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Canoeing & Kayaking

Martin Dies State Park, Texas
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Copyright 2002 Alfonso Vazquez-Cuervo - See Terms of Use

Our Route Summary

  • Submitted by: Marilyn Kircus with photos by Debbie Lockey
  • Date Submitted: 5/2002
  • Location: Martin Dies State Park is on Hwy. 190, about 8 miles west of Jasper. See more information in the park web site at
  • Class:
  • Distance Paddled: many options and distances from day trips to overnight
  • Water Level:
  • Water: fresh
  • Wildlife: We enjoyed the sounds of common marsh hens, pileated woodpeckers and prothonotary warblers as well as an alligator, shore birds, mostly yellowlegs and sandpipers as well as several migrating passerines including a lovely male Indigo bunting ... and the lovely scent of pine.
  • Special Regulations:

Entry & Exit

  • Directions: Martin Dies State Park is on Hwy. 190, about 8 miles west of Jasper.
  • Fee:
  • Description: Many places to put in; boat ramps, beaches, campsites
  • Parking:
  • Facilities: Rest rooms, picnic areas

What We Saw

Let's see, the weekend is looking good. Do we want to kayak or canoe? Paddle in a lake? Swamp? River? Have a scenic place to take pictures? What about the family? Might as well take them, camp out and make a weekend of it.

Can't make up your mind? Want a range of kinds of paddling? Then Martin Dies State Park is for you. You can camp in big wooded sites with lots of trees for hammocks, lots of roads and trails for bikes and hikes, and complete with lakes - Steinhagen, Rivers - Neeches and Angelina, swamps - here and there, marshes- ditto. Use a canoe? Yep. Kayak? yep for recreational and sea kayaks but you may not get in all the little corners of the swamps with long boats. This is a place that is fun for the long haul paddlers as well as those that like to just piddle about. It can have big enough waves on the lake to make canoeing exciting or impossible. You may be able to paddle right from your camp site or drive a short distance to the boat ramp or run a shuttle for a trip down to Angelina River back to the boat ramp.

I had one of the best paddling weekends of the year at Martin Lake State Park, April 12 -13. Debbie Lockey and I went to paddle and find birds so she could take their pictures. We arrived early enough on Friday night to take a little hike and check out the little bayou that separates Walnut Ridge Unit from the rest of the park. We immediately realized that, for the first time in 4 or 5 years, we would be able to paddle all the way around the unit, and out under the bridge and …..

We came back and set up the campsite and went to bed, intending to get up early to catch the best light and the most bird activity. We decided to put in at the boat launch and paddle up the cut-off to Neeches River and then take one of the sloughs that lead back into the lake. However we had a really fast current so went on downstream, looking for a way to cut back up. In the mud flats, we found lots of shore birds there.

We didn't find a passage, so went back north and east, doing a little portage to miss some of the fastest water. I startled a little grass snake and he jumped into the water to escape but it caught him and turned him end over end. I felt sorry for him. We continued to the east of the cutoff channel, looking for another place to cut through that would not have so much current. I found a place but it soon connected back into the cutoff so we just went ahead and paddled upstream, stopping for lunch on a little point under cypress trees.

Then we struggled through a few more turns, dodged a fallen tree and were on the Neches. We headed downstream with lots of assistance from the current until we found a slough going west. We followed it past little ponds with wood duck nest boxes in them and then curved around to the lake were we found a small flock of white pelicans. While Debbie photographed them, I noticed a lot of birds flying to a little island and when I checked it out, I could see it was a rookery. On the way over to the rookery, I noticed another camping area with a boat launch. I went over to check on it while Debbie went on to the rookery. It turned out to be a Corp campground with a boat launch that is only a few minutes north on Hwy. 92. I went back to meet Debbie and found her walking at the edge of the beach, taking picture after picture of cattle egrets, snowy egrets, little blue herons and ahningas, all in full breeding plumage.

After about 30 minutes and 60 pictures, we started back south through the main part of Lake Steinhagen. I noticed a alligator - maybe 7 feet swimming about 30 yards from us. He seemed to be swimming right along with us. But after a while, he disappeared and we continued our paddle to the Neches River channel, which we intersected just before the bridge on Hwy. 190. We had to paddle under the bridge, then go east, then paddle back north under the next bridge to get back to camp. Debbie stopped to take several pictures of cliff swallow nests - the little jug ones - under the bridge while I checked out the route back to see if we could get through a real shallow area. Suddenly, I heard "Hello, Miss Marilyn", the salutation Natalie uses for me. She was supposed to have been on Village Creek but it was too high to take the beginning girl scout paddlers on so the leaders had sent the children home and then followed Natalie over to Martin Dies for a little paddle. She and her daughter, Ellen, were paddling her tandem canoe out of the slough that went in front of our campsite. I invited her to come spend the night and she accepted.

