The Brazos River is a throwback to days of old when Comanches dominated this area of Texas. The entire length from West Texas to Brazosport / Freeport is about 840 miles. Rio de los Brazos de Dios. The Brazos River forms in Lubbock County and Crosby County in West Texas with even some headwaters in New Mexico. The river is a long, slow stream that flows south by southeast to the Gulf of Mexico in Brazoria County. These reports will detail those sections where access and paddling is feasible, particularly below Possum Kingdom Lake, Lake Granbury and Hidalgo Falls near Navasota in Brazos and Washington Counties and coastal paddling along the Lower Brazos.
Recreation and Access
Navigable flows begin after the Clear Fork confluence southwest of Graham. However, a few whitewater kayakers do venture out on the Clear Fork (video) after big rains. There are several coastal paddling destinations on the Lower Brazos. The Brazos is well characterized by ferocious southerly headwinds. In fact, wind may be the biggest hazard on the Brazos River, so plan accordingly. Major tributaries include the Paluxy River, Bosque River, Little River, Navasota River, Little Brazos and innumerable creeks.
Descriptions and Paddling Trails
Hwy-16 bridge to FM-4 bridge [19.5 miles, JGSR]
US-67 bridge to Brazos Point FM-1118 [16 miles]
Limestone Bluffs Paddling Trail (Navasota River) [5.3 miles]
Historic Hidalgo Falls [TRPA members only]
Stephen F. Austin Paddling Trail [35.4 miles of paddling on four connecting trails along the Brazos River]:
- Columbia Bottomland Waterway
- Explore a wooded river escape on this 8.3 mile stretch of the Brazos River through the impressive Columbia Bottomland forests of Texas.
- Old Settlement Passage
- Enjoy a longer paddle along the Brazos River with this 10.4 mile route that offers views of historic bridges along the trail amongst the Columbia Bottomlands.
- Sugar Mill Stretch
- This 6.9 mile section provides the shortest paddle of Brazoria County’s trails, giving paddlers an easy escape from the hustle and bustle of their everyday lives.
- Gulf Prairie Run
- The Columbia Bottomland hardwoods open up to a section of the river with a more open coastal feel as you paddle this 9.8 mile trail heading into Freeport.
Launch Site Maps on the Upper-Middle Brazos (Seeking descriptions or details)
Lake Possum Kingdom
The Upper Brazos forks originate in West Texas High Plains and Cross Timbers & Prairies vegetation areas. Sand and gravel bars provide excellent riverside campsites, becoming more numerous as you go downriver. The water is typically clear and cold coming from the bottom of Possum Kingdom Lake. Awesome scenery somewhat counters the challenges of wind and low water. In spring, southerly headwinds can be ferocious. Not that far from DFW, overnight camping on the gravel bars with dark and starry nights is an attractive option for getting away from urban light pollution. A minimum of two days is recommended for this 19.5 mile paddle. Bald Eagle nesting and sightings are common along this stretch of the Brazos in fall and winter. Ashe juniper cover the hills plus elm, willow, and oaks.
Conservation and Threats
There are environmental challenges such as Brazos River Authority over-allocation, very inconsistent dam releases, excess algae cover and occasional outbreaks of Golden Algae. Power plants contribute excessively warm water. Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plants must keep pace technologically with a quickly growing population to contain excess nutrients. The Upper and Upper-Middle Brazos have naturally high levels of salt. Gravel mining and rock quarries are a real and present danger to water quality in this stretch of river. Trash is a common problem along the river with careless tubers in the summer and careless fishermen year round.
