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Brazos River, Texas
Report by Marc W. McCord

US Highway 180 to US Highway 281
35.9 miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Brazos River is a throwback to days of old when Comanches dominated this area of Texas. It remains largely undeveloped along much of its 840 miles as it has for hundreds of years. Between US Highway 180 and US Highway 281, at about 35.2 miles downriver, the Brazos is a Class I flatwater stream with occasional small rapids (Class I-) that generally pose no problems for boaters. Topography is very similar to the reach above, though the foothills of the Palo Pinto Mountains are a little smaller than they are near Possum Kingdom Lake. The hills and mountains are covered with cedar trees, while the riverbanks are still high, steep and lined with willow, elm, cedar and oak trees. Sand and gravel bars are found more frequently along this reach, which offers no intermediate access between the US Highway 180 put-in and the US Highway 281 take-out.

Water quality along this section of the river is generally very good, though it drops during periods of prolonged droughts and during long, hot summer months. The flow is usually slow and the river is shallow, occasionally requiring carrying or dragging boats and gear in all but above normal level flow conditions. Riverbank vegetation, consisting of scrub brush and grasses, is dense in most places though usually very clean and unpolluted due to a lack of commercial and residential encroachment and a low level of recreational activity. Small islands, sand bars and gravel bars offer excellent primitive campsites, but caution should be exercised during periods of heavy rainfall or electric generation at Possum Kingdom Dam to avoid becoming caught in rising waters. Banks are usually muddy and steep, making egress difficult. Dam-released water takes about a day to reach this section from the lake above. With no rapids or other natural hazards of consequence this reach of the Brazos is suitable for canoes and kayaks paddled by inexperienced boaters except during flood stage conditions, when the river can become dangerous and difficult to navigate. The Brazos is home to many snakes, though they are not a problem for boaters or campers. Just be aware of their presence, and make a lot of noise when you walk.


Palo Pinto County in far north central Texas, near Granbury, Mineral Wells, Stephenville and Weatherford.

Distance from major cities

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 895 miles; Phoenix 1,095 miles; Denver 1,349 miles; Salt Lake City 1,526 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

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, and a low to average flow at other times. This reach of the river is almost totally dependent upon recent local rainfall for adequate navigable flows.

Best time to go

March through June and late-October through December 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 that is usually soon after a big rain storm hits the area.

Hazards to Navigation

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. There are no rapids or waterfalls worthy of mentioning along this section of the Brazos River. Water mocassins inhabit the Brazos River, and may occasionally be seen. They are very shy and will usually try to avoid human contact, so give them room to flee and be very careful when stepping over or lifting rocks or logs. Rattlesnakes and copperheads are also found in the general area, but pose no major threats to recreational users of the river. Their presence is mentioned because to be forewarned is to be forearmed. I do not know of anybody who has been bitten by any type of snake on or near the Brazos River, though I have personally seen water mocassins and common water snakes between Mitchell Ford and US Highway 67, as well as between Lake Whitney Dam and Waco, both below this reach of the river.

River Access Points

US Highway 180 Bridge (N 32° 47' 52.39" / W 098° 11' 11.06") on either side at 0.0 miles; Pleasant Valley Road (N 32° 45' 21.14" / W 098° 09' 49.18") west from US Highway 281 south of Mineral Wells on either side at about 8.5 miles; Unnamed road boat ramp (N 32° 44' 09.96" / W 098° 16' 22.69") east from FM 4 on river right at about 16.1 miles (possibly private access); US 281 Bridge (N 32° 38' 29.06" / W 098° 06' 01.21") on river left at about 35.8 miles; Private resort ranch (N 32° 38' 25.22" / W 098° 05' 59.55") immediately below US Highway 281 Bridge on river right at about 35.9 miles (Take-out fee $5 per person.) Other access points may be available along this reach of the Brazos River.

Campgrounds and Accommodations

A private campground, on river right at about 12.0 miles, offers primitive campsites; C.J. Young's Camp, on river left at about 33.0 miles, offers primitive campsites. There are no other campgrounds located along this reach of the Brazos River. Other campgrounds not far from this reach of the river include: Lake Mineral Wells State Park (817-328-1171) offers 90 excellent campsites, water, electricity, restrooms, hot/cold showers, concessions and a sanitary dunp station. There are numerous small islands, 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 will NOT be able to hear the horn on this reach. The river can rise 2-3 feet within a day 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. Always check with the US Army Corps of Engineers at Possum Kingdom Lake for release schedules when planning on camping along the river. There are at least two commercial campground located along or near this reach of the Brazos River.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

Rentals and shuttles are available from at least one commercial outfitter located along or near this reach of the Brazos River. Rentals and shuttles may be available from other providers remote to the river.

Reviewer's comments

The Brazos is not my favorite river. However, there are times when it is fun to paddle. Sometimes I join friends for a moonlight paddle under the full moon on the section below Lake Whitney Dam, and we always have a ball. But, the prevailing headwinds, low water, long portages and less than postcard photo scenery along much of it makes the river not as much fun for me as other rivers I paddle. 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. The flatwater is ideally suited for those with little or no previous paddling experience. Canoes and kayaks can easily navigate the river, but rafts will have a hard time because of usually low water conditions, strong headwinds and very difficult ingress and egress.

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 are natural targets for film, so bring a camera (and something waterproof in which to carry it!) and take some memories home. 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. Watch for significant local rainfall as well as Possum Kingdom dam releases.

Technical Data
Class Rating I
Length 35.9 miles
Minimum Flow 200 cfs
Optimum Flow 500 - 3,000 cfs
Maximum Flow 5,000 cfs
First Put-in US Highway 180 Crossing
Lat/Long N 32° 47' 52.39" / W 098° 11' 11.06"
Last Take-out US Highway 281 Bridge
Lat/Long N 32° 38' 29.06" / W 098° 06' 01.21"
Elevation 801 - 744 feet msl
Gradient 4.4 fpm av.
USGS Gauge Web: Palo Pinto
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Tubes, Rafts (?)
Season Year-round, weather/flow permitting
Permits No

Brazos River map courtesy Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
Brazos River map courtesy of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

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

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

Alamo City Rivermen - Paddling the fine line between geek and bubba

Houston Canoe Club

Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

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

Brazos River
[ Brazos River Homepage ] [ SH 16 to US Highway 180 ] [ US Highway 180 to US Highway 281 ] [ US Highway 281 to FM 1884 ]
[ De Cordova Bend Dam to Lake Whitney ] [ Lake Whitney Dam to SH 6 (Waco) ] [ SH 6 to SH 7 ] [ SH 7 to FM 979 ] [ FM 979 to SH 105 ]
[ SH 105 to US Highway 90 / IH 10 ] [ US Highway 90 / IH 10 to FM 1462 ] [ FM 1462 to Gulf of Mexico ]

Tributaries Little River
[ FM 436 to FM 437 ] [ FM 437 to FM 1600 ] [ FM 1600 to US Highway 190 ]

Lampasas River

[ FM 1047 to Rumley ] [ Rumley to Youngsport ] [ Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir to Little River Confluence ]

Leon River
[ Proctor Reservoir to US Highway 84 ] [ US Highway 84 to Belton Reservoir ] [ Belton Reservoir to Little River Confluence ]

Other Tributaries

[ Paluxy River ] [ Salado Creek ] [ Bosque River ] [ Nolan River ]

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Last updated June 24, 2015

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