Best Places to Kayak in Texas [2023]

Texas isn’t just the largest state in the country—it’s also one of the best states for kayaking! 

The Lone Star State is home to countless rivers, lakes, and waterways, plus you have access to the Gulf of Mexico, which offers sea kayaking adventures unlike any other. 

If you’re looking for an exciting vacation destination or are heading out on a business trip and need somewhere to get away from work for a weekend, you’ve come to the right place. Below, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best spots for kayaking in Texas.

Plus, we’ve got information on how to find good kayaking tours in Texas, the basic Texas kayaking laws to follow, and answers to a few commonly asked questions you’ll need to know before you hit the water.

By the end of this post, you’ll be ready to make the most of the time you spend in Texas, enjoying the truly spectacular kayaking the state has to offer. 

15 Top Destinations to Go Kayaking in Texas

1. Caddo Lake

Caddo Lake, Texas
Image: Wikipedia

For those who love exploring wild backcountry, Caddo Lake is just the place for you to spend a weekend afternoon. The lake is home to 7.6-mile paddling trail that cuts through dense forests home to spectacular bald cypress tress. It’s a journey that will last 3 to 4 hours (depending on your paddling speed), but you’ll enjoy every minute. The views of the gorgeous trees are spectacular, from their roots rising out of the water to the reddish bark to the lofty branches towering overhead. It’s a truly unique experience.

Kayak anglers will be right at home on this lake, too. Caddo Lake is stocked with a variety of fish, including pickerel, bass, panfish, and crappie. You can bring your tacklebox and fishing rod and spend an entire weekend drifting around the lake and enjoying some wonderful fishing with your buddies, family, kids, or spouse.

2. Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend is one of Texas’ most famous national parks, home to sprawling deserts, towering 1,500-foot canyons, and myriad wildlife. It’s here that you can get out on the water and paddle the Rio Grande in all its wild glory. You’ll find plenty of spots to put in and take out, so you can kayak for an afternoon, an entire day, or even take a week to explore as much as you can.

The Santa Elena Canyon is one of the most popular destination for tours and kayakers who want to see the spectacular rock formations and breathtaking cliffs that make this such a well-known destination. There’s plenty of calm stretches of river to enjoy, but experienced kayakers may want to try their hand at the Class IV rapids of the Rock Slide. Animal lovers will also be able to spot deer, turtles, beavers, and an abundance of bird species that make their home in the park, particularly along the river.

3. Lady Bird Lake Paddling Trail

Downtown view over the water from Lou Neff point of Lady Bird Lake Paddling Trail, Texas

This water trail offers something you’ll find nowhere else in the country: a view of millions of bats. Yes, you read that right: millions. Roughly 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats make their home beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin. Between March and October, the bats will leave their roost for up to an hour just before sunset, and they will fill the afternoon sky in a truly unique and spectacular sight. August is the best time of year to see this particular sight.

Of course, even if you’re not a bat-lover, the paddling trail has plenty to offer. Along its 11-mile length, you can enjoy views of Austin’s skyline, pay a visit to Red Bud Isle, or cast out a line to try and catch one of the many carp that make their home here. It’s a wonderfully relaxing paddling experience that your whole family will enjoy—and, best of all, you never even have to leave the city.

4. Brazos River

Waterfowl on Brazos River, Texas

The Brazos River is one of Texas’ most popular kayaking, floating, and paddleboarding destination, particularly near Possum Kingdom Lake, considered the “Great Lake of Texas”, roughly 90 miles west of Fort Worth. Here, you’ll find the water can be a bit congested with fellow water sport enthusiasts during the warmer months of the year. Thankfully, there is plenty more to explore along the 840-mile waterway, with countless wonderful sections you can kayak as the river meanders toward the Gulf of Mexico.

For spectacular views of 500-foot tall cliffs, head south from Possum Kingdom Lake, and keep paddling until you reach the granite bluffs. It’s a breathtaking, awe-inspiring sight that will make it worth all the effort you put into reaching it.

5. Devil’s River

Devil’s River is one of the best adventure-friendly rivers in Texas, home to Class II rapids interspersed with calmer sections that will provide newbie whitewater kayakers with an exhilarating experience. You can turn your exploration of this river into an all-day adventure and see just how hard you can push yourself to tackle new challenges and put your more advanced paddling skills to the test.

Or, if you want to relax and enjoy your time on the water, you can simply portage around the rapids and stick to the more placid stretches. The water is stunningly blue, the Texas skies are bright, and the views will be absolutely photo-worthy. It’s one of West Texas’ most beautiful locations, and a paddling experience you’ll definitely want to try at least once.  

