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Trinity River, Texas
Report by Marc W. McCord

Elm Fork of the Trinity River, Texas

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Trinity River at and just below Dallas is an urban river that gets lost in the Great Trinity Forest. While it may seem remote the effects of urbanization are found in its waters - trash and debris illegally dumped there, E.coli bacteria from wild and domestic animal feces that washed into the streambed, and submerged heavy metals and other toxins that came into the river from Vought Aircraft on Mountain Creek Lake before, during and after World War II, including PCB's, lead, mercury, aluminum, industrial solvents, aircraft fuels and lubricants and other contaminants that have resulted in the segment of the river adjacent to downtown Dallas being labeled by the US EPA and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality as "unsafe for contact recreation", a distinction shared by only two other Texas streams, and one which mitigates the enjoyment of the river for recreational purposes. It should be noted that much of the hazardous pollution dissipates the further downriver one goes.

Most of the river is lined by densely forested adjoining land. It features a cut bank of sandy soil and a river channel that can be clogged by deadfall tree debris and rocks, as well as chunks of concrete from construction projects along the river that have been deposited there by floodwaters and intentional dumping over many decades. The upper 50 miles also includes 5 lock and dam structures that were a part of a planned navigation canal between Dallas and the Gulf of Mexico until funding limitations at the start of World War I terminated the project. Signs of where the river was channelized and straightened still exist in some places, along with the concrete and steel remans of the lock and dam assemblies which create hazards to navigation including strong hydraulic currents, especially when the river is flowing above normal levels. Access points along the river are few and most are not inviting due to limited or no parking and steep, often muddy banks leading to long carries through tall grasses, weeds and scrub brush.

The river also flows by the McCommas Landfill in South Dallas where a stinch often permeates the air. Below Loop 12, the river flows by the Trinity Audubon Center (TAC) on river left and then on down between a couple of hunting and fishing clubs where gunfire is often heard. The first of the locks and dams is about one mile below TAC. Usually, the locks and dams will require a portage for safe passage and extreme care should be taken to avoid the hydraulic currents generated by them which could result in injury or death, as well as destruction or damage to boats and gear. Because the river flows through a cutbank and is abutted by private land along most of its course camping opportunities along the river are very limited and extreme care must be taken to avoid getting trapped by rising waters in the event of heavy rainfall within the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. During warmer months care also should be taken to avoid water moccasins, which are prevalent along the river due to the extremely remote and seldom used nature of the river. This is especially true at night when visibility is limited because snakes feed from dust to dawn and frequently access sandbars along the river to rest, nest, drink and move to and from the river. Snakes may also inhabit rocky areas such as those to be encountered when portaging some of the locks and dams, so avoiding a snakebite while portaging requires vigilance.

The major positive aspect of the Trinity River near Dallas is that it is seldom paddled, and even though it is an urban river you might think you are far away from civilization if not for traffic noise on nearby roads, streets and highways, some of which cross the river and others that nearly parallel it at some points. The only three decent access points along the upper 70+ miles of the river are Sylvan Avenue boat ramp at 0.0 miles, Dallas Wave Whitewater Park off Corinth and Eighth Streets at about 3.7 miles and the Loop 12 boat ramp at about 9.9 miles. Other access points are steep, heavily vegetated, often muddy and have very limited parking space, if any parking is available at all. Additionally, most of those crossing roads are not places where you want to leave a vehicle unattended due to the very high potential for vandalism or theft. Approaching IH 20 Bridge the right bank is littered with literally hundreds of discarded automobile and truck tires that are an unsightly mess.