Then I went back and directed Debbie back to our camp, walked up to the boat launch to get our cars, then hung a few hammocks and took a well deserved break as we had paddled and taken bird pictures from 7:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. except for a short lunch break. Natalie sent her group on their way and checked in and then came and started setting up her tent while I made salad. We visited and ate that and then I cooked a stir fry with rice while Natalie made chicken and dumplings. We had a bottle of wine with our main courses and then Natalie produced Girl Scout cookies for dessert.

We again turned in fairly early, although I spent another half hour in my hammock reading and enjoying the light breeze before I turned it. We were up eating our sweet potato pancakes and sausage before light and were again ready to jump in our boats and leave from camp. This day we paddled up the little slough (bayou?) in front of our site against the current. The stream quickly got very narrow, with most of the water covered in water plants and and against an ever heavier current. But many places were shallow enough to pole so we got under the road bridge where the current became almost nonexistent the rest of the way to the walkers' bridge. But the sky and trees were reflecting on the black water and we could still see a little mist. A few water lilies were already starting to bloom, adding to the beauty.
We paddled through the vegetation under the trail bridge and headed east to a little swamp. We took pictures of common moor hens, which often would let us approach very closely before they did their run across the water to gain speed to fly. We also saw anhingas, little blue herons, eastern kingbirds, snowy egrets, and prothonotary warblers. Alligators were bellowing to each other, sounding like large bullfrogs. The sky was going from a light overcast to a blue sky with lots of fluffy clouds. The trees were wearing brand new leaves in colors from yellow green to very dark green and the water plants added their bright green beauty to the picture.

We paddled slowly and quietly through the swamp until we ran out of open water, then paddled back along the north side of the lake until we found an opening to a sort of sub lake/swamp. This area was still real open but had more cypress tress than were in the main lake. We paddled though here, enjoying coots, moorhens and an occasional alligator. After about two and a half hours, Natalie had to leave but we kept on going on a slough through a swamp mixed with dry land. We stopped often and found spiders, flowers, and birds as well as beautiful scenery for Debbie to photograph. She finally got both a northern parula and a prothonotary warbler to pose for her.

The stream got narrower and started having a current against us. I believed it must be open to the river and suggested we keep going. Debbie was agreeable and, after we found a place to stop for lunch, complete with warblers, a wren, tree frog and baby leopard frogs, we found the stream getting smaller and starting to make tight twists. It now felt as thought we were in a woods. We again had to fight the faster current and work our way though a few downed trees and bushes but suddenly, we popped out into a big slough off the Neches River. The river was only a few hundred yards ahead of us. We soon were back on it and taking a fast ride back to the boat cutoff and an even faster ride back to the boat launch.

We walked back to camp for the cars and then washed our gear and loaded our boats before finishing packing up camp. We agreed that this was the best paddle either of us had done in a while.

Unfortunately, we didn't have time to paddle the Angelina from Bellview back down to the boat launch. Now we are thinking of using one of the Corp camps on the Angelina and Neches and setting up to explore the many sloughs that run between the two rivers. We might need a week or more to visit several of them.

Best times to visit - any time except late June through early September.

It is best to reserve an electric site in the Walnut Ridge Area. The park has recently made more of the sites electric and it is hard to get a good location on the lake or bayou unless you get electric. Check out the map to see which sites front on the little bayou but near Lake Steinhagen. If you are too far back, the vegetation may be too dense to let you paddle. You can choose to paddle from camp or drive to the boat ramp or even go to Bellview and run a shuttle back. The park can give you directions for the Angelina River trip. They also lead canoe trips for a fee several times each season.

Also you can contact the Corp about their campground on Lake Steinhagen or about getting a permit to camp in one of their sites on the on the Angelina or Neches rivers. I don't have the contact information for them but they have a physical site down by the dam. Hunters use the sites in the fall and winter but hardly anyone uses them in the spring. I would not recommend them after late spring because they are in the woods and get no breeze and will be pretty hot and buggy.

This looks like a great place to fish is that is your persuasion.

Bring maps and a compass and know how to navigate if you plan to investigate the maze of sloughs running between the Angelina and Neches rivers.

Be prepared for strong sun and possibly insects.