6. Corpus Christi

A roseate spoonbill catches some fish in the water

Corpus Christi is one of Texas’ most popular holiday towns thanks to its location on the stunning beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. During spring break and the summer months, the city can get pretty crowded with people looking to party and enjoy the sunshine. Visiting the city during the off-season is a great way to have it all to yourself.

The best kayaking in Corpus Christi is right off the shore. Newbies can stick close to the beach and enjoy the calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, but more experienced paddlers can head out into open water for a sea kayaking adventure. Or, if you’re preferring an inland adventure, try paddling Packery Channel Park, Mustang Island, or Bird Island Basin, where you can see breathtaking natural sights and myriad animals. Bird watchers come from all around the country (even the world) to enjoy the kayaking and birding that makes Corpus Christi so famous. 

7. Buffalo Bayou

Buffalo Bayou waterway in Houston, Texas

If you’re visiting Houston for work or pleasure, you’ll want to make a stop at the Buffalo Bayou. This 26-mile waterway cuts through Houston, offering you spectacular views of the city while providing you a truly wonderful and relaxing paddling opportunity. The water is calm and smooth, which makes it a perfect destination for first-timers and kids. You can practice basic paddling skills here, or just sit back and let the current pull you along. 

If you’ve got a day to spend enjoying the best of Houston, this definitely tops the list. You’ll find the river is surprisingly calm and quiet despite being right in the city, and it feels like a paradise oasis away from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan life. Absolutely a wonderful way to spend your weekend!

8. Lake Conroe

Lake Conroe, Texas
Image: Lake Conroe Homes

Located an hour from downtown Houston, Lake Conroe makes for the perfect day trip or weekend getaway. The lake stretches a spectacular 21,000 acres, with close to 160 miles of shoreline to explore. It’s partially located in the Sam Houston National Forest, home to the East Texas Piney Woods ecosystem, which you can explore without ever having to leave your kayak. However, there are plenty of camping spots around the lake, so you can spend a night near the water and get up early to see the sunrise from the lake.

What makes Lake Conroe such a great destination is that it’s a man-made reservoir, so the water is calm enough for families and newbie kayakers, but the water quality is also excellent most of the year-around. Kayak anglers will love the time they spend fishing here, because the lake is home to multiple varieties of bass, channel catfish, and bluegill.

9. Guadalupe River

Guadalupe River, Texas

The Guadalupe River is one of Texas’ most famous waterways, and offers kayaking adventures for all skill levels. Families and first-times will find plenty of calm stretches, while experienced kayakers can try their hand at the Class II and Class III rapids. 

The fact that it’s so close to San Antonio definitely makes it one of the more popular destinations in Texas for water sports. During peak season, it’ll typically be fairly packed on the weekend, and may even start to feel crowded with fellow kayakers, paddleboarders, canoers, rafters, anglers and tubers. You’ll find it’s fairly empty on a weekday, though, or during the off-season when Texans feel the cold more acutely. Anyone who’s accustomed to paddling the Northern United States or Canada during the chillier months will find the Guadalupe River more than warm enough even during the colder months of the year.

10. Padre Island National Seashore

Padre Island National Seashore, Texas

If you’re planning a visit to either Padre Island or South Padre Island, you have to take a trip around the Padre Island National Seashore. Here, you’ll find the Laguna Madre, a lagoon that is unique in the fact that it’s saltier than the Gulf of Mexico. Plus, it’s typically very shallow—an average of 3.3 feet deep—so even first-time kayakers will be perfectly safe exploring the lagoon’s waters. And the views are definitely unlike anything else you’ve seen in Texas.

Padre Island is home to more than 380 species of birds, some of which make their nests on the island, others merely stopping here on their migration track north or south. Kayaking in the Laguna Madre or off the eastern shore in the Gulf of Mexico offers you stunning views of countless bird species in their natural habitats. Or, if you’re more into the party lifestyle, come to Padre Island during spring break, and paddle past huge crowds of people living it up at raves, beach parties, and fiestas galore.

11. Frio River

The Frio River is one of Texans’ favorite places to go to escape the heat. Here, the water is crystal clear throughout the year, thanks to the fact that it’s fed by an underwater spring. The waters are calm and easy for even beginners to paddle, but you’ll find that it offers truly spectacular views of the Texas countryside, lush forests, and towering cliffs that appear to plunge right into the river.

