It seems like kayaks are popping up everywhere: in magazine ads, TV commercials, fashion outlets and travel booking websites. Kayaks are no longer just associated with camping and sport utility vehicles, either. People have figured out that yes, you can carry a kayak on top of a sedan. And how cool is it to work in an office with a photo backdrop of a boathouse, with kayaks as props? There is no denying that kayaking is one of the hottest trends around right now.
That said, while many people imagine themselves peacefully paddling across a misty lake or zipping through whitewater rapids in a brightly colored kayak, not as many actually take up the sport. For some, it’s about not having a boat or knowing how to get started. For others, it’s about not knowing where to go.
Fortunately, there are a lot of good nearby kayaking options for novices and experienced paddlers alike. No boat? No problem. Many of the places in this article have inexpensive rentals and people who will outfit you with a life jacket (also known as a personal floatation device or“PFD”) and get you started with some basic paddling techniques. Park rangers and marina personnel are also invaluable for providing maps and information about paddling conditions, which can make your trip safer and more enjoyable.
As daytime temperatures begin dropping below the 90s, fall is the perfect time to get out on the water. So let’s get started!
While it may seem like a given to start with Huntsville State Park, you’d be surprised by how many people don’t know there is a 210-acre lake in the middle of it and that boat rentals of all kinds – from kayaks and canoes to paddleboats – are plentiful. The boathouse opens around 10 a.m. on most days, but call ahead or ask the ranger at the front desk, because boat rental hours shift periodically. If you have your own kayak, you can launch anytime at the boat ramp.
Lake Raven itself is a sparkling jewel situated within a girdle of tall pines. The size is almost perfect for kayaking: large enough to offer some intriguing inlets to explore, but small enough that the waves are manageable even on breezy days. The woods along the shoreline offer shade and a multitude of birds and other wildlife to enjoy. You can even take a swim if the day gets too warm!
Unlike the central and southern parts of the lake, which are wide open and more suited to power boats, the northern section is surrounded by the Sam Houston National Forest and offers calmer waters that can be great for kayaking. If you’re in need of a rental, the North Lake Conroe Paddling Company in Willis offers kayak and paddleboard rentals in a sheltered cove right on the national forest boundary. If you’re a less experienced paddler, the protection of the cove offers a great place to get more comfortable on the water.
If you have your own boat and enjoy more adventurous paddles in wild places, the Stubblefield Lake Recreation Area located just north of Lake Conroe may intrigue you. It is surrounded by the national forest and offers very little in the way of facilities, but it’s big on peace and natural beauty. Wildlife sightings are common here, including deer, alligators, egrets, herons, osprey, and (if you’re lucky) bald eagles. Taking a GPS on your paddle is a good idea here, as there are numerous channels to explore in and around the immediate area and heading towards Lake Conroe.
Note: Hurricane Harvey damaged the bridge that connects the western and eastern parts of the recreation area, so be sure to come in from the east on Stubblefield Lake Road (from FM 1374) if you want to be able to reach the boat ramp without going the long way around.
Most people think of The Woodlands as a retail shopping destination. It’s where you start to feel a real city vibe, even if the abundance of trees intentionally left standing make it one of the greenest suburbs of Houston. Right in the heart sits Lake Woodlands, which is easy to get to off I-45.
A manmade lake, Lake Woodlands feeds into the Woodlands Waterway that runs through the commercial district. One of the benefits to paddling newcomers and families with young children is the lake’s absence of alligators. It is not bereft of wildlife, however. Great Blue Herons stand at attention on its banks, like guardians of the lake, while ducks paddle around on the water. Snowy white egrets nest in the pines in undeveloped areas and catch their dinner along the shoreline.
On one side of the lake, close to Market Street and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, is Riva Row Boathouse. This is the perfect place for a first-time kayaker (and a good date spot too, especially if there is a concert at the Pavilion, since the music can be heard from the water) to rent a boat. Novice paddlers can get used to paddling in a channel that runs between the boathouse and the main body of the lake. On the other side of the lake is Northshore Park, home to the Rowing Club of the Woodlands. It has a boat ramp and dock next to a small sandy “beach” and a large playground, a perfect place from which to launch your own boat.
Harmon Creek Marina is situated just west of Riverside, where the creek is nearing its intersection with the Trinity River. In addition to kayak rentals and a boat launch, the marina features bank fishing, small cabins, plus RV & tent camping sites.
Absent recent rains, flow on the creek here is minimal, and the water level is tied to levels in the Trinity River and Lake Livingston. If the level is high enough, you can choose to paddle either upstream or down. The upstream channel is fairly narrow and shallow, with a sandy bottom. The banks are lined with a mix of hardwoods and pines, with a few houses scattered along the way. If you head the other direction, the creek widens considerably as it winds pasts a series of sloughs, under the FM 980 bridge, and eventually reaches the Trinity a little more than three miles downstream.
White Rock Creek – White Rock City Marina
Another area creek that offers good paddling, for those with their own boat, is White Rock Creek, which flows from east of Crockett southward into the upper end of Lake Livingston. White Rock City Marina in Trinity offers access to the southern end of the creek, as well as RV sites and camping. A free alternative, with no facilities, would be the public boat ramp located just upstream where TX-94 crosses the creek. Like Harmon Creek, there is often very little current here, allowing you to do “round-trip” paddles on the creek without needing a shuttle.
Upstream from the marina and just beyond the highway bridge, you’ll paddle past a few houses and fishing camps, but beyond that the creek runs for miles through sparsely populated and mostly wooded country. There are birds and other wildlife to observe and frequent side channels to explore as you make your way north.
Downstream from the marina, the creek opens up and soon meanders its way into the lake. The folks at White Rock City will tell you that a canal you’ll pass along the way south is known for extremely large alligators. If they are bigger than the one we saw on the upstream side, they must be large indeed! So you might want to make sure you’re comfortable sharing the water with our reptile friends before you venture into these waters.
Most have websites and can be found using Google Maps. Call to confirm hours and boat rental availability.
Huntsville State Park
565 Park Road 40 West
Huntsville, TX 77340
Riva Row Boat House
2101 Riva Row
The Woodlands, TX 77380
2505 Lake Woodlands Dr
The Woodlands, TX 77380
North Lake Conroe Paddling Company
13988 Calvary Rd
Willis, TX 77318
Harmon Creek RV Park & Marina
14 Marina Point Dr
Huntsville, TX 77320
White Rocky City Marina
819 White Rock City Road
Trinity, TX 75862