The Brazos River is a throwback to days of old when Comanches dominated the area. It remains largely undeveloped as it has for hundreds of years. The section between SH 16 about 2 miles below Possum Kingdom Dam and US Highway 180, at about 38.4 miles downriver, is a Class I flatwater stream with occasional small rapids (Class I-). There are places where the river flows below 500 foot cliffs of native Texas granite, and where a wide spectrum of colors abound in the trees, rocks and soil. Cedars cover the hills and mountains surrounding the river valley, and adjoining lands are home to elm, willow, cedar and oaks covering rock outcroppings and high bluffs offering spectacular vistas of the nearby Palo Pinto Mountains. Sand bars provide excellent riverside campsites, increasing in fequency the further downriver you go.
This section of the river is frequently paddled and crowding can be a minor issue, especially in the spring and summer months. Primary activities are canoeing, though some kayaking and tubing is done. Rafts would probably not enjoy the usually low waters and strong southerly headwinds that can literally blow you and your boat back upriver unless you are paddling hard. If the wind's a blowin', then I would reconsider goin'!
The water is generally clear and cool coming out of Possum Kingdom Dam, but it tends to run low, so check the USGS gauges or other river flow information sources before making a long trip to this area. It is likely that some walking will be required in all except flood or near-flood conditions. Offsetting the wind and low water negatives is some spectacular scenery. The Brazos cuts through Texas Granite and other rock down to Possum Kingdom Lake, then on downriver to the Gulf of Mexico. The upper section is more colorful and the vegetation is denser than on lower sections, where rainfall is much less and where winds, sunlight and heat combine to rob nature of her true colors, replacing them with shades of brown. The high bluffs and cliffs overlooking the river create an isolating effect that puts things in perspective very effectively. It is hard not to be taken in by the serenity and splendor of that part of the river. The bottom line is, be prepared! Be prepared for low water, high winds, hot temperatures, massive solar exposure increasing as you move downriver and especially on lower sections, and limited access, though gravel and sand bars are plentiful.
Palo Pinto County in far north central Texas, within 100 miles of the Oklahoma border.
Wichita Falls 90 miles; Dallas 140 miles; Austin 180 miles; San Antonio 250 miles; Houston 250 miles; Oklahoma City 230 miles; Little Rock 574 miles; Kansas City 575 miles; Albuquerque 891 miles; Phoenix 1,090 miles; Denver 1,344 miles; Salt Lake City 1,522 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
Good to very good. The water is clear and cool coming from the Possum Kingdom dam release. Quality may decrease during drought periods when dam releases are not occurring, and the water will be warmer. The flow is dependent upon local rainfall within the river basin drainage area or dam releases. Expect a higher flow in wet years.
Spring and late-fall are the best times to paddle the Brazos, assuming there is adequate water and the winds are manageable. Finding shade on the river is all but impossible - there are a lot of trees, but not near the water's edge where you can make use of them. Avoid summer months when hot temperatures from June through September will combine with high headwinds and low water to make your trip a trial run for "Survivor". The best time to go is when the river is flowing, and is usually soon after a big rain storm hits the area.
The two biggest hazards to be encountered on the Brazos are the low water and high headwinds. There are few rapids, and none are significant. Most of the trees that could be in the river were there long ago. Watch out for the support columns on the Highway 4 bridge at about 22.1 miles below the Possum Kingdom Dam put-in. It can wrap a boat and/or injure paddlers. A portage is possible along the left bank in the event you do not want to run the bridge (assuming the water is high enough!)
Brazos River Authority access immediately below Possum Kingdom Dam (possible, but not recommended, access); SH 16 boat ramp (N 32° 51' 29.66" / W 098° 24' 40.98") downstream of the bridge on river left at 0.0 miles; ; Private Camp (N 32° 51' 48.55" / W 098° 18' 12.17") just upstream from FM 4 Bridge on river left at about 19.2 miles; Private Camp (N 32° 51' 49.33" / W 098° 18' 01.76") just downstream from FM 4 Bridge on river left at about 19.4 miles (access to the river is via a private road where a small fee is required); US Highway 180 Bridge (N 32° 47' 52.39" / W 098° 11' 11.06") 3 miles west of Mineral Wells on either side at about 38.4 miles (access is limited.) Other access points may be available.
NOTE: While access immediately below the dam is possible it is not the easiest or best place to start a trip and parking in very limited. The first practical access is at the SH 16 boat ramp on river left just below the arch bridge.
Private Camp, just upstream from FM 4 low-water crossing, at about 22.0 miles; Private Camp, just downstream from FM 4 crossing on river left at about 22.2 miles (access to the river is via a private road where a small fee is required); Private camp, west of Mineral Wells on a county road off US Highway 180, at about 37.4 miles (picnic tables are provided and overnight camping is permitted); Additional camping is available downriver from the US Highway 180 take-out for this section at the private camp at 50.7 miles; C.J. Young's Camp at 71.7 miles; Lake Mineral Wells State Park (817-328-1171). There are numerous sandbar and gravel bar riverside campsites available on a first come, space available basis, with one warning - LOCATE YOUR CAMP ON HIGHER GROUND THAN WILL BE NECESSARY IF THE FLOOD GATES ARE OPENED AT POSSUM KINGDOM DAM! A warning horn sounds before the gates are opened, alerting you to go to high ground, but you may not be able to hear the horn, depending upon where you are on the river. The river can rise 2-3 feet within minutes of opening the flood gates for hydroelectric generation at Possum Kingdom Lake, so be careful when boating and/or camping along the river near the dam. Limited primitive camping may be available at the Highway 16 bridge. There are no other public-access camping areas on the upper Brazos River. There is at least one commercial campground located along this reach of the Brazos River.
Rentals and shuttles are available from at least one commercial outfitter located along this reach of the Brazos River. Rentals and shuttles may be available from other providers remote to the river.
The Brazos is not a perpetual flow river and releases from Possum Kingdom Reservoir are rare, usually occurring after significant rains swell the lake to or above its conservation level. However, there are times when it is fun to paddle. In high flow conditions the river is swift and natural campsites are inundated with water making overnight trips all but impossible, and even then with great difficulty. The prevailing headwinds and usually low water makes the river not as much fun. Having said that, on a good day with mild temperatures, low or no winds and adequate water the Brazos can be a very enjoyable trip, especially for paddlers living nearby who want a day or more on the river without a long drive to the Texas Hill Country or Oklahoma. Access is decent and trips of 19.2 to 38.4 miles can be taken depending upon where you launch and take out.
The upper section is definitely the most beautiful and attractive part of the Brazos that I have paddled (I have no experience below Waco). The cliffs and bluffs lined with cedar trees on the Texas red granite rock far above your head is a natural target for film, so bring a camera (and something waterproof in which to carry it!) and take home some memories. It is warm enough in spring or fall to enjoy the Brazos, and many times winter paddling can be done with comfort due to the normally mild Texas winter seasons.