The pictures that I’ve seen from Caddo Lake State Park have always been so striking. The moss hanging down ever so delicately from the Bald Cypress trees growing up from the water like nature’s curtains.
It was a trip that I’ve been wanting to do for quite some time, but with the reservation system in place, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to find an opening. Deciding I would take some time off from work to travel, I was happy to see that mid-week was a great opportunity for time off, but also to schedule a three-day trip to east Texas.
Living near Bastrop, Texas has allowed me to learn about the east Texas pines in a roundabout way. You see, the state park in Bastrop is known for its Lost Pines. Pine trees that found their way to central Texas somehow, towering above the locals, and fighting to keep their presence felt.
The loblolly pines grow high in the sky here, too. And seeing them in their original home brings flashes of images of smoke and fire from Bastrop.
At half-capacity, there were even fewer visitors around, so it was quiet on my visit. If you sat still you could hear the wind blowing through the pines and the wood creaking. The squirrels running around gathering acorns and burying them into piles in the ground. And on occasion, you could hear the pinecones falling and hitting the pine needles on the forest floor.
The trees block the sun at a lot of parts of the park, and so while sitting at the campsite it was always a shade darker. The colors of fall were creeping through, and the bronze, gold, and browns had a deeper contrast to the greens of the pine needles on the darkened surrounding.
I was staying at the Mill Pond campsite. The only site that’s for tents exclusively. There are cabins here, and the majority of the remaining sites are to accommodate RV’ers. This park is much smaller than I anticipated when I originally looked at the map, but nothing feels like it’s too close together here.
It’s deep into east Texas, and off of the main road, tucked away behind a towering wall that greets you, and leads you down a curved road to the main office.
The headquarters is a petite building next to the pine trees, and a historical marker awaits you at the parking spaces in front. Old Town of Port Caddo, the sign reads, “Ancestral home of the Texas Caddo Indians, this region gained a distinctive character in the 19th century”. The sign continues to describe the area in and around this park and notates how important this area was as a port for the towns, Jefferson and Marshall.
After grabbing my souvenirs and having a chat with the park employees I made my way to the site. The roads are lined with trees, and the sun fights for top billing. Carving your way around the park you’ll come to see the former Civilian Conservation Corps barracks that have been converted to the cabins along with the playground, and the CCC-built recreation hall.
You’ll then hit the one-way loop that takes you towards the boat dock on Big Cypress Bayou and then continues past Saw Mill Pond and onto the remaining campsites.
Each campsite had sporadic guests, and they each looked up with a half-smile as I passed. The air was crisp as the wind blew gently on my face as I looked out of my window while driving to admire the small villages made at each campsite.
Everyone bringing their uniqueness to their temporary homes. Vivid colors of tents, and hammocks, and kayaks adorning tops of vehicles including my own.
After setting up camp I set up my Coleman two-burner propane stove (affiliate) and started to work on dinner. My first reaction was that it was nice to not have to juggle the attention of raccoons while trying to get organized. At Tyler S.P. there was a constant barrage of them that would hang around, and even though I was generally in the same part of Texas, I never saw a single one.
I was in campsite 49, and mere steps away from the kayak launch and fishing pier. I was originally hoping to make reservations with a nearby outfitter to take me out on the water for a guided boat tour, but as I walked closer to the pond I was happy I never received an email back.
I had a sneak peek driving into my campsite, but only after walking out onto the T-shaped pier did my childish grin grow on my face.
Immediately noticeable were the bald cypress trees being struck at an angle by the slowly setting sun. The moss dangling from each one, and the dark brown water reflecting orange.
Off in the distance in every direction, you could see birds floating low across the water, pivoting through the closely connected trees. I leaned on the frame of the pier, crossing my arms, and looked at the water below. Murky with a sheen, a film so to speak on sections of the water, but bubbling, literally, with wildlife just below the surface.
Suddenly a man on a boat comes motoring into the pond from the adjacent bayou, and noticing I have my camera out, cuts the motor a bit and spins his boat around creating a wave behind his boat. He comes to a complete stop now in the opposite direction and kicked his motor back on to head back in the direction from which he just came.
I can’t stop staring.
I’m in awe of the beauty of this little pond and take a moment of gratitude for the opportunity.
I walk back to my campsite to grab my fly rod and try and steal the last bit of sunshine to try and catch a fish. After a few small panfish, I decide to head back to camp and start settling in for the night.
Now I want to make something clear.
I’m an Astros fan, and while I was visiting this park the team I’ve been watching since 1986 was back in the postseason. While tumultuous, if your team makes it to the playoffs, it’s important to support. And because I was hoping that this place had decent cell service (it does) I brought some additional technology to watch my favorite team before bed. I got to fall asleep after seeing them bring home a ‘W’.
The other reason I was trying to make a reservation to go out on the boat is that I had learned that the park was not renting out kayaks and canoes at the time of my arrival due to the pandemic.
I was able to borrow one from my friend Adam and bring it with me to enjoy. So the following morning getting out on the kayak was first on the agenda after breakfast.
