If you’re looking for a new fishing adventure this summer, consider exploring one of the Texas Paddling Trails. The number of Americans that participate in paddling activities is on the rise, which means there is an increasing demand for public access to water across the state. However, since much of Texas land is privately-owned, it can be difficult to find a place to get your feet wet. To overcome this issue, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) began working with landowners and community partners to create a network of paddling trails throughout the state. The program began in 1999 when TPWD mapped the Lighthouse Lakes Paddling Trail along Highway 361 in Aransas Pass. Twenty years later, there are now 75 paddling trails in the Texas Paddling Trail network—nine of which are along the coast. The good news is that all official Texas Paddling Trails are well-mapped and designed to be easily accessible by paddlers of all experience levels and paddlers should find comfort in knowing that all trails have been surveyed with safety and ease of access in mind.
Coastal paddling trails cross bayous and estuaries from Houston to South Padre Island. Trail lengths vary depending on the location; you can take on a short 1.25 mile loop at the Lighthouse Lakes Trail or paddle the 26 miles of Buffalo Bayou in Houston. If you’re up for a real challenge, the Port O’Connor Paddling Trail is 40 miles of interconnected trails. If you do visit Port O’Connor, you could even paddle to Matagorda Island and use the picnic and campground area (with the correct permits). Paddling the shallow trails makes for a great opportunity to see the exposed tails of red drum while their heads are down next to the bottom eating, which is also known as ‘tailing’. It is common to encounter red drum, spotted seatrout, flounder, and black drum, which is why these trails are popular among kayak anglers. Take a break from paddling the shoreline or saltwater marsh to try wade fishing. While you’re waiting to land the next fish, take a look around to see what other wildlife is in the area; the Texas coast is home to a variety of birds, mammals, and reptiles.
Kayak anglers and other paddlers aren’t the only ones that benefit from Texas Paddling Trails. Communities with a local paddling trail take pride in the waterways and recognize the importance of showcasing the natural resources in their backyard. Tourism and outdoor recreation often go hand-in-hand, and the paddling trials are no exception. Tourists that visit towns with access to outdoor recreation activities, like the Texas Paddling Trails, stay in hotels, fuel their vehicles, eat at restaurants, visit retail stores, and visit other local attractions, which together contribute a positive economic impact. Texas Paddling Trails also raise awareness on the importance of conservation. Paddlers enjoy their time in nature and prefer to paddle in clean waters that are safe to navigate, and as a result, paddlers and communities with paddling trails are motivated to keep the waterways healthy.
With the help of local partners and landowners, TPWD continues to open several new trails each year. In June 2018, TPWD welcomed the newest coastal trail in Texas: the Seadrift Paddling Trail. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department examines several factors to determine whether a section of river, lake, or bay would make for a good paddling trail. Some of the best areas are those with water segments that are four to twelve miles in length, have public access, and designated parking. Cities, nature centers, paddling clubs, or other partners maintain put-in and take-out access sites and signage for the trails.
Before heading out for a day of fishing or exploring one of the coastal Texas Paddling Trails, be sure to check the tide and local weather conditions, including wind speed and direction. Many coastal trails do not have much protection from the wind, which can make it difficult to paddle. Maps and GPS coordinates for trail markers are available on the TPWD website. Remember that State and Federal regulations require you to have a personal flotation device and a sound-signaling device (a whistle or horn) while paddling. If you plan to be on the water in reduced visibility or anytime between sunset and sunrise, you must also carry a white light source. Now that you know all about the Texas Paddling Trails, the next thing to do is get your feet wet.For more information about developing a paddling trail in your community or to start planning your next paddling adventure, visit https://tpwd.texas.gov/paddlingtrails.