The Main Stem of the Trinity River begins in Dallas near the old Texas Stadium in Irving, TX, where the West Fork and Elm Fork converge. These descriptions are limited to the Dallas area. The main stem flows some 423 miles from Dallas to Anahuac at Trinity Bay on the Gulf. Few people canoe or kayak the entire reaches of the Trinity Main Stem downstream of Dallas. But if you have, we would love to read your trip report.
Recreation and Access
|Length||Dallas: 2 official trails from 3.7 to 10.2 miles|
|Minimum Flow||100 cfs|
|Ideal Flow||400 cfs|
|Maximum Flow||2,000 cfs|
|Current River Conditions||USGS Dallas 80570; USGS nr Crockett; USGS at Liberty|
|Put-ins||Trammel Crow Park / Sylvan Boat Ramp, Santa Fe DART Trestle / Cedar Creek|
|Take-outs||Santa Fe DART Trestle / Cedar Creek, Loop 12 / Great Trinity Forest Way bridge|
|Highlight||Great Trinity Forest, natural meanders, wildlife|
Paddling Trail and Launch Site Maps
- Dallas Trinity Paddling Trail [10.2 miles]
- Trammel Crow Park (Sylvan) to Santa Fe Trestle / Cedar Creek [3.7 miles]
- Santa Fe Trestle / Cedar Creek to Loop 12 / Great Trinity Forest Way [6.5 miles]
- Loop 12 / Great Trinity Forest Way to McCommas Bluff (Riverwood Overlook), river left [3.0 miles] Not an official paddling trail. Mandatory Exit Here. Strenuous Take-out.
- Dowdy Ferry Rd. to S. Beltline Rd. [5.0 miles] (Not an official paddling trail. Includes Lock & Dam #2. Strenuous take-out)
Beginning at the Sylvan boat ramp in Dallas, the first 3.7 miles are one sad testament to the man-made diversion channel off its natural course, beside downtown Dallas. Major channelizations of the Elm Fork and Main Stem were done in the early 20th Century. Nearing Cedar Creek as you paddle under the DART rail line, the 6,000 acre Great Trinity Forest suddenly surrounds the river that is home to many species of wildlife, including river otters, White-tailed deer, colorful Buntings, Bald Eagles, Pileated woodpeckers, Wood storks and Roseate spoonbills. Below Loop 12 the Trinity is truly remote and fairly natural all the way to Lake Livingston. The Trinity River Audubon Center, located off Loop 12 in Dallas, right on the Trinity Main Stem is a showcase of birding in a location that was formerly a toxic, illegal dump.
Historical / Cultural Significance
Fort Anahuac on a bluff overlooking the mouth of the Trinity River was an important and strategic location before the Texian Revolution. In the 20th Century, numerous attempts were made to convert the Trinity River into a barge canal, making Dallas a seaport, but all attempts eventually failed. Starting in 1902, several locks and dams were built before the project was abandoned after World War I. Five of those locks were built between South Dallas and SH-34 in Ellis County, and although they were never completed, the remains of a couple of the locks are still there. Lock & Dam #1 at McCommas Bluff in Dallas remains a hazard to canoeists even today and Lock & Dam #2 can be easily paddled around. It wasn’t until 1973, however, that the silly barge canal idea was killed for good. Now that the Trinity’s natural meanders are safe for the time being, the Trinity’s characteristics will continue to appear mostly natural once the river puts DFW behind it.
Conservation and Threats
Everybody lives downstream. We should all be frequently reminded that the Trinity Basin provides about one half of all Texans’ water supply. Yet rapid growth and urbanization throughout DFW is pushing higher quantities of water and sediment into the Trinity River through increased impervious cover and disturbed surfaces. Excessive amounts of dirt often wash into the river from landscapes that have recently lost their native vegetation and natural cover. Point-source pollution may be entering the Trinity where chemical spills, sewage leaks, and other accidents occur. Non-point source pollution is taking place where pet waste, fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are washing off yards and fields into the creeks that feed the river. Fish consumption advisories for the West Fork and Main Stem reflect toxic levels of PCB and Dioxin in large fish tissue. There is a growing concern about the occurrence of pharmaceuticals in water bodies and in drinking water. Pharmaceuticals get into the water supply via human excretion and by drugs being flushed down the toilet. You might think wastewater treatment plants would take care of the situation, but pharmaceuticals pass through water treatment.
For more than 20 years leading up to 2018, powerful leaders of Dallas proposed to build a toll road between the levees of the Main Stem Trinity at the western edge of downtown Dallas. After several bond elections, and citizens filled with righteous indignation, sanity prevailed and the folly was finally defeated for good. Anglers are reminded that this section of the Trinity River has regularly been subject to a fish consumption advisory for all fish species, so consult the Texas Department of State Health Services or call 512-834-6757 before consuming fish caught on the river. The advisory advises anglers not to eat any fish from specific sections of the Trinity River. Ipso facto domino rio non complevit.
The most popular fishing in the Trinity basin is Channel Catfish but Largemouth Bass are also a popular sportfish. In recent years, Alligator gar, Atractosteus spatula, have become a popular trophy fish because of their size and Cretaceous look. Alligator gar have been known to grow to 10′ and 350 pounds. Here is a world record 132 lb. spatula caught in the Trinity River in 2021 and subsequently released. In order to protect this species, TPWD instituted bag limits and rules to close the Trinity fishery to below Dallas when seasonal flooding occurs. Locally, the Alligator gar spawns in flooded woodlands of the Great Trinity Forest when the Trinity River floods. When irregular spring flooding of the Trinity River inundates this area (and temperatures are 68-82F [20-28C]), Alligator gar will move from the main channel into White Rock Creek and Oak Creek. In nearby low-lying vegetated areas (approx. one mile or more from river), the female Alligator gar will lay eggs and males will fertilize them. An average of 150,000 bright red eggs are laid. If ingested, these eggs are poisonous to humans and other predators. The eggs will hatch in as few as 48-72 hours. When the floods subside, fingerlings follow the creeks back to the main channel.
Anglers are reminded that this section of the Trinity River has a fish consumption advisory for all fish species, so consult the Texas Department of State Health Services at http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/seafood/ or call 512-834-6757 before consuming fish caught on the river. The advisory advises anglers not to eat any fish from this section of the Trinity River.