This section of the Neches River is located along the Houston, Angelina, Trinity, and Polk Counties boundaries adjacent to Davy Crockett National Forest, northeast of Houston and southeast of Dallas. The 40 mile trip takes three to four days for most paddlers at normal flows and can take an additional day or more at low water levels, though it can be run faster by a small group of capable paddlers. And it is a trip that can be safely enjoyed by paddlers of most skill levels as long as you are prepared for the wilderness because there is nothing manicured about the Neches River. It still looks largely as it did hundreds of years ago, and that is a large part of its beauty and attraction for those who want to get off the beaten path and follow "the road less traveled by" where you will not find commercial outfitters and throngs of loud, noisy people playing bumper boats and blaring headbanger noise all the way down the river. In fact, you will probably see nobody who is not in your group.
The Neches is a very twisting river with many sharp turns, logjams, strainers and dead-end channels, any of which can become hazards or obstacles for boaters and boats. It is also a very braided river, meaning there are a lot of channel choices, but the best choice is usually to follow the widest channel because some of the others may not lead where you want to go. Flow is primarily dependent upon runoff from recent local rainfall, though some flow will be affected by releases from Lake Palestine about 32 miles above. The river is a little wider, more open and very scenic that above as it winds its way through heavily forested banks of Pine, Oak, Sweetgum and Cypress trees with a rich abundance of wildlife. The river offers paddling opportunities for boaters of all skill levels provided you take into consideration the slow flow, occasional difficulties in access to and from the river and logjams which may need to be portaged, though there will probably be fewer than above SH 7. And camping may require climbing up an embankment of 2 - 3 feet to find suitable accommodations for a night, or you may find a gradient bank with an easy landing and short carry up to where you want to place your tents. Firewood is abundant - just please don't burn down the forest!
One word of caution - this river run can be longer or shorter than stated herein depending upon water level and the lines you choose to take. In higher water conditions options open up that can shorten a trip ... or get you lost in a maze of forested river where every tree looks the same. Generally, stick to the main channel and you should be fine. Personally, I use a GPS with my take-out coordinates saved to help me track to that point if lost in a river jungle.
Typical of East Texas rivers, the water will be a lot cleaner than it looks due to tannic acid from decomposing trees discoloring the water to give it a brown tint. This same tannic acid also colors things like snakes so that they blend in really well, and it is possible that you may encounter water moccasins, copperheads, broadbanded or banded watersnakes, or other species that have a brown/tan hue to them. Just remember that they are small and they don't eat much. They will avoid humans in most cases if at all possible so they don't end up as a belt, wallet or hatband.
A few small towns sit nearby, but the area is largely undeveloped. Paddlers will feel the remoteness of the Neches as they journey through a land mostly unchanged by modern progress. However, there are numerous historical and interesting sites to visit nearby including the reservation of the Alabama-Coushatta Nation, Mission Tejas State Historical Park with a replica of the original Spanish Mission San Francisco de los Tejas, Davy Crockett, Sam Houston and Angelina National Forests and the Big Thicket National Preserve, among many others. Be sure to take a camera! And please leave the forest cleaner than you found it.
Houston, Angelina, Trinity, and Polk Counties in the Deep East Texas piney woods, northeast of Houston and southeast of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
Lufkin 15 miles; Dallas 147 miles; Fort Worth 177 miles; Waco 182 miles; Austin 210 miles; San Antonio 290 miles; Houston 140 miles; Oklahoma City 325 miles (all distances are approximate, measured from the State Highway 7 put-in, and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
Murky and brown from tannic acid, but considered safe for human contact and recreational uses. Generally, this section of the Neches is very scenic and of high quality for canoe-camping trips.
The Neches is a year-round stream, though it will be lower and slower in hot summer months. Winter paddling will require preparations for cold days and colder nights (on the ten or fifteen days of winter we have in Texas.)
The only potential hazards to be found on this section of the Neches River are the occasional log jams created by downed trees along the banks. Low water and hot summertime temperatures, as well as an abundance of hungry mosquitos, can be considered hazards. Snakes may be seen in spring and summer months, but they are usually docile and will leave you alone if you leave them alone.
SH 7 Access (N 31° 23' 49.65" / W 094° 57' 53.99") on the east side of the highway about 12 miles west of Lufkin and 27 miles northeast of Crockett at 0.0 miles; Possible access (N 31° 21' 35.97" / W 094° 56' 59.28") on river left at end of unnamed road at about 5.1 miles; TPWD boat ramp on Cochino Bayou (right side) at about miles (this access point has not been confirmed); SH 94 crossing (N 31° 17' 19.76" / W 094° 53' 02.71") 8 miles west of Lufkin on river right above the bridge at about 18.5 miles; Holly Bluff Campground Access (N 31° 12' 03.66" / W 094° 51' 45.70") on river left at about 30.4 miles; CR 69 Access (N 31° 11' 00.42" / W 094° 51' 08.30") at a sand bar on river left at the end of the road at about 32.2 miles; Road 510B (possible) Access (N 31° 10' 21.66" / W 094° 51' 18.60") on river right at the end of the road at about 33.3 miles; US 59 Bridge (N 31° 07' 58.69" / W 094° 48' 37.45") about 3 miles south of Diboll on either side (a wildlife boat ramp is located on the Polk County side) before the bridge at about 40.0 miles.
Holly Bluff Campground Access (N 31° 12' 03.66" / W 094° 51' 45.70") on river left at about 30.4 miles; Neches Bluff Campground, a U.S. Forest Service facility, located on a tall bluff on river right, accessible from Forest Road 511, about 1 mile off SH 21, offers primitive camping; Ratcliff Lake Recreation Area (409-544-2046) in Davy Crockett National Forest offers 75 campsites, cold showers, flush toilets, RV sites, dump station, group camping area, concessions and other amenities; Ratcliff Lake offers improved campsites close to the put-in and take-out points; Mission Tejas State Historical Park (409-687-2394) has 15 campsites, restrooms, showers, water, electricity, picnic pavilion, group camping area, RV dump station and other amenities just northwest of the SH 21 put-in; There are numerous natural primitive campsites on USFS land along the west side (river right) in Davy Crockett National Forest and on sandbars in and by the river. Alabama Creek Wildlife Management Area 8 miles northeast of Apple Springs offers primitive campsites. There are no commercial campgrounds operating along the Neches River, though ample natural campsites can be found all along the river.
Ratcliff Lake offers canoe rentals on a very limited basis - advance reservations are highly recommended. There are no other canoe rentals and no shuttle services known to be available on this section of the Neches River. Bring your own boats and gear, and make your own shuttle arrangements.
The Neches River is a laid back, slow, meandering paddle trip through very scenic forests and historical areas of Texas. If you encounter this river at low water, then it might be even slower because of portages over or around deadfall blockages, which are fewer on this reach than on the reach above SH 7. It is a journey through Texas history dating centuries before Texas became a nation, then state. Access along the river is very limited and occasionally difficult because of the forested land and ground vegetation that populate somewhat short but vertical and often muddy banks. The rugged, undeveloped nature of the Neches is an attraction to many paddlers. Fishermen will enjoy the abundance of catfish and largemouth bass found in the river. Acid is slowly decaying the forests, but the scenery is still very good. Off-river visits to nearby historical sites is an added attraction. Access limits trips to somewhat long distances, so plan your trips carefully and be fully self-contained.