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The Best Spots for Paddling Texas

You expect a degree of regionality in a state as large as Texas, and outdoor activities are no exception.

Hiking in the Hill Country, hunting in the piney woods of East Texas, rock climbing in the Big Bend, all reflecting the complex interplay of ecology, geology, and history in these different locales. But running through these disparate regions is a common, unifying element: rivers. And the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has a paddling trail network all fixed up and waiting for your canoe or kayak.

Texas is dissected by fifteen major rivers and 3700 smaller named streams, arteries in the hydrological anatomy of a vast and varied landscape that offer unique opportunities to the outdoors enthusiast. Floating through placid backwaters or shooting through churning rapids, the TPWD's paddling trails lets you experience the Texas countryside from the comfort of your own canoe or kayak. A paddler can fish, bird, or simply enjoy a day on the water.

The TPWD established its first paddling trails in 1997. These early trails were entirely located in coastal waters, and proved to be popular among paddlers looking for access to both fishing and birding opportunities. In 2006, the TPWD instituted a state-wide program that saw the agency partnering with communities across Texas to develop and maintain inland paddling trails.

This included developing a tourism infrastructure in the form of trail maps, local businesses supporting river tourism (including canoe/kayak rental and shuttles), informational signage, and wildlife and fishing information, with an emphasis on day-trip length river segments across a wide range of rivers. The resultant network has risen to nearly 60 trails, with more on the way.

Of course, between continuing drought in the southwest and agency cutbacks, approval and development of newer trails has slowed somewhat. However, the existing trails still offer opportunities to get out and dip your oars. I haven't had the chance to sample all of these trails, not by a long shot, but here are a few of my favorite paddling trails, just to pique your interest.

Photo via tpwd

Chupacabra Point - A silly name, but this trail up near Bridgeport boasts some pretty nice riparian scenery, especially in the autumn. Of course, low water conditions during that time of year means that you might have to portage your boat in some places. Still, there's good wildlife and lots of birds, if that's your thing. A lot of good crappie fishing, and people told tales of largemouth bass too, although they remained as elusive as the eponymous goat-sucker when I was there.

Photo via tpwd

Upper Guadalupe Trail - A good 10 mile run that, depending on flow, can include some rather exciting dashes through rapids. Lots of nice scenery along this trail north of San Antonio, with plenty of picturesque limestone cliffs and bluffs to admire. There is supposed to be some good catfishing to be had in the Upper Guadalupe runs, especially in some of the broader pools below the rapids. The proximity to San Antonio, coupled with the general loveliness of the river, means that this one can get a little busy, though. I'd call in sick on a Wednesday and make a midweek trip, if I were you.

Photo via tpwd

Goliad Trail - This paddling trail is on the Lower San Antonio River, one of the few undammed and unrestrained waterways in Texas. This makes it a much more fun river to boat down, despite its relatively short length of ~7 miles. It also means that flow conditions can change dramatically over the course of a season, so you'll want to check conditions beforehand. The trail runs through Goliad State Park.

As mentioned above, there are close to sixty trails in the TPWD's paddling trail network, offering people a chance to explore Texas from the many rivers and creeks in this state. Even if you aren't interested in fishing or birding, there's nothing quite as relaxing as a float down a river on a hot day.

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The TPWD lists and descriptions of its trails, both freshwater and coastal, can help plan your day trip.

Where will your next paddling trip take you?

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The Best Spots for Paddling Texas