Throughout the summer months, it’ll be a bee-hive of activity, with plenty of fellow water sports enthusiasts to share the waterway with you. There are plenty of tours that run up and down the river, but be aware that they can book up well ahead of time during peak season. For peace and quiet, the best time of year to kayak the Frio River is fall. You’ll love seeing the riot of colors bordering the river as the trees change into their autumn foliage. 

12. Toledo Bend Reservoir

Located in far East Texas, near the border with Louisiana, the Toledo Bend Reservoir is a man-made body of water that offers a truly wonderful opportunity for families and newbies to kayak. The waters are calm and clear, and it’s rare the day turns windy enough to whip up a current or create choppy paddling conditions. There’s also plenty of water for you to explore—just head out into the middle of the lake, away from the people sharing the shoreline or paddling close to land, and you’ll find it’s truly peaceful and quiet. 

Of course, if you want a beginner-friendly adventure, the shoreline offers a few creeks you can explore, plus bends that conceal hidden marvels from view. The scenery is breathtaking, the ambience is calm, and you’ll find it’s a truly lovely weekend spent out on the water.

13. Cherokee Neches Paddling Trail

A group of kayakers on the Cherokee Neches Paddling Trail, Texas
Image: Texas Living Water Project

Challenge your paddling skills and take a crack at this exciting water trail adventure! The Cherokee Neches Paddling Trail stretches for 6.6 miles, running through calm pools, small riffles, underwater obstacles, and multiple challenges that will keep you alert and attentive to your surroundings. Though the water tends to be calm throughout most of the year, be aware that it can be a bit more dangerous after heavy rains, due to high flows caused by rainfall run-off. It may be best to go with a guide who can help you stick to the safer spots and avoid any perils you might not know about on your first exploration.

Along the way, keep an eye out for the myriad birds that nest in the oak trees bordering the river. Turtles, river otters, and beavers love to visit the paddling trail, and you may even get lucky enough to spot a ‘gator. The river is also home to plenty of alligator gar and channel catfish, so you can enjoy a few hours of fishing mid-paddle. 

14. Colorado River

Colorado River, Texas

The Colorado River is home to some of the country’s most famous rapids, making it a popular destination for adventure paddlers. But don’t be mistaken: by the time it reaches Texas, it has passed all the truly fast-flowing sections, and transforms into a calm waterway that is both family-friendly and well-suited to first-timers looking for a great place to paddle. The river flows steadily with no real dangers or challenges, but it still offers stunning views and a chance to enjoy one of the country’s best-known waterways.

Best of all, there are plenty of places along the river where you can pitch a tent or make camp. Turn your journey down the Colorado River into a multi-day trip if you can, and you’ll see places that few others ever will.

15. Armand Bayou

Armand Bayou, Texas
Image: Wikipedia

You don’t have to go kayaking in Florida to spot a gator—if you’re lucky, the Armand Bayou near Pasadena (within the Greater Houston Area) might be the place to see one. The Armand Bayou paddling trail is located within a preserve area, and offers you the chance to explore tallgrass prairie and coastal flatland forests both.

What makes this area so unique is that it’s home to both saltwater and freshwater, with all the fish and wildlife that attracts—such as spoonbills and, yes, alligators. The paddling trail that cuts through the natural preserve is long enough you can spend a full day on the water, but there are plenty of opportunities to take out after just a few hours. It’s a “customizable” paddling trip you’ll absolutely want to plan with your buddies.  

Kayaking Tours in Texas

Texas is home to some truly spectacular paddling opportunities, as you’ve seen from our list above. From the Gulf of Mexico to the Colorado River to the rapids of Big Bend National Park, you’ve got plenty of choices for where to paddle, how to experience Texas your way, and where to spend the hours or days you have on the water. 

There are plenty of paddling destinations that will be safe enough for you to enjoy on your own, no need for a guide. However, if you paid close attention, you’ll have seen that some of those we shared above have the potential to be dangerous. 

For example, trying to tackle the rapids of the Guadalupe River or Big Bend National Park for the first time on your own might not be the best choice because you’re unfamiliar with the obstacles you’ll face. Or kayaking off Padre Island or Corpus Christi when you’re not an experienced sea kayaker could end up with you drifting out into the Gulf of Mexico—not at all ideal!

That’s why I often recommend you at least consider signing up for a tour on your first visit to any Texas waterway. Paddling with a tour not only gives you access to quality gear (in case you can’t bring your own), but also an experienced local who is familiar with the perils unique to each river, lake, or paddling trail, and can guide you safely through them.

