/247-4802;

San Saba and South Llano rivers

The 100-mile-long San Saba River springs from the ground near Fort McKavett, and flows through rocky rapids, under towering oaks and pecans, and past wide pastures. The river doesn’t have an official paddling trail, but perhaps it should. My family has enjoyed day-long paddles on this pristine waterway half-a-dozen times, and even though part of me hates to share the secret, here’s our route. From Menard, drive US 190 west about eight miles, turn left on Bois D’Arc, and put in at the bridge for a six- to eight-hour paddle to the dam at Menard City Park. (Time varies depending on flow on the river and how much you fish and dawdle.) Catch-and-release fish for largemouth bass, catfish, and the official state freshwater fish, Guadalupe bass. We enjoy the fun little rapids, quiet pools, and scenic stretches. Great blue herons nesting in tall sycamores along a few stretches of the river make a hard-to-miss racket.

Guided kayak and fly-fishing trips with Peacemaker River Outfitters in Junction start near the river headwaters at Talbot Lake, with options ranging from one- to eight-hour trips.

Peacemaker and several other outfitters in Junction provide rentals and shuttle service for paddles along the scenic and mostly gentle South Llano River, too. Options include putting it at Boone’s Crossing on US 377 for a five- or six-hour paddle to South Llano River State Park, with great fishing and sand bars for swimming and relaxing.

Post-paddle refreshment: Save room for dessert at Side Oats Café and Bakery in Menard. Call 325/396-2069;

Rest up at: The two-bedroom Cool River Cabin on the Native American Seed farm, near Junction. Call 800/728-4043; (click on “ecotourism”).

These paddling trips make rewarding day excursions or weekend getaways, and as seasons and conditions change, each visit reveals something different. I’ll see you on the water!

Read 11867 times Last modified on Friday, 13 July 2012 13:06
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