Located on the eastern tip of Texas lies Caddo Lake State Park. Imagine Cyprus trees dangling with Spanish Moss reflecting onto water so still it looks like a mirror. Whilst paddling in your canoe you see a ripple in the water. Was it a frog? A spider the size of your palm? Perhaps an alligator? No, it was a family of baby turtles jumping off a log! But don’t let your guard down just yet. Just because you didn’t see the gator doesn’t mean the gator didn’t see you. Read along for some tips on visiting Caddo Lake State Park, including reservations, camping, fishing, canoe rentals, and more!
The first time I saw a photo of the Texas swamps was a couple years ago and it was immediately put on the bucket list! There are swamps all over the southern United States but we took a detour to get to this particular spot. We also knew we wanted to paddle some of the 50+ miles of trails within Caddo Lake. First things first, where it’s located:
245 Park Road 2
Karnack, TX 75661
It’s located about 2.5 hours east of Dallas and approximately 4 hours from Houston. If traveling from the neighboring state of Louisiana, it’s only 45 minutes away from Shreveport.
We went during the summer of 2020, aka the summer of Covid. There was, and still currently is, a daily reservation requirement because of the pandemic. In my opinion, the reservation website isn’t the most user friendly and was pretty annoying to navigate. The camping permits had a few more steps than the day passes so I’ll start with the camping.
First, you’ll need to go to the website here
Then click “Make Reservations”. Proceed to type in the park you wish to enter. In this case, type “Caddo Lake State Park” and a pop-up should appear.
Choose that and then enter your preferred dates of travel as well as the type of “Pass” you’re interested in. i.e. day pass, camping, cabin, etc.
NOTE* We wanted to camp for one night, so I booked two day passes for Kevin and myselfp plus a campsite for one night. It was unclear to me that the camping price INCLUDED the day passes for us. They were very kind and refunded us the extra money we paid.*
Once you pick the type of reservation, dates, and number of days you’d like to stay, it will redirect you to an availability calendar.
For example, here’s a reservation request for a basic campsite for 2 nights.
Then pick the campsite that you want. There are sites with RV hookups, tent pads, and even cabins. When I booked ours, I just happened to pick campsite 065 at Mills Pond. The ranger said it was the best site there is, so we lucked out! It was the closet to the bathrooms (but still far enough to not get any gross bathroom stenches) and it was right on the water!
The view of our campsite from the water!
It appears that site 065 was unavailable for the random dates I selected for this example (beige=unavailable; blue=available), so if that happens, either pick different dates or a different campsite. Once you choose your dates/campsite, you’ll need to make an account. It’s an annoying process, I know.
Then enter your vehicle info and license plate number, if you are bringing one. It’ll also tell you to enter the amount of people at your site. After you agree to the Terms and Conditions, you’ll be brought to a page similar to this:
So there it is, the total for your campsite as well as entry fees per person.
As for a day pass reservation, the steps are similar.
1.Select Caddo Lake State Park
2.Choose “Day Pass”
3.Select number of days you will be going.
4.Select available date (s)
5.Enter Vehicle type/license plate number + number of people
It’s not too-too complicated, just kind of a long process. Make sure that you have service if you’re doing it from your phone!
The site says that you can buy a day pass at the park but we did it beforehand because we didn’t have flexible dates and it was high season.
Now that all of that is over with...
Day Pass: $4/person over the age of 13
Basic Campsite w/ water: $10/night per site + $4 day pass fee.
2 nights = $20
2 day passes X 2 adults = $16
TOTAL = $36
Texas State Park Pass: $70
Unlimited access to 80+ Texas State Parks
Screened Shelter: $25
Group Hall: $200
Campsite Full RV Hookup: $20/night + $4 day pass fee.
Campsite Electric: $15/night + $4 day pass fee.
Cabin: $40-$115 + $4 day pass fee.
*all campsites/reservations require the $4 day pass*
We found the most amazing rental company! They were absolutely wonderful and accommodated our schedule tremendously.
