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Red River, Texas
Report by Marc W. McCord

Denison Dam to SH 78
~ 32.7 miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The popular section for paddling the Red River below Lake Texoma starts at the dam in Grayson County and flows generally easterly for about 32.7 miles to the SH 78 crossing in Fannin County. Below Lake Texoma the Red River flows along (and forms) the Texas-Oklahoma border, into Arkansas, then down to Louisiana on its way to the confluence of the Mississippi River near Simmesport, between Alexandria and Baton Rouge. While the river is usually navigable into Arkansas, and perhaps all the way to the Mississippi, access is very limited and most paddlers prefer to limit trips to the section starting below the Lake Texoma Dam and continuing nearly 33 miles downriver to the SH 78 crossing a few miles north of Bonham, Texas and just south of Karma, Oklahoma. Along the way the Red River is fed by numerous creeks that enter from both sides, though those creeks will be very low to dry much of the time and especially during drought periods. The flow of the river is almost totally dependent upon dam releases at the lake, where hydroelectric power is generated. This usually results in better flows during the hot summer months, when the demand for electricity is higher.

The water quality is clear and unpolluted from the dam, and remains that way for the entire length of the trip, which can vary greatly depending upon flow - at high flows the trip will be shorter and at low flows you can expect a lot of military paddling (left, right, left, right), as well as probably a lot of walking and dragging in what may be deep, wet sand. The river is very wide and flows of 5,000 - 10,000 cfs are considered good for paddling. Camping, boat rentals and shuttle services are very rare to non-existent below Lake Texoma Dam, making this a trip best taken by experienced outdoorsmen (gender-neutral) who are prepared for the conditions to be encountered. Fishing is better than above the dam because of the clear waters, and anglers will find an abundance of giant alligator gar, channel, blue and flathead catfish, stripped, spotted, white, hybrid and largemouth bass. Some of the river banks will have step slopes, but others will be relatively flat, shallow slopes that are easy to access. Southerly winds can make paddling very tough on the Red River, even in a moderate current. The river below Lake Texoma is generally more hospitable, and does not have the same potential problems of quicksand and snakes that are fairly common above the lake. When the river is low there are abundant sandbars that can accommodate large groups all up and down the river, but be sure to check with the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to determine if a release is scheduled because this close to the dam would be a very bad place to be sleeping when big waters came rushing out from Lake Texoma.


Grayson and Fannin Counties in far north central Texas, along the Texas-Oklahoma border.

Distance from major cities

Sherman 15 miles; Dallas 60 miles; Fort Worth 95 miles; Austin 250 miles; San Antonio 330 miles; Houston 310 miles; Oklahoma City 165 miles; Tulsa 180 miles (all distances are approximate, and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Usually clear and unpolluted as it leaves Lake Texoma Dam, and continuing that way all along the 32.7 mile stretch, though it can become muddy and red after a major rain event along the Texas-Oklahoma border.

Best time to go

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, dam releases and/or recent heavy local rainfall can make trips possible at almost any time of the year. Winter paddling can be quite cold, so be sure to dress accordingly.

Hazards to navigation

The two biggest hazards to be encountered on the Red River are the low water and high headwinds. There are no rapids of significance, 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. Be sure to carry sunscreen, a hat, long sleeve shirts and long pants for mid-summer paddling.

River Access Points

US Army Corps of Engineers Campground (N 33° 49' 09.37" / W 096° 34' 04.01") on the Oklahoma side (river left) put-in at 0.0 miles; Texas Visitor Center (N 33° 49' 21.54" / W 096° 31' 54.59") on river right at about 2.2 miles; RV Park (N 33° 49' 23.03" / W 096° 31' 42.15") on Oklahoma side at IH 35 on river left at about 2.3 miles; Carpenter's Bluff Road (N 33° 45' 23.88" / W 096° 24' 37.42") on river left off FM 120, south of Hendrix, Oklahoma, at about 12.6 miles; Hendrix Road (N 33° 43' 47.22" / W 096° 22' 47.90") on river left at about 15.1 miles; Texas SH 78 (N 33° 45' 10.60" / W 096° 11' 49.72") on river right (Texas side) just south of Karma, Oklahoma at about 32.7 miles.

Campgrounds and accommodations

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. Beware of camping in the river bed below the dam - ALWAYS call the USACE (903-465-4990) to determine release schedules before starting a trip where you plan on camping between the river banks.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no liveries or shuttle services operating along this section of the Red River. 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.

Reviewer's Comments

With acess points located at 2.2, 2.3 12.5, 15.1 and 32.7 miles, the Red River below Lake Texoma can easily be considered for a good one-day trip of various lengths. It can also be divided into a two- or three-day trip for those wanting to enjoy the entire stretch, but not all in a single day. The generally clear and unpolluted water is more attractive and makes for better fishing for those wanting to wet a line and drown some worms, thouygh it may get muddy after big rains. The surrounding terrain is a little more scenic than above the lake, with a lot more trees, green vegetation and many small animals. The river will flow flat and slow most of the time, increasing in current speed with releases from the dam at the lake, but flows of 5-10,000 cfs are considered safe and optimal for good paddling and minimal walking. The real attraction to this section of the Red River may be its close proximity to Dallas, Fort Worth and Oklahoma City, from any of which the river can be reached in 90 minutes to 2 hours.

Technical Data
Class Rating I
Length 32.7 miles
Minimum Flow 500 cfs
Optimum Flow 1,000 - 3,000 cfs
Maximum Flow 5,000 cfs
First Put-in US Army CoE Campground
Lat. / Long. N 33° 49' 09.37" / W 096° 34' 04.01"
Last Take-out Texas SH 78 crossing
Lat. / Long. N 33° 45' 10.60" / W 096° 11' 49.72"
Elevation msl
Gradient fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Denison Dam
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season March-June, October-November
Permits No

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 Red River where you want to paddle.

[ Red River Homepage ] [ Above Lake Texoma ] [ Texas SH 78 to US Highway 271 ] [ US Highway 271 to US Highway 259 ] [ US Highway 259 to US Highway 71/59 ]

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