Things were on a bit of a time crunch for me on day two because while obsessing about the weather to see what to pack I noticed that this day was to expect a chance of rain. As the day went on though, the rain chances kept being delayed slightly later and later into the day, but I didn’t want to take any chances.
Got up, ate breakfast, got the kayak, and carried it over to the launch. Dragging it into the mud a bit I sat in and gently placed my backpack with my camera gear in between my legs and leaned the top of it on my lap. I pushed off with each side of the oar and into the cypress trees.
Lilly pads adorned the top of the pond, and you could see turtles swimming alongside. The croaks of frogs could be heard from the distance. By this point, additional people were above over on the pier, though they became smaller as I paddled away from them.
Multiple paddling trails start from this location, so check into what’s available if you want to make that part of your next visit. And to clarify, the water that you access from the state park isn’t Caddo Lake. You’re not anywhere near the actual lake via a kayak. I mean, one could muscle their way towards it, but I don’t have the skillset for that. Instead, I pushed my way along the water, through the cypress trees, and out onto the Big Cypress Bayou.
With a wider opening, the sun was much brighter on my face heading into the bayou but quickly went behind as I made my decision to go west. The bridge that I could hear overnight from my tent was going to be my destination, but for now, I would paddle in its direction and just admire the view.
The houses on the water along the way reminded me that I was not entirely desolate. There is a nearby neighborhood, a public boat dock, and plenty of wildlife along the bayou. I was especially happy to see a blue heron perched on the bank of the bayou that waited for me to approach and get a better look.
Checked the time and decided it was best to head back.
Being obsessive doesn’t just mean I’m tapping the doorknob three times before locking it or touching my hat three times before adjusting it on my head. For some people that can be the case, but for my obsessions, sometimes it’s just thinking about something so often and frequently that my mind isn’t free to think about anything else.
The weather had gotten into my head, and I wanted to be mindful of it for two reasons. Mainly because the activities I wanted to do would not be as enjoyable in the rain. Kayaking, fishing, hiking are not intended to be best enjoyed in this manner. Additionally, I wasn’t sure if my tent would manage in the rain as I had yet to experience it thus far.
I couldn’t get past the time frame of the weather forecast that I kept checking on my phone. And even while it was getting pushed to later in the day I still wanted to keep an eye on it.
Kayaking is done now time to fish.
I revisited the fishing pier and tried another go at fishing.
The thing about fishing around people who aren’t also fishing is that when people see what you’re doing they want to ask how you’re doing. “Catch any fish yet?” “How’re the fishing biting?” I’m not ungrateful for the conversation, but it is a bit distracting. Not as distracting as the couple I saw in the opposite direction back on the road leading into where I was standing.
A lady in a lovely white dress covered in oversized roses was standing in the middle of the road while her husband was yelling direction queues to her from a distance. At least I hope that’s what he was yelling as I couldn’t understand what language they were speaking.
When they were done they stepped onto the opposite end of the pier, and I caught a glimpse of them as I was looking at the end of my fly line tail behind me.
Moments later I hear them both talking to each other as they are walking in my direction.
He repeatedly apologized worried he was bothering me and snapped what seemed like 100 pictures of the pond with a laughably large camera lens.
When a parent and child floated towards us he called to them and asked them if they could paddle synchronously. After they looked at him with a smile as to ask, ‘are you serious?’ he asked again and they obliged. He chirped back, “thank you so much” and got onto the pier on his belly and snapped away.
He thanked them again and they continued to float towards the launch. After apologizing to me once more I thought it best to get out of his way and pack up the fly rod for the afternoon. I had some rain to beat after all.
I knew that if it rained that hiking the next day might be problematic. So during lunch back at the campsite, I battled with whether or not it was going to be worth it to hike. Deciding that it was best to hurry and eat, I pulled out my bread from the ice chest to quickly realize that at some point while draining the water, the ice melt had seeped into my bread, and made all of it soggy down one side.
No worries I thought, I’ll just go to the sealed protein package I grabbed at the grocery store.
When I grabbed that container, the clouded water was causing the grapes to float around, and the crackers were starting to dismantle. Thankfully the hard-boiled egg was sealed separately, so that along with a sandwich made with half slices of bread were the fuel I needed to go ahead and hit the trail.
The trail system at Caddo Lake state park is simple but offers some good views of the east Texas landscape. You have the Caddo Forest Trail(.7 mi.), Pine Ridge Spur(.2 mi.), Pine Ridge Loop(.7mi.), and the CCC Cut-through trail(.2mi.).
From the pond, you’ll see the stone staircase of the CCC cut-through trail that leads up into the forest. There are two staircases here, so you can go either way, but this trail is the connector for getting onto the main paths here.
On the Caddo Forest Trail, you’ll see two points of interest: The CCC Pavilion and stone pillars that help to support a bridge. There are a lot of footbridges here that cross over the various creeks at the park, so plenty of great infrastructures to admire.
The pavilion was tucked away into the trees and a great representation of the way they designed the park structures. They intended for these fixtures to not intrude on the visual experience, so a lot of them should blend in. The building was open on all sides but felt long-time abandoned.
