Clear Lake Paddling Trail, Big Cypress Bayou, Karnack

Each October, the Dallas Down River Paddling Club host a wonderful, family friendly event on Caddo Lake called Caddoween!  

Our first Caddoween was in 2006, almost a year after getting our “family” canoe for Christmas.  We arrived at Caddo Lake, which sits on the Texas/Louisiana border and loaded up our canoe with camping equipment and our 2 children, ages 6 and 5, and paddled out to Goat Island, where we joined the rest of the club for dutch oven cookoffs, pumpkin carving contest and zilching by a huge bonfire!  It was amazing!

The next year, I found myself back out at Caddoween 8 months pregnant.  We returned the 2 following years, baby in tow, then took a few years hiatus as it was relocated to Oklahoma because of drought one year and flooding the next.


This year was our first year back, although it was once again relocated due to the Salvinia which has made access to Goat Island impossible.  The new location was on Caddo Lake at Backwater Jack’s RV park.  The park sits right on Big Cypress Bayou, which is beautiful, and as the name implies, lined with Cypress trees!  The park offers full service RV sites, and primitive camping sites.  In addition to a boat ramp, they also rent canoes to use on the four Texas Parks and Wildlife Paddling Trails accessible from the park.


Unfortunantly, we didn’t arrive until late Saturday evening, missing almost all the day’s events except trick or treating from hauntily decorated campsite to campsite.  My kiddos filled their bags and we enjoyed our friend Amy’s yummy Pumpkin Crunch, which took first place in the desert division of the Dutch Oven Cookoff!

We settled in for the night, just as a storm blew in.  Of course, the kids slept right through the thunder and lightening and trickling water puddling in one corner of our tent!  I stayed up reading until the wee hours of the morning (Allegiant by Veronica Roth and it was fantastic/terrible) when the storm passed.


In the morning, we dried out our tent, and after breakfast set out for the Clear Lake Paddling Trail located just across the bayou from Blackwater Jack’s.  Several of the club members had paddled it the day before, and said how lovely it was!   My husband had stayed home because of work, so since it was just me and the kids, and I don’t do trailers very well, we brought only our canoe for this trip (my older children each have their own kayaks).


Old cypress trees crowd the trail.  We paddled along slowly, allowing plenty of time for me to take pictures, watch the numerous birds in the trees and fish splashing in the water around us!


My normally loud children became subdued as we drifted along, amazed by the beautiful fall colors all around us!


The trail suddenly opens up onto a beautiful lake, from which the trail gets it’s name.  We watched a large woodpecker in a tree, and ducks in the water.  We skirted along the sides of the lake, just enjoying being there!


Caddo Lake is the only natural lake in Texas, sitting on the Red River.  The nearby town of Jefferson was once a thriving port, with boats coming from St. Louis and New Orleans on the river to trade.  A huge log jam was removed in 1873, lowering the river level and making river travel unfeasible.


Caddo Lake is also home to the world’s largest cypress forest!


Although alligators call Caddo Lake, and much of Texas home, we didn’t see any.


Signs mark the trail.


End of the trail.  Here we turned around and headed back.  It’s about 3.7 miles roundtrip.


We were the only ones on the trail that morning, and it was so peaceful!  This is a terrific trail for new enthusiast, because most of the trail was not any deeper than my paddle.  We were close enough to walk back to the bayou, just across from the RV park, or for someone to hear us if we had a problem and blew our Texas Parks and Wildlife required whistle!


The paddling was easy, too!  It’s slow travel because of the low water, submerged logs and tight spaces, which meant I did most of the paddling myself in our weighed down canoe.  It took us about 1.5 hours for the entire trip.

My Mommy Tips:

  • Life Jackets are required for EVERYONE on the boat.  Anyone under 12 must wear their jacket, and at least one adult must wear a jacket when accompanied by children under 12.
  • Use a natural or DEET free mosquito repellent, it’s a very sensitive ecosystem.
  • Don’t forget binoculars for little ones to keep them busy (and still).

Things To Do in (near) Karnack



The Graceful Ghost paddle wheel takes guest on a 1.5 hour tour of the bayou.

Following our lunch, we headed out to Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge.  Please click HERE to continue reading.  Thanks!!


Big Pines Lodge

After our paddling trip, we were ready for one of our favorite restaurants, Big Pines Lodge in Karnack!


Located on Big Cypress Bayou, the restaurant can be accessed from car or boat!  We enjoyed sitting outside on the patio, and the kids enjoyed running around!  I’ve never been disappointed in their catfish, and their jalapeno hushpuppies are one of my favorites!!


Our waitress was amazing, and my kid’s also loved the FREE ice cream!


Caddo Lake State Park sits just around the corner from Big Pines Lodge, with a boat ramp and access to Big Cypress Bayou.  There is also a hiking trail, a paddling trail and a fishing pier on Saw Mill Pond.  You do not need a fishing license for Saw Mill Pond, but you will on Big Cypress Bayou.  They offer tent and RV camping, as well as some cute little log cabins!


Clear Lake Paddling Trail on Big Cypress Bayou  

Put In: Backwater Jack’s 621 Longs Camp Rd. Karnack 

Click HERE to visit their website.    

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