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Sabine River, Texas
Report by Marc W. McCord

State Highway 43 to River Ridge
~ 54.6 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

Flowing through Harrison and Panola Counties, this section of the Sabine River is marked by incredible natural beauty and very little commercial or residential development. Along the southern flood plain forest is an abundance of wildlife that lives in an area that is home to many varieties of Pine, Cypress, Pecan, Oak, Elm, Bois 'd Arc and other hardwood trees. The river is fed by bayous and creeks all along its path that provide adequate flow for paddling almost all the time.

At normal levels the twisting channel can be clogged by log jams and downed trees that impede your progress downriver, though it is not always the case. Recent trips have found no such obstructions, but flooding can quickly change that situation. When the flow is high the river can become dangerous because of the heavy tree cover, floating brush and trees and the whirlpools caused by them. Upstream pollution affects water quality, but the flow brings improvement as the river winds its way toward Toledo Bend Reservoir and the Louisiana border.

A small 2-3 foot waterfall created by a riverwide lignite shoal downstream from the US Highway 79 crossing breaks the calm of the flatwater river momentarily, and may require a portage for those not experienced in running drops. Occasionally, a log jam will form at the waterfall, and can be a hazard to safe navigation. Scout above and below the waterfall before running it.

Numerous sandbars with white sand beaches along the river provide primitive campsites, but beware of rising river levels during or shortly after heavy local rainfall. Property owners of the adjoining lands can be less than hospitable, and cherish their privacy, so do not camp above the riverbanks unless you have first obtained permission from them. Fishing is excellent, especially for huge blue, channel and flathead catfish, crappie and bass that can be caught on many kinds of bait and tackle. This reach of the Sabine River is known for its exceptional fishing for white and sand bass during the spring spawning season. Five road crossings and a couple of private access points allow for trips of various lengths on this section that runs from just east of Tatum down to southeast of Carthage and above Toledo Bend Reservoir.


Harrison and Panola Counties in Northeast Texas, near the Louisiana border and historic East Texas. Carthage and Marshall are very near this reach, while Dallas, Shreveport and Texarkana are all fairly close.

Distance from major cities

Dallas 180 miles; Austin 280 miles; San Antonio 360 miles; Houston 220 miles; Texarkana 65 miles; Shreveport 30 miles; Oklahoma City 360 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Good, but occasionally somewhat polluted by non-hazardous materials, and brownish colored from tannic acid commonly found in East Texas rivers and streams. Water quality improves as the flow washes out some of the impurities on its way downriver. The flow will usually be slow, but there is almost always plenty of water for paddling. Flow will increase dramatically after heavy local rainfall. Optimum paddling conditions can be found when the flow is between about 500 and 1,500 cfs. The river is safely navigable at much higher levels by paddlers with the experience and skills to negotiate fast currents.

Best time to go

Just about anytime is a good time to paddle this section of the Sabine River. Summers will be hot and humid, but the riverbanks are somewhat shaded by overhanging trees. Winters can be cold and desolate. Dress appropriately for the conditions at the time of year you want to paddle here. Insect repellant is recommended from April until the first freeze.

Hazards to navigation

There are no significant hazards to boaters or boats, but log jams and overhanging vegetation can be a minor to major inconvenience and a nuisance. At high water levels it is possible to get caught in standing strainers or floating brush and trees, so be careful and avoid paddling through them whenever possible. Whirlpools can form from the current moving through floating debris, and can affect your line downriver, possibly resulting in capsizing. There are a few small lignite shoals located above and below US Highway 59 that will pose no hazard for competent canoeists and kayakers, but are easily portaged, if necessary. Strong cross currents sometimes occur around and below the shoals because of the irregularity of their shapes. While not a problem, they can lead to momentary loss of boat control resulting in unplanned course changes and extra work to correct and regain steering control. There is a 2-3 foot waterfall below the US Highway 79 crossing that should be scouted before running, or portaged if there is any doubt about safely negotiating it.