As you continue on you’ll eventually hit the parking lot for the boat launch, so as you loop around here you’ll get back on the trail towards the Pine Ridge Loop.
Heading in this direction brought the first signs of drizzle and a slight change in plant life. The tall trees started to make way for shrubs adorned with purple berries that popped against the dim lighting.
This trail had walkways that seemed to be on the edge of a hill, with deeper valleys on your side with multiple sections of running water through the park.
As my pace quickened I tried to admire the sounds of the forest, but time was running out, and the water droplets were gaining weight.
The rain began to fall as I reached my tent and got inside. Tightly clutching my gear like I was preparing for a brutal storm, the sheets of water began to shadow above on my rainfly.
The drops echoing in the tent, and as the wind blew stronger I zipped the front of the tent closed and lay my head down on my bed.
The wind was changing temperature, and the sound of trickling rain was causing my eyes to become heavy, and after a short nap, I awoke to a different sound of water. Not a constant downpour, but a sporadic tapping of droplets.
I inspected the floor around me, and noting how much sand I’ve brought inside, I also breathed a sigh as there wasn’t any water.
After longer than necessary I decided to open my tent and step outside. The droplets I was hearing were not the rain, but the water falling from the saturated pine needles up above. The ground was surprisingly dry as the sand had absorbed most of the water. This was the same experience at Bastrop state park. The irrigation of the ground there was superb, so nothing around me was muddy at all.
With moisture on the ground, the mosquitos were starting their assault, and I knew that was one thing to remember to bring for next time. I decided to take a drive to the convenience store next to the park and grab some bug spray, and maybe a treat for dinner.
The small store was right next to the entrance of the park. It was a short building with plant life growing on its facade. The moss, leaves, and vines were growing on the walls on all sides.
There were two cars parked to one side, but the windows were so dark it was hard to tell if it was open. Even with the faded sign in the door, I still wasn’t sure until I grabbed the door handle and pulled it towards me.
A petite lady greeted me from behind the counter, and her daughter was staring at her laptop on a small round table to my right. As I looked around I couldn’t help but notice how bare the shelves looked. They also looked like they haven’t been wiped down in ages.
I asked for bug spray, placed it on the counter, and looked for a soda for later. When I walked back to the counter I inquired about ice, and as I laid my card on the wooden counter she informed me they did not accept cards.
She did recommend another convenience store down the road, so off I went down Highway 43 to the Run-In gas station.
This shop was a bit brighter and had more guests. Half with masks, and the rest seemingly unaware of the global pandemic. I had mine on, so I picked up what I needed and drove around a bit killing time.
I drove over the bridge that I had kayaked under earlier in the morning but noticed immediately that the loud sound from the middle of the bridge that’s made of metal can only be heard when you’re under it.
Driving on the road in no particular direction I couldn’t help but notice how open it felt. The roads went into other towns just on the other side of the tree line, and Louisiana was a mere 15 minutes east.
The light was shifting, and I was running low on gas, so I headed back to camp deciding to wait until tomorrow to fill up the tank.
With the sunset, I made my way back to the fishing pier to snap some final pictures of the bald cypress trees, and the objects that were laying around the ground by the road. The silver canoes stacked up in the corner were covered in debris having not been used for quite some time.
The rental booth was unoccupied, but the window that guests can pay the attendant was left open. I’m guessing so bugs can come and go as they please.
It never seemed to me that any more people were showing up. Cars would park, people would get out and disappear into the water, and I’d never see them again.
The only couple I saw multiple times were the two folks that were camped two spots over from me. They had a fluffy dog that they walked past my campsite on multiple occasions.
I wanted to take it all in before nightfall because I wanted to get up early and get on the road.
With minutes left of the sun, I hurried to my car and grabbed my fly rod to try and fish once more.
After swapping out multiple flies I decided to settle in for the night and check in on my sports team.
Another win, and a quick chat with my family before it was time for bed.
The Pileated Woodpeckers are much larger than you think when you see them up close. The tapping sound into the wood can be heard from all around the park, and the morning of my departure was no different.
After eating breakfast and packing up the vehicle I said adieu to the park and made my journey back home.
If you want to visit for the day the entrance fee is $4/adults-13. Anyone younger is free.
For lodging, the 6-person cabins are $115/night, and 4-person are $95/night. They also have cabins for two people ($75/night) and ones without restrooms, ($40/night).
Additional camping information for Caddo Lake state park can be found on the official website here.
A printable hiking map is available here: https://tpwd.texas.gov/publications/pwdpubs/media/park_maps/pwd_mp_p4508_0029j.pdf
If you’d like to learn more about my state park recaps you can view them by clicking this link
Caddo Lake State Park Map:
What to do nearby:
If you’re heading to the park just know it’s pretty sparse nearest to the park, but there are a handful of different places you can visit for tours of the water, eat, and other places to explore. Johnson’s Ranch Marina, Big Pines Lodge for food, and the Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge are places to add to your travel list while you’re in the area.
Drive a little farther and visit the birthplace of Lady Bird Johnson. Great way to add some Texas history to your journey. More information here.
If you want to learn more about the Caddo tribe, head to the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site.