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Red River, Texas
Report by Marc W. McCord

US Highway 259 to US Highway 59 / 71
~ 97.3 miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

Below Lake Texoma the Red River flows along (and forms) the Texas-Oklahoma border, then the Texas-Arkansas border, flowing through Arkansas then down to Louisiana on its way to the confluence of the Mississippi River near Simmesport, between Alexandria and Baton Rouge. While the river is usually navigable into Arkansas, and perhaps all the way to the Mississippi, access is very limited and most paddlers prefer to limit trips to the section starting below the Lake Texoma Dam and continuing nearly 33 miles downriver to the SH 78 crossing a few miles north of Bonham, Texas and just south of Karma, Oklahoma, but long trips with camping on sand bars along the way can be done all the way through Texas to the Arkansas border when water is being released at Lake Texoma or after significant local rainfall in the Red River drainage basin. This reach begins at US Highway 259 on the Texas-Oklahoma State Line and goes down to US Highway 59 / 71 just north of Texarkana, Texas on a reach of about 119.3 miles. Along the way the Red River is fed by numerous creeks that enter from both sides, though those creeks will be very low to dry much of the time and especially during drought periods. The flow of the river is almost totally dependent upon dam releases at the lake, where hydroelectric power is generated. This usually results in better flows during the hot summer months, when the demand for electricity is higher, but the river may flow high at other times, as well.

The water quality is clear and unpolluted from the dam, and remains that way for the entire length of the trip, which can vary greatly depending upon flow - at high flows the trip will be shorter and at low flows you can expect a lot of military paddling (left, right, left right), as well as probably a lot of walking and dragging in what may be deep, wet sand. The river is very wide and flows of 5,000 - 10,000 cfs are considered good for paddling. Camping, boat rentals and shuttle services are very rare to non-existent below Lake Texoma Dam, making this a trip best taken by experienced outdoorsmen (gender-neutral) who are prepared for the conditions to be encountered. Fishing is better than above the dam because of the clear waters, and anglers will find an abundance of giant alligator gar, channel, blue and flathead catfish, stripped, spotted, white, hybrid and largemouth bass. Some of the river banks will have step slopes, but others will be relatively flat, shallow slopes that are easy to access. Southerly winds can make paddling very tough on the Red River, even in a moderate current. The river below Lake Texoma is generally more hospitable, and does not have the same potential problems of quicksand and snakes that are fairly common above the lake. When then river is low there are abundant sandbars that can accommodate large groups all up and down the river, but be sure to check with the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to determine is a release is scheduled because this close to the dam would be a very bad place to be sleeping when big waters came rushing out from Lake Texoma.

This reach has very limited access with only five public access points between the US 271 put-in and the US 259 take-out Paddlers can plan trips of 3-10 days, depending on access points used and river flow, for this reach with camping along the river on sandbars, but be sure to check for releases with the USACE (903-465-4990) before starting your trip. The area is extremely remote and getting outside help will be difficult and time consuming, though cell phone coverage should be moderately reliable owing to its close proximity to several small towns just across the Texas side of the river.


Fannin and Lamar Counties in far north central Texas, along the Texas-Oklahoma border.

Distance from major cities

Texarkana 52 miles; Dallas 167 miles; Austin 363 miles; San Antonio 443 miles; Houston 307 miles; Oklahoma City 261 miles; Tulsa 222 miles; Little Rock 197 miles; Kansas City 448 miles; St. Louis 595 miles; Albuquerque 757 miles; Phoenix 1,234 miles; Denver 913 miles; Grand Junction 1,157 miles; Salt Lake City 1,437 miles. (all distances are approximate, and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Usually clear and unpolluted as it leaves Lake Texoma Dam, and continuing that way all along this 97.3 mile reach, though it can become muddy and red after a major rain event along the Texas-Oklahoma border.

Best time to go

Spring and late fall are considered the optimum seasons for paddling the Red River due to the lack of shade and the high summer temperatures. However, dam releases and/or recent heavy local rainfall can make trips possible at almost any time of the year. Winter paddling can be quite cold, so be sure to dress accordingly.

Hazards to navigation

The two biggest hazards to be encountered on the Red River are the low water and high headwinds. There are no rapids of significance, and most of the trees that could be in the river were there long ago. The lack of shade makes the possibility of heat-related injuries more likely from June through September, and possibly as late as October. Be sure to carry sunscreen, a hat, long sleeve shirts and long pants for mid-summer paddling.

