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Brazos River, Texas
Report by Marc W. McCord

US Highway 281 to FM 1884
41 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-). Topography is very similar to the reach above, though the hills are smaller and less elevated. Sand bars provide excellent riverside campsites, increasing in fequency the further downriver you go.

This reach of the Brazos River is a meandering flatwater stream with a very slow current that leaves behind the Palo Pinto Mountains as it begins its journey through rolling hills and plains down to Lake Granbury. Along the way the riverbanks are lined with willows and hardwood trees. Sand and/or gravel bars are abundant all along this section of the river, which is usually wide and very shallow. Except at high flows, paddlers can expect to drag and/or carry boats and gear in places along this reach. Convenient road crossings lend themselves to trips of varying lengths, and divide this section of the river into nearly equal segments. This part of the river bends and twists frequently, taking in most of the path around the compass. While still naturally scenic and remote, this reach is not quite as pretty as those sections closer to and above Possum Kingdom Lake.


Palo Pinto and Parker Counties 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 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.)

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, though it does get some assistance from dam-released water at Possum Kingdom Lake. Expect a delay of about 1 to 1.5 days after release from the lake before flows will increase downriver.

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 281 crossing at 0.0 miles; Private camp access adjacent to US Highway 281 crossing at 0.1 miles; Private camp access on upstream river right, adjacent to IH 20, at about 12.2 miles; Private camp access on upstream river left, adjacent to IH 20, at about 12.2 miles; IH 20 crossing at about 12.3 miles; Private camp access on downstream river left, adjacent to IH 20, at about 12.4 miles; Private camp adjacent to FM 1543 near Dennis at about 27.2 miles; FM 1543 crossing at Dennis at about 27.3 miles; Private camp adjacent to FM 1884 at about 40.9 miles; FM 1884 crossing at about 41.0 miles (Lake Granbury is approximately 4 miles downstream.) Other access points may be available.

Campgrounds and Accommodations

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 is at least one 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 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 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.

Technical Data
Class Rating I
Length 35.2 miles
Minimum Flow 200 cfs
Optimum Flow 500 - 3,000 cfs
Maximum Flow 5,000 cfs
First Put-in US Highway 180 Crossing
Last Take-out US Highway 281 Crossing
Elevation msl
Gradient max.
USGS Gauge Web: 08089000 (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 ] [ Possum Kingdom Dam 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 Waco ] [ Waco to SH 7 ] [ SH 7 to FM 979 ] [ Hidalgo Falls ]

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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