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A Retreat on the Edge of the Bayou

Ditch Houston for the bayou on this paddling adventure. Just watch out for the gators.

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See our whole list of best summer paddle trips.

  • Distance: 2-25 miles
  • Time: 1-2 days

While most of the country is just starting to emerge into spring, Houston starts to swelter. Beat the heat by heading northeast to Caddo Lake State Park for a weekend on the water along the Big Cyprus Bayou. Dammed in the early 1900s for flood country, Caddo Lake is now a 27,000-acre pool straddling the Texas-Louisiana state line. The bayou is filled with a maze of thick bald cypress and a web of aquatic plants from lime-green giant salvinia to free-floating water hyacinth. Between refreshing dips and hooking fish, explore the park’s 2.5-mile stretch of trail and paddle around in a canoe—just keep your eyes open for the alligators. Between March and May, the temperatures warm up from the low 70s to the mid 80s.

Friday: Leave Houston midday Friday and arrive at the waterside for a pre-dusk swim. Pitch your tent at a simple campsite with water or upgrade to a tent pad that includes electricity and sewer ($10-$20 nightly; 8 people max; checkout 2 p.m.). Campsite checkout is 2 p.m. You can reserve your site online.

Saturday and Sunday: Paddle the canoe around Saw Mill Pond, a 6-acre pool adjacent to the Big Cypress Bayou that is a stomping ground for great egrets. Boat further into Caddo Lake for a chance to catch trophy-size largemouth bass, which can reach sizes of more than eight pounds (March is the most productive month). The best time to catch Crappie and white bass is also early spring, and sunfish peak in the late spring.

What To Pack: Fishing poles, canoe.

Be Aware: Alligators call the park home, so swim in designated areas after sunrise and before sundown. If you spot one, back away slowly.

Fees: $3/Adult, daily

Canoe rentals: Rentals available at Park Headquarters: $50/24-hr, $70/48-hr, first-come, first-served.

Boat Tours: Johnson’s Ranch Marina, (903) 789-3213