Rivers and lakes crisscross East Texas; so too do wetlands and bayous. They’re a defining feature of the Piney Woods landscape and provide plenty of opportunities when it comes to enjoying life in, on and under the water.
Whether you’re interested in paddling a boat out into the current, discovering a hidden world on a scuba dive or just jumping in for a swim, the Piney Woods of East Texas can provide.
Canoeing on Caddo Lake
Caddo Lake is as one-of-a-kind as they come, and once you catch sight of it, you’ll never forget. Bayous, sloughs, wetlands and ponds all make up the lake environs, an absolute maze of waterways seemingly designed for a contemplative paddle. Framing everything is a canopy of bald cypress trees draped with Spanish moss.
There are more than 50 miles of paddling trails in and around Caddo Lake State Park, and canoes are available for rent from the park itself. Visitors can also spend time hiking and picnicking, while overnighters can choose between standard campsites, screened shelters and even historic cabins.
Diving at Athens Scuba Park
If you’ve never explored a sunken plane on a scuba dive, East Texas is the place for you. Make the trip to Athens Scuba Park, a full-service diving resort with an incredible 35 sunken wrecks and 11 diving docks situated around an eight-acre lake. Visibility tends to hover around 35 feet, though it can reach up to 70.
Expect every need to be catered to—they have all the equipment, training, classes and (night-diving!) excursions you need. And thanks to their tent and RV campsites, it’s easy get on the water morning, noon and night.
Fishing on Lake Fork
If you’re into bass fishing, odds are you already know about Lake Fork, on the Sabine River about 50 miles north of Tyler. Its numbers are pretty impressive: 315 miles of shoreline and 34 of the heaviest largemouth bass (of the top 50) caught in the state. You want a trophy bass? You come here. (There are plenty of crappie and catfish, too.)
But it’s not just the anglers who pay a visit to Lake Fork. Its ample waters are also open for skiing, boating, canoeing, kayaking and swimming. Birders won’t be disappointed, either.
Paddling the Neches River
The 21-mile Village Creek Paddling Trail, located along a stretch of the Neches River, is easily one of the state’s most rewarding. White, sandy beaches dot the banks, egrets and heron pop out of the flatwater, and cypress and hardwoods line the streams, oxbow lakes and sloughs. What’s more, the trail is broken up into easy-access sections to make day trips a cinch.
This section of the Neches winds through Big Thicket National Preserve, the “biological crossroads of North America”—more species occur here than in any similarly sized area on the continent. There are five access points to get on the trail, ranging from a few miles east of Kountze to Village Creek State Park in Lumberton.
Camping at Bouton Lake
Texas doesn’t have too many natural lakes—most are manmade reservoirs—but Bouton Lake in Angelina National Forest is one of them. Small in size and often calm, it’s been attracting quiet anglers and respite-seeking campers for ages.
Bouton Lake Campground is no-fee and primitive, keeping it as rustic and secluded as possible. Hike the Sawmill Trail through the bottomland hardwoods and into the cypress forest, swim, paddle and picnic, and don’t worry too much about your neighbors—there are only seven campsites in total.
Swimming at Daingerfield State Park
This state park touts a “cathedral of trees,” and that’s not false advertising. Daingerfield feels quiet and intimate, each visitor sharing space with pines, red oaks, walnuts, maples and dogwoods—come autumn, you’ll think you’re closer to New England.
It all surrounds a spring-fed lake that’s superb for swimming (boats are allowed on the water, but the speed limit is 5mph). Going for a meditative float is the thing to do here, but the park also rents paddleboats, paddleboards, canoes, kayaks (single and tandem) and flat-bottom boats.
Splashing into Lake Tejas
Lake Tejas, in the town of Colmesneil, is hardly just a lake. It doubles as an old-school waterpark, with diving towers, sandy beaches, docks for fishing and cannon-balling, water volleyball, covered picnic tables and classic summertime sustenance: burgers and ice cream from the Tejas Grill. Inner tubes and paddleboats are available for rent, or bring your own kayak or canoe to find a quiet scene all to yourself.
Note: The roped-off children’s area features two small slides, so everyone can get in on the fun.