River Access Points

SH 43 crossing 5 miles northeast of Tatum, on the Texas Parks and Wildlife boat ramp at 0.0 miles; US Highway 59 crossing 11 miles north of Carthage, on the Texas Parks and Wildlife boat ramp on river right at about 13.0 miles; FM 1794 crossing 8 miles north of Carthage, on the Texas Parks and Wildlife boat ramp on river right at 19.3 miles; US Highway 79 crossing 7 miles northeast of Carthage, on the Texas Parks and Wildlife boat ramp on river left at 32.3 miles; FM 2517 crossing 8 miles southeast of Carthage on the Texas Parks and Wildlife boat ramp on river right at 42.0 miles (this is the last road crossing above Toledo Bend Reservoir, but there are a couple of private access points south of FM 2517); River Ridge (private access) boat ramp on river right at about 12.6 miles.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are numerous sandbars in the streambed that afford adequate campsites, but adjoining land is privately owned, so stay between the riverbanks (on the white sand beaches) unless you have previously obtained permission to camp on the higher ground. There is one commercial campground below FM 2517, and a couple of state parks in the near vicinity. You will need to be completely self-contained. Camping can legally be done at the TPWD boat ramps other than at FM 1794, but there is no seculsion and traffic noise is prolific.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no liveries and no shuttle services on this section of the Sabine River. Plan to bring your own boats and gear and arrange your own shuttles. If parking at the highway crossings do not leave any valuables in your vehicle.

Reviewer's Comments

The 44.6 miles above Toledo Bend Reservoir on the Sabine River are absolutely beautiful. Flatwater paddlers will have a ball and fishermen will be in catfish, crappie and bass heaven. The surrounding area is characterized by many types of beautiful trees and ground vegetation, with an abundance of wildlife all around. There can be many strainers, both standing and floating, and one small waterfall below the US Highway 79 crossing, but the river is generally free of hazards other than a very hot and humid Texas summer or cold winter. The riverbanks are heavily shaded by huge Cypress and Pine trees, as well as many varieties of hardwoods, Pecan being prevalent in this area. The trip is long, but five road crossings allow it to be broken into several shorter trips, if desired, and plenty of sandbars in the river channel afford places to camp on overnight trips. The flow will be somewhat lazy, but there is almost always adequate water for a great trip. The area is undeveloped, but you will encounter some minor pollution from debris and contaminants washing down from the towns a few miles above this section, though they are more an eyesore than a hazard. East Texas has some beautiful flatwater rivers, and the Sabine River is certainly one of the best!

Canoeman River Guide Services - offering guided canoe, kayak and rat trips on rivers in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Lone Star Paddler
Technical Data
Class Rating I
Length 54.6 miles
Minimum Flow 200 cfs
Optimum Flow 500 - 2,000 cfs
Maximum Flow 6,000 cfs
First Put-in SH 43 crossing
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out River Ridge (Private access)
Lat. / Long.
Elevation msl
Gradient fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Beckville
Boats Canoes, Kayaks
Season Year-round, weather permitting
Permits No

Indian Springs Campground & RV Park on Village Creek, Texas

Looking downriver from the US Highway 59 bridge
Looking downriver from the US Highway 59 bridge

Looking downriver from the FM 1794 bridge
Looking downriver from the FM 1794 bridge

Sabine River map courtesy Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
Sabine River map courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Lignite shoals below the US Highway 59 bridge
Lignite shoals below the US Highway 59 bridge

Typical white sand beaches along the Sabine River
Typical white sand beaches along the Sabine River

Looking downriver from the US Highway 79 bridge
Looking upriver from the US Highway 79 bridge

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Sabine River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

[ Sabine River Homepage ] [ US Highway 271 to SH 43 ] [ Toledo Bend Dam to US Highway 190 ] [ US Highway 190 to Gulf of Mexico ]

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