Stretching from Possum Kingdom Lake to within a few miles of Lake Granbury, the John Graves Scenic Riverway was named for the author whose celebrated book, “Goodbye to a River” focused on his love of the Brazos and reflection on changes to the river in the late 1950s. With the passage of Senate Bill 1354 in 2005, authored by Senator Craig Estes during the 79th Legislative Session, the Texas Legislature not only honored the author who made the Brazos famous with his tribute to the river, it created a collaborative effort between several state agencies that would strive to improve water quality. For more than 12 years, the TCEQ, the Brazos River Authority and TPWD have preserved the area’s allure through tightened permitting requirements, continued monitoring and water quality testing. Individuals and environmental groups such as the Brazos River Coalition and Friends of the Brazos were instrumental in bringing concerns to state agencies and lawmakers. They were outspoken in their support for protection of the area of the John Graves Scenic Riverway.
Friends of the Brazos River fought a long, expensive battle with the Brazos River Authority from 2003-2014 when BRA applied for a TCEQ permit to allow severe over-allocation of water rights between Lake Granbury and Lake Whitney. This application would have severely impacted the ecological health of the Brazos River and granting of the BRA permit would provide more water than was needed for BRA to satisfy its out of stream demands. That surplus water could be used to protect and restore the ecological health of the river. The BRA had not developed flow regime recommendations to bolster its case. In the end, the contested case hearing resulted in BRA being denied the full amount of water it was asking for.
Cultural and Historical Significance
This part of the Brazos was home to Comanche before the 20th Century and was a ‘Hardscrabble’ existence for many 19th and 20th Century pioneers. John Graves memorialized the Upper-Middle Brazos River in his classic book, “Goodbye To A River” from his 1957 canoe trip before De Cordova Dam and Lake Granbury were created. John began his three week canoe trip at Hwy. 16 below Sheppard Dam and PK Lake and ended at Lake Whitney.
The Battle of Blanco Canyon marked the first time the Comanches had been attacked in the heart of their homeland. It was also the first time a large military force explored the heart of Comancheria. In 1871 Col. Ranald Mackenzie and Col. Benjamin Grierson began an expedition against the Kotsoteka and Quahadi Comanche bands who had refused to relocate onto a reservation. The force assembled on the Clear Fork of the Brazos on 19 September 1871. The force set out in a northwesterly direction on 30 September 1871, hoping to find the Quahadi village, which housed the warriors led by Quanah Parker. This village was believed to be encamped in Blanco Canyon near the headwaters of the Freshwater Fork of the Brazos River, southeast of present day Crosbyton, Texas. On the fourth night of the march, the expedition established a base camp at the junction of the Salt Fork of the Brazos and Duck Creek, near present day Spur, Texas. The following day, Col. Mackenzie made the decision to leave his infantry to fortify the base camp, and set out for Blanco Canyon with his cavalry to strike a blow at them in their heartland. By October 9, the cavalry force reached the White River and Blanco Canyon, the first non-Comanche military force to enter Blanco Canyon since the rise of the Comanche as a power on the plains. Quanah Parker personally led a small Comanche force which stampeded through the cavalry camp, driving off about seventy horses and mules. As the pursuing cavalry reached the top of a hill on the top of the canyon, they found a much larger party of Indians, who were waiting in ambush. The cavalry fought their way clear, but suffered the loss of one cavalryman. Col. Mackenzie regarded the entire expedition as unsuccessful. The command had marched 509 miles, lost one life, and many horses. He considered that they had accomplished nothing but frighten one hostile Comanche band. However, he had marched to the heart of the Comancheria (and mapped the region in the process), penetrated into an area of the Llano Estacado nobody but Comanches had ever seen.
- Breaking the Brazos – Kathryn Jones, Texas Observer Jan. 2023
- Embracing the Brazos, Texas Highways – by Joe Nick Patoski
- Solo Brazos Trip Report 2021, Earl Atnip [395 miles]
- Solo Brazos Trip Report 2017, Earl Atnip – Yegua Creek to Hwy 105 [20 miles]
- Brazos Outdoor Center (Hwy 67)
- Rochelle’s Canoe Rental (Hwy 4)
- Dick’s Canoe Rental (FM-2114, below Whitney Dam)
- Brazos Basin NOW – River and Lake Levels