The popular section for paddling the Red River above Lake Texoma starts at SH 79 in Clay County and flows generally easterly for about 144 miles to the headwaters of the lake north of Dexter in Grayson County. Beginning just below the confluence of the Wichita River, this section is considered to be navigable year-round. The real limiting factor for many paddlers is the distance between access points, but there are other factors that merit equal attention. Quicksand is common along and in the river west of Lake Texoma, and is frequently deeper than most people are tall. It is usually too dense for self-extraction. Quicksand may be found in standing shallow water or in mud pits on sandbars above the water. Snakes are another concern, though they rarely bite anybody, and then usually because somebody stepped on them or attempted to handle them. Biting insects and poison ivy are two other common nuisances to be found along the Red River.
Trips of a few hours to a couple of weeks can be taken on the Red River, depending upon your put-in and take-out points. The river flows slow and flat, with no significant hazards at normal flows. However, extreme caution should be exercised in high water conditions, when the river can suddenly swell from its normal 100 yards wide to 300-400 yards wide amid very swift currents. Capsizing in such conditions can send a paddler several miles downriver before he or she makes a landfall on a safe bank. The North Texas-South Oklahoma border area, where the Red River flows, is known as "Tornado Alley" because of all the severe weather and tornados that frequently blow right down the river valley. In fact, most of the extremely bad weather to be found in Texas or Oklahoma will occur along the Red River valley.
There is very little shade along the Red River, and summer paddling can be a trying ordeal. Between high winds, high temperatures and a slow current, trips on the Red River can be tests of physical endurance, mental preparation and sheer determination. With very limited access some stretches can be long and difficult, especially for novice paddlers. Boat rentals are very limited and no commercial (public or private) campgrounds exist along the section west of Lake Texoma. However, there are adequate primitive camping spots to be found along the river as long as care is taken to avoid the quicksand, snakes and private property boundaries.
Clay, Montague and Cooke Counties in far north central Texas, along the Texas-Oklahoma border.
Wichita Falls 30 miles; Dallas 160 miles; Fort Worth 125 miles; Austin 350 miles; San Antonio 430 miles; Houston 410 miles; Oklahoma City 110 miles; Tulsa 275 miles (all distances are approximate, and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
Murky green, turning red and muddy after rainfall. Flow below the confluence of the Wichita River is generally adequate for paddle trips almost anytime, but some walking over sandbars may be required during prolonged dry periods.
Spring and late fall are considered the optimum seasons for paddling the Red River due to the lack of shade and the high summer temperatures. However, because this section usually has enough water to paddle, trips are possible at almost any time of the year. Winter paddling can be quite cold, so be sure to dress accordingly. Bear in mind the warnings about quicksand any time, and watch out for the snakes and biting insects during warm to hot months.
The two biggest hazards to be encountered on the Red River are the low water and high headwinds. There are no rapids, and most of the trees that could be in the river were there long ago. The lack of shade makes the possibility of heat-related injuries more likely from June through September, and possibly as late as October. Quicksand, as previously discussed, is a very real and present danger on this section of the Red River, so be sure to use a paddle or other object to test the ground for stability before stepping onto anything that appears less than solid. Snakes can be a problem, but usually only if you step on them or try to handle them. No matter what Steve Irwin does, snake handling is not for amateurs, and even Steve gets bitten every once in awhile. And, throw away those damned snake-bite kits! The AMA has warned against their use years ago, but retailers still sell them. More people suffer amputations using them than would have had any serious complications from doing nothing to treat a poisonous snakebite. Be sure to carry sunscreen, a hat, long sleeve shirts and long pants for mid-summer paddling.
Texas SH 79 put-in at 0.0 miles; US Highway 81 put-in at about 39.0 miles; Access road on river right at 54.0 miles (take FM 103 north from Nocona about 5-6 miles to FM 2849, then turn left and go about 2 miles to the dirt road access, turn right and drive to the river); Bulcher Motorcycle Park access near the confluence of Mountain Creek at 86.0 miles; Warren's Bend (private access - fee and permission required) at 99.0 miles (take FM 1201 just west of Gainesville past Hubert Moss Lake, and turn left on the dirt road just before getting to Sivell's Bend, and drive about 5 miles to the access point); IH 35 / US Highway 77 crossing on river right (the Texas side) has an excellent take-out with plenty of parking and good sighting to and from the river at 126.2 miles; Dripping Springs, on the dirt road off FM 371 (access from either US Highway 82 or FM 2383) at 136.0 miles; Dirt road at the end of FM 678 north of Dexter, Texas, on Lake Texoma at about 144.0 miles (this take-out requires paddling a short distance across the headwaters of the lake.)
The final take-out point is the Dexter take-out at 144.0 miles. Beyond this point you are paddling on Lake Texoma and will encounter (usually) high winds, strong lake currents and heavy power boat traffic including skiers, jet skiers, and powered yachts. Extreme caution must be exercised if paddling on any part of Lake Texoma.
There are no public or private campgrounds operating along this section of the Red River. However, there are many good natural, primitive campsites to be found all along the river. Take care to camp on high ground during periods of rain and avoid camping beyond fences (on private property) unless you have first obtained permission.
There is at least one known commercial outfitter, located in Denison, Texas, offering rentals, shuttles and river information along this section of the Red River. If you are not paddling in the general area of Denison - Sherman, then it is best to bring your own boats (or rent them in Dallas from one of the rental liveries in the area) and arrange your own shuttles. Obviously, setting up a shuttle, depending upon the distance you want to paddle, can take several hours due to the distance between access points and the driving distance compared to the downriver distance.
The Red River is a flatwater paradise. It offers the opporunity to paddle among snakes, in the hot sun, against the wind, and with the possibility of seeing a tornado up close and personal. Actually, it is not all that bad most of the time, but the potential for danger is always there. The general area is not particularly scenic, laying flat and mostly barren of any significant tree growth. Scrub bushes and grasses are the main vegetation to be encountered. Fire ants have been known to inhabit the area, so be careful where you make camp, especially if setting up after sunset. The quicksand is to be avoided like the plague, and paddlers should not attempt to run this section of the river alone - go in groups of several boats and take along plenty of rope and other rescue gear. Fishing is not the greatest duw to the generally muddy aspect of the river, but reportedly, a catfish weighing 148 pounds has been caught. Blue, channel and flathead catfish, as well as stripped, black and spotted bass, are all there for the taking. The river is wide and sandbars are numerous. Most surrounding land is farmland, but there are occasionally some high bluffs overlooking the river. Plan your trip to the Red River with great care, then head out for a true wilderness river adventure not too far from major cities and small towns.