Where You Need To Go Kayak Camping in Texas
There’s nothing quite like putting your kayak in the water early in the morning, paddling along a river or across a bay. Adding plenty of pauses for pictures and snacks, and then landing in the afternoon at a campsite. You’re so far from civilization, you’re the only humans in sight! This is kayak camping in Texas, and it is an adventure you need to experience.
If you’re just starting this kind of adventure for the very first time, or if you are a paddle-calloused veteran, Texas may be the ideal destination for you. With a huge array of unspoiled epic landscapes, almost year-round blue skies, and clean, spring-fed rivers, Texas is nearly a canoe or kayak camping paradise. I’ve dug into three of the most exciting routes below!
Before you head out though, make sure you have all your gear packed and ready. Check out our Kayak Camping Checklist for ideas on what you should bring for your first, or next trip!
The Brazos River – Graford, Texas
Much of the Brazos River is perfect water for either canoe or kayak camping. We’ll focus on one section that has you putting in near Possum Kingdom Lake and taking out at Route 180, a total of about 38 miles.
It’s a popular destination for paddlers of all kinds. This includes people out for the day in tubes, and with good reason. This section, which is so winding, its curves each have a quaint-sounding name like “Fortune Bend,” “Chick Bend,” and “Post Oak Bend,” goes through some gorgeous country.
What You’ll See
People have called this part of the river a “throwback” to the days when Comanche lived in the area. The surrounding countryside has been left almost totally unspoiled. You can see the same sights that early settlers would have seen while navigating this river.
There are 500-foot cliffs of color-washed granite and bright green in the trees. Just a hundred miles or so downriver, the vegetation changes. Everything becomes sun-bleached, but here, at a higher elevation, the colors stay strong.
What Seasons to Visit
You’ll want to plan your trip for early spring or late fall, avoiding the heat of the summer months. Water flow may also be lower in the summer and fall, so you will likely have to pick up your boat and carry it several times. No matter what season you choose, you’ll be paddling into a strong wind, so make sure you’re fit enough to fight against that all day.
There are no rapids on this river. The only potential obstacle you might run into is the Route 4 bridge, at about the halfway mark. Its supports have been known to swamp boats. Just before the bridge, you’ll be able to pull off on the left bank and portage around it.
Another important thing to consider is getting shuttle service to run you back to your car. At the put-in, where State Highway 16 crosses the river, there is a parking lot and boat ramp. Plan on parking here and getting an outfitter or friend to shuttle you from the take-out.
Rochelle’s Canoe and Kayak Rental offers kayak and canoe rentals as well as a shuttle service. Check them out for prices and trips.
Where to Camp
To make this into an overnight trip (one outfitter recommends a four-day trip, but experienced paddlers can do it in 2-3 days), you have a few options for where to stay. There are two privately-owned campgrounds where you may need to book ahead. These are both a bit past the halfway mark – one is at mile 22 on the right and another at mile 22.2 on the left – so you’ll be front-loading your paddling slightly.
Another option would give you more flexibility – there are many sandbars which people are welcome to camp on for free.
Port O’Connor – Port O’Connor, Texas
On the coast, a 3-hour drive South of Houston is a little coastal town called Port O’Connor. Known for its sport fishing, it’s a good hideaway from the bustle of the Houston metro.
To really get out in the coastal marshes and experience the serenity of this waterway, you’ll need to paddle. Arm yourself with a kayak, as well as all the food, water, and camping equipment you’ll need for a one-night stay, and you’ll be ready to take on this 50-mile round trip loop.
Where to Camp
As you can see from this map provided by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Matagorda Island Trail winds through the marshlands of Espiritu Santo Bay.
The trail follows natural gaps in the marsh and is marked with numbered signposts along the way. On this map – which you’ll want to print out, seal in a Ziplock or laminate, and keep handy – the red squiggle is the route you’ll want to take.
It ends at a windswept island campsite with an amazing view of the bay. To camp here, you will need to pick up a Limited Public Use Permit at any place that sells Texas hunting or fishing licenses. Head back the next day by retracing the same trail back to Port O’Connor.
