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Paddling in the Lone Star state

Hunter Harlow paddling in Texas

Paddling in the Lone Star state

BOTE Ambassador Hunter Harlow depicts the best places to hit the water in the Lone Star state! 

Tejas, cowboy hats and horses, barbeque plates as big as your head, pick-up trucks, the longest state to drive through ever… If this is what comes to mind when you think about Texas, then chances are you learned it from either a spaghetti Western or you’ve never gotten off the highway. But no matter what you think of it, Texas is a paddle boarder’s paradise.

hunter harlow paddling austin

Now I know what you’re thinking, if you’ve driven across Texas for your last spring break trip to Gulf Shores or to hit some powder in Colorado, you’ve never seen anything but dried up mud holes. Honestly, for the non-Texan, that’s probably a fair assessment of the Texas you’ve been exposed to. But for the rest of us, to quote my good friend Colonel Sanders: “Looks like mama’s wrong again!” From cypress swamps to hill country rivers, blue water to open lakes- we’ve got it all. Being some special kind of professional water bum, I’m here to divulge all such secrets…

trout fishing in texasDepending on which source you use, Texas has something like 10 distinct “eco-regions,” and each of these presents its own unique paddle boarding experience. The mecca of Texas paddle boarding is probably Central Texas, centered around Austin, our capital and an all around freakin’ sweet place to hang out. Daily you can find hundreds of folks out paddling on the 468-acre Lady Bird Lake reservoir on the Colorado River right through the middle of town. Take in the views of the skyline from the blue-green water, go ashore at Zilker Park for a game of frisbee, or take a detour up Barton Creek for some crystal clear glass. No motorized boats are allowed on the water, so it’s a great place to learn the basics of paddle boarding if you’re a beginner. Don’t limit yourself to just Lady Bird, though! Austin has a ton to offer in terms of paddling opportunities such as  Barton Creek, Pace Bend on Lake Travis, and all through the Greenbelt. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, head 30 minutes south to the Guadalupe River and hit a few miles on one of the coldest, clearest rivers Texas has to offer. Oh, and bring your fly rod, because there’s some decent sized rainbow trout. It’s actually the southernmost trout fishery in the U.S. I love the Guadalupe… Did I mention that Texas has trout?

paddle boarding in texas

If Austin’s off your radar, let’s go about 4 hours eastward into the sticks. Cypress knees, the occasional alligator, and hanging Spanish moss are the name of the game out here. Caddo Lake and Brazos Bend State Parks cover the northeast through the southeast. Navigate through a maze of sloughs, bayous, and ponds and take it all in from the vantage of your board. Bring a dry bag and a camera, because the lighting through the cypress and the reflection of the water might just turn you into the next big postcard photographer. People say there’s only two seasons in Texas- “hot and less hot.” Now I’m not saying that isn’t completely accurate, but check out the colors of this place in October and tell me it’s not awesome. For the explorers out there, hit a couple-day expedition and pack a hammock to sling up between two bald cypresses. Spending the night over water on a SUP journey is a rad experience.

Creek Exploring

Hunter Harlow holding drift nose of drift hunter harlow riding down creek hunt harlow drift paddling hunter harlow trout fishing

For those that are about the salt life, worry not because Texas has over 300 miles of coastline for you to explore. It’s really hard to narrow down the Gulf Coast into one type of paddle boarding, because they’re all different. We’ve got surf to grass flats and everything in between. If paddleboard surfing is your thing, catch a good swell at Surfside, Matagorda, or the North Jetty. But the best place to surf in Texas is hands down South Padre- because of ocean-shelf dynamics, wave kinetics, science stuff. Waves here are good year round, and you commonly get breaks above your head. Yes, all you surf snobs out there, Texas has some excellent surfing. You just have to basically drive to Mexico to get to it… 

galveston paddling

For the flat-water paddlers, the list of places to explore is endless. Here is my best advice for finding cool places for a coastal paddle sesh: load up, drive till you first find water, get out and paddle. Some of the most fun coastal trips I have been on have followed that recipe. But if you want to find some really special places, check out The Lighthouse and Mustang Island paddling trails. These areas have up to 10 miles of managed trails through head-high black mangrove islands, so mark your path, pack a lunch, and bring plenty of water. If you’re a fly fishing nut like me, keep your eye open for redfish. Sight casting to tailing reds from a paddle board on a crystal clear grass flat will give you a rush that borderlines on illegal. Trust me, it’s awesome. And for the bird watching enthusiasts out there, these areas host about 400 different species. Yes, you’re heron me right- bring your binoculars. Ok that was a hawkward joke, I might egret that one…

drift paddling in texas

A great resource to check out is the Texas Paddling Trails website managed by Texas Parks and Wildlife. It has each region broken down with managed paddling routes and maps of the trails so you can see all of the best waters in the Wild West. My best advice for creating awesome Texas paddle boarding memories: just get out there and go. Happy paddling.

By Hunter Harlow

Published on Friday, July 08, 2016 in Road Trippin', Stories