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Neches River, Texas
Report by Marc W. McCord

State Highway 21 to State Highway 7
Big Slough Trip
~ 32 miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

This section of the Neches River is located along the Houston-Cherokee County boundary adjacent to Davy Crockett National Forest, northeast of Houston and southeast of Dallas. The 32 mile trip takes two days for most paddlers at normal flows and can take an additional day or more at low water levels. This section is of special interest to recreational paddlers because of the existence of the Big Slough, a small channel which goes off from the Neches then returns to the river about 4 miles downstream, creating an 8-mile loop waterway. The US Forest Service has marked the Big Slough, contained wholly within Davy Crockett National Forest, and the Neches River, adjacent to the Davy Crockett National Forest, as a loop canoe trail. The U.S. Forest Service considers the Big Slough area a potential wilderness area. Downriver trips can be shortened to 23.5 miles or 8.5 miles by using the unimproved road off FM 1247 as a take-out (23.5 mile trip) or put-in (8.5 mile trip) access point.

The Neches is a very twisting river with many sharp turns, logjams, strainers and dead-end channels, any of which can become hazards or obstacles for boaters and boats. Flow is dependent upon water releases from Lake Palestine, or runoff from recent local rainfall. The river is very scenic as it winds its way through heavily forested banks with a rich abundance of wildlife. The river offers paddling opportunities for boaters of all skill levels provided you take into consideration the slow flow, occasional difficulties in access to and from the river and logjams which must be portaged.

A few small towns sit nearby, but the area is largely undeveloped. Paddlers will feel the remoteness of the Neches as they journey through a land mostly unchanged by modern progress. However, there are numerous historical and interesting sites to visit nearby including the reservation of the Alabama-Coushatta Nation, Mission Tejas State Historical Park with a replica of the original Spanish Mission San Francisco de los Tejas, Davy Crockett, Sam Houston and Angelina National Forests and the Big Thicket National Preserve, among many others.


Cherokee-Houston County boundary in the Deep East Texas piney woods, northeast of Houston and southeast of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

Distance from major cities

Lufkin 15 miles; Dallas 115 miles; Fort Worth 145 miles; Waco 150 miles; Austin 210 miles; San Antonio 300 miles; Houston 100 miles; Oklahoma City 325 miles; Little Rock miles; Springfield miles; St. Louis miles; Albuquerque miles; Phoenix miles; Denver miles; Salt Lake City miles (all distances are approximate, measured from the State Highway 21 put-in, and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Generally good, turning muddy after rainfall runoff. Water levels for recreational activities are sufficient year around on the Neches, but the summer months will restrict water flow in the Big Slough. Generally, this section of the Neches is very scenic and of high quality for canoe-camping trips.

Best Times to Go

The Neches is a year-round stream, though it will be lower and slower in hot summer months. Winter paddling will require preparations for cold days and colder nights (on the ten or fifteen days of winter we have in Texas.)

Best Times to Go

The only potential hazards to be found on this section of the Neches River are the occasional log jams created by downed trees along the banks. Low water and hot summertime temperatures, as well as an abundance of hungry mosquitos, can be considered hazards.

River access points

SH 21 crossingb (N 31° 34' 45.83" / W 095° 09' 56.81") 8 miles southwest of Alto and 5 miles northwest of Weches on upstream from the bridge on river right at 0.0 miles; CR 2927 crossing (N 31° 26' 41.55" / W 095° 02' 03.80") off FM 1247, 6 miles south of Forest and 8 miles northeast of Ratcliff upstream from the bridge on river right at 22.8 miles; SH 7/SH 103 crossing (N 31° 23' 48.16" / W 094° 57" 55.69") about 12 miles west of Lufkin and 27 miles northeast of Crockett just below the bridge on river left at 32.0 miles.

Campgrounds and Accommodations

Neches Bluff Campground, a U.S. Forest Service facility, located on a tall bluff on river right, accessible from Forest Road 511, about 1 mile off SH 21, offers primitive camping; Ratcliff Lake Recreation Area (409-544-2046) in Davy Crockett National Forest offers 75 campsites, cold showers, flush toilets, RV sites, dump station, group camping area, concessions and other amenities; Ratcliff Lake offers improved campsites close to the put-in and take-out points; Mission Tejas State Historical Park (409-687-2394) has 15 campsites, restrooms, showers, water, electricity, picnic pavilion, group camping area, RV dump station and other amenities just northwest of the SH 21 put-in; There are numerous natural primitive campsites on USFS land along the west side (river right) in Davy Crockett National Forest and on sandbars in and by the river. There are no commercial campgrounds operating along the Neches River.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

Ratcliff Lake offers canoe rentals on a very limited basis - advance reservations are highly recommended. There are no other canoe rentals and no shuttle services available on this section of the Neches River. Bring your own boats and gear, and make your own shuttle arrangements.

Reviewer's comments

The Neches River is a laid back, slow, meandering paddle trip through very scenic forests and historical areas of Texas. It is a journey through Texas history dating centuries before Texas became a nation, then state. Access along the river is very limited and occasionally difficult because of the forested land and ground vegetation that populate somewhat steep and often muddy banks. The rugged, undeveloped nature of the Neches is an attraction to many paddlers. Fishermen will enjoy the abundance of catfish and largemouth bass found in the river. Acid is slowly decaying the forests, but the scenery is still very good. Off-river visits to nearby historical sites is an added attraction. Access limits trips to somewhat long distances, so plan your trips carefully and be fully self-contained.

Technical Data
Class Rating I
Length 32 miles
Minimum Flow 500 cfs
Optimum Flow 1,000 - 2,000 cfs
Maximum Flow 5,000 cfs
First Put-in SH 21 crossing
Lat. / Long. N 31° 34' 45.83" / W 095° 09' 56.81"
Last Take-out SH 7/SH 103
Lat. / Long. N 31° 23' 48.16" / W 094° 57" 55.69"
Elevation 207 - 180 feet msl
Gradient < 1 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Neches
Boats Canoes, Kayaks
Season Year-round, weather permitting
Permits No

As of May 26, 2020, it has been reported that there are many downed trees completely blocking the channel and requiring portages around or over them to paddle this reach of the river. The mouth of Big Slough is also completely blocked by a log jam. This condition requires planning for the additional time necesssary to negotiate the logjams, as well as the physical stamina to endure the effort. Please plan accordingly.

Neches River Map
Neches River Map courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

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

Houston Canoe Club

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 Neches River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

[ Neches River Homepage ] [ SH 7 to US Hwy. 59 ] [ US Hwy. 59 to US Hwy. 69 ] [ B.A. Steinhagen to US Hwy. 96 ] [ US Hwy. 96 to IH-10 ]
[ Village Creek ] [ Pine Island Bayou ]

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