It Gets Pretty Windy
One thing that will make paddling tricky is wind! Be ready to face massive headwinds, depending on the time of year and time of day. Always check the forecast as your trip approaches and brace yourself for some stretches of hard paddling. In my experience, kayaks are much easier to handle in a headwind than a canoe is, so if you have a choice, that might be a good idea for this trip.
Although for some of the marsh trails, tides are a factor, you should have no problem getting beached on the Matagorda Trail. If you happen to get hung up on a sandbar, just get out and drag the boat a few feet back into the water.
Bugs will be a challenge as well, so make sure you pack your repellant and also pack all of your own food and water! There is no water source or road access on this island. Kayak camping in Texas, near water, ALWAYS draws the bugs!!
Devils River – Del Rio, Texas (Central)
If the two trips above seem like a yawn to you, then make your way to Devils River…
Devils River is very properly named.
You’ll be facing things like sun exposure, rapids, waterfalls, snakes, and scorpions, over a four-day trip. If you are a complete newbie, this route is not for you! If you’re a fairly seasoned paddler and are looking for pristine water and unspoiled views, then pack your boat up and head to West Texas.
The access point for a three-day, 48-mile trip is at State Highway 163, well upstream from the two government-managed Limited Public Access Areas. You’ll be paddling all the way down to the Rough Canyon Marina on Amistad Reservoir.
You’ll want to arrange to have a shuttle service such as Amistad Expeditions take you and your boats and gear up to this put-in. At the end of your trip, they’ll also pick you up and shuttle you back to your car (you can arrange the most ideal parking through them).
The river flows through very restricted private lands, which is one of the reasons why this is one of the most pristine rivers in all of Texas. These landowners do not want anyone on their land, which you’ll see marked along the way in “No Trespassing” signs.
Don’t bother these neighbors by even stepping on their land for a snack break or to “use the facilities – stay in the waterway instead. For camping, plan on using public campsites at Mile 15 on your first night. Mile 29 can be for your second night. This leaves a paddle of 19 miles for your third day if you’re going all the way to Rough Canyon Marina on the Amistad Reservoir.
Make sure to reserve these a few days in advance of your trip.
A description of these and other campsites can be found at the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.
Make Certain You’re Legal
The state wants you to have both a Devils River Access Permit and a separate camping permit.
This whole waterway is so pure, partly because paddlers respect the rules! You’ll need to pack out your trash (no burning or burying it). You’ll also need a special bag called a WAG to carry out your own personal waste. Yep, no burying that stuff!
There’s a whole list of more river etiquette here. This is very important in a location where you’re respecting the surrounding landowners so they’ll respect future paddlers.
Be Experienced For This One
As far as hazards go, this is a fairly rugged river.
The main hazards are Class I and Class II rapids that can get a lot more dangerous when rain is coming down. It’s a good practice to always stop and “scout” before running any of these rapids.
There is a low bridge around mile 10 to watch for. There are some large rocks at 13 miles, and a 3-tiered waterfall at mile 20.
Each of these can be run, after scouting, by an experienced paddler. The big one is Dolan Falls, at about Mile 16.5. These falls are basically unnavigable. Just plan on portaging around it, unless you’re an extremely experienced paddler.
This is the obstacle that gives the river its wicked reputation.
You’ll want to take out at Rough Canyon Marina after you’ve arrived on Amistad Reservoir. Don’t forget to let your shuttle service know you’ve arrived!
Time for your victory dance!
Are There More?
As you can see, kayak camping in Texas can be amazing. You need to go on one of these adventures, but don’t stop there! Ask your local outfitter for other suggestions.
If you have a place you love to go, let us know below in the comments!! We’ll check it out and add it to the list! The more info you can provide on it, the better!
Be Safe, Have Fun, and Happy Paddling!
If you’re completely new to kayaking, I’d recommend checking out our Beginners Kayaking Guide. It explains the various types of kayaks all the way to picking a river or lake to paddle.