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Neches River, Texas
Report by Marc W. McCord

US Highway 59 to US Highway 69
~ 44 miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

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 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.

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. 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.

Distance from major cities

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.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

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.

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 and occasional rocky shoals. Low water and hot summertime temperatures, as well as an abundance of hungry mosquitos, can be considered hazards.

River access points

US Highway 59 crossing about 13 miles southwest of Lufkin at 0.0 miles; US Highway 69 crossing about 30 miles southeast of Lufkin at 44.0 miles.

Campgrounds and Accommodations

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.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

Eastex Canoe Trails (409-385-4700 or 800-814-7390) offers canoe and kayak rentals, shuttle services, instruction, guided trips and other 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 44 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in US Highway 59 crossing
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out US Highway 69 crossing
Lat. / Long.
Elevation msl
Gradient fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Diboll
Boats Canoes, Kayaks
Season Year-round, weather permitting
Permits No

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

Houston Canoe Club

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

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

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

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