Pedernales Falls State Park, Texas

It can even make your adventure more enjoyable, because they’ll be familiar with all the hidden secrets and marvels known only to locals. There’s the potential to get so much more out of the trip this way.

Here are a few of the best-rated and most recommended kayaking tours in Texas:

Other resources to consider for kayaking tours in Texas include:

  • Trip AdvisorOn Trip Advisor, you can input the Texas city where you’ll be visiting, and receive a list of paddling tour companies in the area (the destination city and nearby surroundings).
  • USA Today The “Travel Tips” section on the USA Today has a list of kayak tours all around the state. It’s a great starting place to research the best parts of Texas to explore, and the tour guides to connect with for each of those areas.
  • Viator Search based on activity as well as destination. You’ll be able to find all sorts of awesome paddling trips in Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas-Fort Worth, and other Texas cities.  

Also, while planning your kayaking trip in Texas, take a look at this interactive map of places to go paddling.

Texas Kayaking Laws

Flag of Texas

Kayaks are non-motor powered vessels

Because kayaks have neither motor nor sail, there is no need to register them, and you will not need to obtain a license to operate a kayak. 

However, if your kayak has a trolling motor mounted, it becomes “motorized” and you will then need to register it. 

There is no minimum age for operating a kayak

All non-powered vessels (including kayakers) can be operated by anyone of any age. However, if you are using a trolling motor, that changes things. Any motors with more than 15 hp can only be operated by people under the age of 13 if there is an adult (over the age of 18) on board. 

Kayakers must have one lifejacket on board per person

Every vessel, including non-motor-powered vessels like kayaks, must have a minimum of one U.S. Coast Guard-approved lifejacket on board per person. Children under the age of 13 must wear the lifejacket at all times, but adults must keep it within reach and easily accessible.

Kayakers must display lights at “low visibility times”

Between sunset and sunrise, or during periods of heavy fog or other low visibility conditions, kayaks (and all non-powered vessels) must display a white lantern, flashlight, or light. The light must be visible from 360-degrees for a minimum of two miles.

Kayakers are required carry a sound-producing device

One sound-producing device is required for every non-powered vessel. That includes an air horn or whistle.

Kayaks need to carry visual distress signals (VDS)

This is only when operating on the coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. On the Texas rivers and lakes, VDS are not required, but are recommended.

Any vessel over 16 feet in length (including kayaks) are required by law to carry at least one VDS during the day.

Kayakers absolutely can get a BWI 

Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) is a criminal offense in Texas. Anyone who is visibly impaired or suspected of operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol must submit to a test. If their Blood Alcohol Level is above 0.08%, they will receive a BWI.

Penalties for a BWI are:

  • A fine up to $2,000, a jail sentence up to 1 year, and suspension of driver’s license for 90 to 365 days on first offense.
  • A fine up to $4,000, a jail sentence from 3 to 180 days, and suspension of driver’s license for up to 3 years subsequent offenses.

If convicted of subsequent offenses, you may be required to install a vehicle ignition interlock device on your car, and may be required to abstain from drugs and alcohol entirely (enforced via drug and alcohol tests).

Kayaking in Texas FAQs

Padre Island National Seashore, Texas
Can you kayak any river in Texas?

Absolutely! As long as you are not trespassing on private property to reach the river, all of the Texas waterways (including lakes, rivers, and paddling trails) and coastal waters are legally accessible to kayakers. 

Can you drink on a kayak in Texas?

While it is illegal to be intoxicated while on a boat in Texas, you are legally allowed to drink and have open alcohol containers on a boat. This goes for both the passengers and operator of the boat. As long as you drink in moderation (and remain under the legal Blood Alcohol Level limit), it’s perfectly acceptable (and very common) to drink on a kayak in Texas.

Can you carry a gun on a kayak in Texas? 

Texas allows you to legally carry a concealed firearm in your watercraft, regardless of whether or not you have obtained a license to carry. You are legally allowed to carry weapons for kayaking hunting anywhere in Texas firearms are permitted.

How much is a ticket for no life jacket in Texas?

In Texas, if you violate the PFD regulations and fail to bring a life jacket on board with you (or have your kids wear them), the fine is between $25 and $500 (determined by the law enforcement official writing up the citation).

Andrew Peloquin

Andrew Peloquin

Andrew is a sports enthusiast, fitness nut, and avid kayaker and paddleboarder who loves nothing more than spending his free time out on the water. He spends his winters snowshoeing, snowboarding, and dreaming of summer days when he can take his beloved 14-footer fishing kayak out to explore the 1,000+ lakes and rivers within driving distance of his home in central British Columbia, Canada.

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