This section of the Neches River is located along the Polk, Angelina, Tyler, and Jasper County boundaries northeast of Houston and southeast of Dallas. The river flows through pristine southern floodplain forests and is extremely remote, with the only access points at the two highways on either end. Portions of the east bank (river left) along the Jasper-Angelina County line down to US 69 are managed by the US Forest Service, with the river varying from 75-150 feet wide. The 45.44 mile trip takes three to four days for most paddlers at normal flows and can take an additional day or more at low water levels. Be advised that the actual length of trip depends upon water level and the lines you take. More options open as the water rises, but deadfall obstacles may lie in wait around any corner.
The Neches is a very twisting river with many sharp turns, logjams, a half dozen rocky shoals, strainers and dead-end channels, any of which can become hazards or obstacles for boaters and boats. Flow is primarily dependent upon runoff from recent local rainfall. This reach is particulary remote, bordered on one side by the David Crockett National Forest and on the other side by the Angelina National Forest with no crossing roads or side access roads (except on private land) all the way from US 59 to US 69. The river is very scenic as it winds its way through heavily forested banks of Pine, Oak, Sweetgum and Cypress trees 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. This section of the neches is considered to be a quality paddling destination because of the volume, water quality and scenery, ending on the southeastern boundary of the Angelina National Forest.
Houston, Angelina, Trinity, and Polk Counties in the Deep East Texas piney woods, northeast of Houston and southeast of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
Lufkin 15 miles; Dallas 190 miles; Fort Worth 220 miles; Waco 170 miles; Austin 270 miles; San Antonio 350 miles; Houston 120 miles; Oklahoma City 400 miles (all distances are approximate, measured from the US Highway 59 put-in, and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
Good, but brown from tannic acid and considered safe for human contact and recreational uses. Generally, this section of the Neches is very scenic and of high quality for canoe-camping trips.
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.)
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 and occasional rocky shoals. Low water and hot summertime temperatures, as well as an abundance of hungry mosquitos, can be considered hazards.
US Highway 59 Bridge (N 31° 07' 58.69" / W 094° 48' 37.45") about 13 miles southwest of Lufkin on the southwest side boat ramp above the bridge at 0.0 miles; US Highway 69 Bridge (N 31° 01' 30.39" / W 094° 23' 57.42") on either side of the downriver side of the bridge about 30 miles southeast of Lufkin at about 45.4 miles. There are no other public access points on this reach of the Neches River.
Portions of the east bank, from the Jasper-Angelina County line to US Highway 69, are under USFS control and may be used for camping. Other campsites are located upriver at the following locations: 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 sandbars and rocky shoals in and by the river. Alabama Creek Wildlife Management Area 8 miles northeast of Apple Springs offers primitive campsites. There are no commercial campgrounds operating along the Neches River.
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.
The Neches River is a laid back, slow, meandering paddle trip through very scenic forests and historical areas of Deep East Texas very near the Louisiana State line. At about 1.12 feet per mile gradient the surface of the river barely moves, and you will definitely need to paddle in you are going downriver anytime soon. If you are looking for solitude, then this might be right up your alley! With Crockett National Forest on the west and Angelina National Forest on the right there will be plenty of time to enjoy the wonders of nature in a quiet, gentle trip down a lazy river. Just be watchful for logjams, especially on river bends, and a saw or chainsaw might be considered practical gear for this trip.
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. And carry Deet if you go after the mosquitos come out for the season because they can be very hungry and thirsty.