Exploring new territory by canoe or kayak is different than other modes of travel. Thereâ€™s a serenity to gliding quietly through the water, less likely to startle wildlife. And the perspective is unique, lower than hiking trails or roads.
I've paddled around several Texas lakes and rivers over the years, but I've never launched a boat in the murky waters of Caddo Lake, the stateâ€™s only naturally occurring lake. A circuit of new paddling trails may be just the motivation I need to head northeast and paddle the Caddo.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department opened 10 new paddling trails on Caddo Lake and a stretch of Big Cypress Bayou over the weekend. The trails encompass more than 50 miles within scenic bottomland forest and bald cypress swamps. The new trailsâ€”which are marked by small arrow signsâ€”bring the Texas Paddling Trails program around the state to 48 different trails, covering more than 430 miles.
The department started the program in 1998 to encourage more recreational paddling on Texas waterways. The trails have dedicated put-in and take-out points, and the department provides maps and other information.
â€œWe wanted to take a little bit of the mystery out of Texas waterways,â€ says Shelly Plante, the departmentâ€™s nature tourism manager. â€œPeople want to get on the water, but donâ€™t necessarily know how do it conveniently or legally.â€
The 10 new trails range in distance from 2.4 miles to 8.8 miles. Theyâ€™re all loops, a route made possible by the lack of current in the Caddo and Big Cypress Bayou waters, Plante says. Some of the trails leave from Backwater Jackâ€™s R.V. Park near Jefferson, while the others are on Caddo Lake in the Uncertain area.
The Caddo Lake area is home to 216 different kinds of birds, 47 mammals, and 90 reptile and amphibian species, according to TPWD. You might see wood ducks, painted buntings, woodpeckers, barred owls, and white-tailed deer. There are also some rare species around, including the alligator snapping turtle, peregrine falcons, and Rafinesqueâ€™s big-eared bats.
The Caddo Lake paddling trails are relatively easy to navigate because paddlers donâ€™t have to deal with a current, Plante says. Directions, trail descriptions, maps, and other information are available on the Texas Paddling Trails website.
PhotosÂ Â© Texas Parks and Wildlife Department