River Access Points

US Highway 259 (N 33° 41' 08.99" / W 094° 41' 39.88") on river right (Texas side) at 0.0 miles; N4770 (N 33° 39' 42.07" / W 094° 34' 16.91") in Oklahoma just south of SH 87 on river left at about 14.0 miles; Texas SH 8 / Arkansas SH 41 (N 33° 34' 15.40" / W 094° 24' 36.41") at the boat ramp on river left (in Arkansas) at about 39.0 miles; Little River CR 170 / Dan York Road (N 33° 34' 49.13" / W 094° 18' 17.09" on river left at about 56.0 miles; Pecan Bend Road (N 33° 34' 47.45" / W 094° 17' 22.83") on river right at about 56.9 miles; US Highway 59 / 71 (N 33° 33' 06.74" / W 094° 02' 27.12") at the boat ramp on river right at about 97.3 miles. There MAY be other access points along this reach of the river, but most are probably on private property.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are no public or private campgrounds operating along this section of the Red River. However, there are many good natural, primitive campsites to be found all along the river. Take care to camp on high ground during periods of rain and avoid camping beyond fences (on private property) unless you have first obtained permission. Beware of camping in the river bed below the dam - ALWAYS call the USACE (903-465-4990) to determine release schedules before starting a trip where you plan on camping between the river banks.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no liveries or shuttle services operating along this section of the Red River. It is best to bring your own boats (or rent them in Dallas from one of the rental liveries in the area) and arrange your own shuttles.

Reviewer's Comments

This reach of the Red River should be considered a 3-10 day trip, depending upon paddling speed and flow conditions, for those wanting to enjoy the entire stretch. The generally clear and unpolluted water is more attractive and makes for better fishing for those wanting to wet a line and drown some worms, though it may get muddy after big rains. The surrounding terrain is a little more scenic than above the lake, with a lot more trees, green vegetation and many small animals along the banks, but no shade over the river. The river will flow flat and slow most of the time, increasing in current speed with releases from the dam at the lake, but flows of 5-10,000 cfs are considered safe and optimal for good paddling and minimal walking. The real attraction to this section of the Red River may be its close proximity to Dallas, Fort Worth and Oklahoma City, from any of which the river can be reached in 90 minutes to 2 hours.

This very long reach has six potential access points allowing for trips of varying length to accommodate your preferences for time and distance. Like other reaches of the Red River there are numerous sandbars that make excellent primitive campsites along the river, but you must beware of the potential for flash flooding if a release at Lake Texoma occurs while you are on the river. Be sure to check the USACE release schedule and weather forecast for the drainage basin before embarking on an overnight trip. At its final access point the river is just north of Texarkana, Texas at a developed boat ramp on the Texas (right) side just below the US 59 / 71 bridge.

Technical Data
Class Rating I
Length 97.3 miles
Minimum Flow 500 cfs
Optimum Flow 1,000 - 3,000 cfs
Maximum Flow 5,000 cfs
First Put-in US Highway 259 Bridge
Lat. / Long. N 33° 41' 08.99" / W 094° 41' 39.88"
Last Take-out US Highway 59 / 71 Boat Ramp
Lat. / Long. N 33° 33' 06.74" / W 094° 02' 27.12"
Elevation 321 - 273 feet msl
Gradient < 0.5 fpm average
USGS Gauge Web: Denison Dam
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season March-June, October-November
Permits No

Dallas Down River Club - Promoting paddlesports, safety and environmental protection

Canoeman River Guide Service - Guided river trips in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

Lone Star Paddler - the paddlesports web site of Marc W. McCord

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Red River where you want to paddle.

[ Red River Homepage ] [ Above Lake Texoma ] [ Denison Dam Access to Texas SH 78 ] [ Texas SH 78 to US Highway 271 ] [ US Highway 271 to US Highway 259 ]

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© November 15, 2002. All rights reserved.
Last updated December 15, 2014

Copyright © 1997-2015, Marc W. McCord dba CobraGraphics. All rights reserved. Southwest Paddler, CobraGraphics and Canoeman River Guide Services are trademarks of Marc W. McCord dba CobraGraphics. The textual, graphic, audio, and audio/visual material in this site is protected by United States copyright law and international treaties. You may not copy, distribute, or use these materials except for your personal, non-commercial use. Any trademarks are the property of their respective owners. All original photographs on this web site are the exclusive property of Marc W. McCord or other designated photographers and may not be copied, duplicated, reproduced, distributed or used in any manner without prior written permission under penalty of US and International laws and treaties.