Riverbend Outfitters, LLC
A couple by the names of Jerry and Kristi Thomas own the company and they are just the absolute sweetest. I called the day we were going to arrive and she text me back within 30 minutes or so. I’m unsure about their brick and mortar location since they were so kind to deliver the canoe to our campsite! How amazing is that?!
They pretty much just asked us which campsite we had and they delivered it right to us, shortly after we arrived.
The whole process was kind of informal but sooo easy and personalized.
Double canoe for a full day: $75
Double canoe half day: $60
Single kayak full day: $60
Single kayak half day: $50
We chose the double canoe for a full day. I emailed her the information of our campsite, sent her a payment over PayPal, and then they met us at our campsite with a giant canoe being towed behind their pickup!
The also left us life jackets, oars, and a lock and key. The following day when we left, we simply secured the boat to a tree so they could come pick it up. It was great because they weren’t strict on the timing of the rental. They were extremely laid back with the process. To be honest, they couldn’t have made it any easier.
They provided a laminated map, which we personally had a difficult time reading because the swamps were ginormous, with difficult to see trail markers.
We ended up following the map as best as we could but we mainly just paddled around the river. The shoreline of some of Bayou isn’t well defined, which makes the trail hard to spot.
We entered the water right at our campsite which was extremely convenient since we set off on a sunrise mission for photography reasons.
If you do not have a campsite, a place by the name of Blackwater Jack’s RV Park is supposedly a good place to launch from. It provides access to three popular trails. We didn’t personally go to this RV park but I’m sure it’s an excellent option.
All in all, our experience with Riverbend Outfitters was flawless.
GO WITH THIS COMPANY! YOU WILL NOT REGRET IT!
It was extremely hot and humid while we were there, so make sure to pack some water with you if you go out for the day. A concern that I had was what to do if I needed to go to the restroom... I never needed to find out luckily, but I’m still not sure what the solution to that would be.
I also packed a little bag with some snacks since we were going to be out there for a few hours.
And of course check the weather before you head out! It can be difficult to paddle against the current and can also take twice as long. So definitely account for that if you’re out on the river near dark. It can get spooky out there!
Other things to do:
Fishing is very popular here. I don’t personally partake in this particular activity but I do know that you do NOT need a fishing license to fish from shore in a state park!
Here is some info/rules on the fishing regulations on Caddo Lake.
Hiking trails are an option if you’re unable to explore by boat. There is about .25 miles of ADA accessible trails within the park.
- Only swim in designated areas!
-Do not feed or approach them. This is a standard, across the board rule when in nature. Do not have contact with wild animals! Plus you can be charged with a $500 fine from the state park.
-They’re most active at dusk/dawn.
Here is a more in depth list of do’s and don’ts provided by the state park
Just use some common sense. As the site says, keep your kids and pets nearby. Don’t approach an alligator if you see one. Only get in the water during the day. I personally wouldn’t get in the water but that’s just me haha. And as usual, don’t bother baby gators! If there are any type of baby animal in the wild, use EXTREME caution because the mama is always nearby... who will do anything to protect her young.
Birds: There are dozens of different bird species there if bird watching is your thing. I’m sure we saw a few different kind but the one that stood out the most was the Snow Goose. They were so beautiful! Their white coloring gave the most beautiful contrast to the dark colors of the swamp. They would glide just above the water. It was very cool.
Alligators: Of course there are alligators there but we didn’t see any unfortunately. I’ll include some alligator safety tips for you.
Turtles: We saw a family of turtles sitting on a log in the water! They were so cute but they jumped in shortly after we spotted them.
I’ve read that there are also squirrels, beavers, snakes, armadillos, and deer but we didn’t see any of those either.
Also, at nighttime you will hear more insect and animal noises than you ever have! It was unbelievable how many sounds were coming from the dark trees around us. So if you’re sleeping in a tent, be prepared to fall asleep to the sounds of crickets, frogs, and bugs.
All in all, Caddo Lake is one of the most unique places we've visited in the U.S. We're not from the south so we didn’t grow up around swamps and marshes but nonetheless, it’s sooo cool. It was something that I’d only seen in movies. I highly recommend you checking it out, and BRING BUG SPRAY!