Possible Access Points

Sylvan Avenue (City of Dallas) boat ramp on river left at 0.0 miles; Continental Avenue between the Continental and Margaret Hunt Hill Bridges on river right at about 1.0 miles; Dallas Standing Wave whitewater park on river right at about 3.6 miles (take out on boat ramp above the standing wave); South Loop 12 (TPWD) boat ramp just below the bridge on river right at about 9.9 miles; McCommas Bluff off Riverwood Drive (south from Loop 12) on river left at about 13.4 miles (this is a very steep, but negotiable bank at an easy landing. Safety of vehicles left parked here is not known and the character of the surrounding neighborhood makes leaving unattended vehicles inadvisable); Dowdy Ferry Road on river right under the bridge at about 18.0 miles (requires a steep climb on often muddy, sandy soil, bushwhacking and a long carry of at least one tenth mile up a slight incline to a roadside area where vehicles could be left. Safety of vehicles left parked here is not known - it is an extremely remote area); South Beltline Road on either side at about 23.0 miles (requires difficult carry up steep, often muddy, bank, then bushwhacking through tall weeds and scrub - parking is VERY limited and safety of vehicles is questionable); Malloy Bridge Road on either side at about 27.0 miles is a long, muddy access with virtually no parking area along the roadway; SH 34 Bridge on either side at about 49.8 miles offers a very difficult access, steep (often muddy) banks and no vehicle parking anywhere near the bridge. Adjoining land at most access points (and all below Loop 12 in Dallas) is privately owned and heavily vegetated with dense stands of trees, steep, often muddy banks, tall weeds and very difficult portages with extremely limited parking, if any at all, in remote areas where leaving vehicles unattended is not advisable.


Dallas Wave whitewater park at about 3.7 miles is a definite hazard in high water, especially with loaded canoes - unloading and portaging boats and gear would probably be required; Lock/Dam # 1 at about 13.7 miles must be portaged on river right - unloading and portaging boats and gear would probably be required; Lock/Dam # 2 at about 22.7 miles must be portaged on river right - unloading and portaging boats and gear would probably be required; Lock/Dam # 3 at about 29.6 miles must be portaged on river right - unloading and portaging boats and gear would probably be required; Lock/Dam # 4 at 40.4 miles must be portaged on river right - unloading and portaging boats and gear would probably be required; Lock/Dam # 5 at about 48.0 miles must be portaged on river right - unloading and portaging boats and gear would probably be required. All locks/dams produce strong hydraulic currents immediately below them and can swamp or flip a canoe. Unloading and reloading canoes above and below the dams can be a slow and difficult process due to a lack of good access area for standing and securing boats. Several ledge drops are found along the river, but most can be run most of the time with minimal difficulty. Access at bridge crossings should be considered hazards due to the potential for steep, muddy banks, tall weeds and the probability of water moccasins, especially during warm months.

Camping Along the River

Camping along this reach of the Trinity River is almost non-existent. The Trinity River Audubon Center has some primitive campsites along the river just below the Loop 12 Bridge, but they require one of their employees to be present at all times, and they are concerned about liability issues. The center has not yet responded back about granting permission to camp there. Other potential campsites are on private property and would entail climbing steep banks with gear and supplies, then camping in dense vegetation with no air movement and significant mosquito swarms. A few potential campsites on sandbars alongside the river are available, but these risk the threat of flash flooding with no notice and are not recommended.


The reach of the Trinity River, spanning about 49.8 miles from Sylvan Avenue Boat Ramp to the SH 34 Bridge can be paddled in a 3-4 day trip, but it would be a very difficult trip requiring significant effort and very limited vehicle parking, river camping and access. Considering the heat, insects and snakes along this reach of the river, this is not an ideal place for a multi-day canoe trip. Others who have paddled it were in kayaks with chase car support where they could travel in unloaded boats and take off the river at the end of each day. The Trinity River is not a particularly scenic river and some would say it is just ugly with a lot of trash in and below Dallas. More exciting and scenic trips can be found on the Lower Mountain Fork and Little Rivers near Broken Bow, Oklahoma, the kiamichi River near Antlers, Oklahoma or on the Colorado River just east of Austin, each about 3 - 3.5 hours from Dallas. All three places have abundant primitive campsites along the river and no portages around hazards. Private property trespassing is not an issue and there are safe places to leave vehicles. Shuttles can be arranged for a reasonable fee from outfitters with whom I have worked for many years.

Trinity River Photos

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Trinity River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

[ West Fork ] [ Clear Fork ] [ East Fork ] [ Elm Fork ] [ Sylvan Avenue to Dowdy Ferry Road ]
[ Lake Livingston Dam to FM 162 ] [ FM 162 to IH 10 ] [ Denton Creek ]

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