Caddo Lake Trails: Explore The Natural Surroundings

Caddo Lake is an internationally protected wetland under the Ramsar Convention and includes one of the largest flooded cypress forests in the United States. Caddo Lake is a one-of-a-kind swamp that offers some of the most diverse animal and fish habitats in the U.S. 

According to the Fred and Loucille Dahmer Caddo Lake Preserve, Caddo Lake hosts nearly 190 species of trees and shrubs, 93 different fish, 46 reptiles, 22 amphibians, 47 mammals, and over 20 mussel species. Over 220 species of birds, including dozens of neo-tropical migratory songbirds, call Caddo Lake home. 

The mysterious qualities of Caddo Lake are characterized by bald cypress trees seemingly floating on the lake and draped with Spanish moss, while a ghostly mist hovers over the water flowing between the trees. Mixed bottomland hardwood forests and shallow, bald cypress swamps covering more than 30,000 acres along the border of northeast Texas and northwest Louisiana make up Caddo Lake. 

Caddo Lake is Texas’ only natural lake, but altered by a dam in 1968. Louisiana has other natural lakes. The best time to visit Caddo Lake and see its wildlife is in the spring and fall. 

When the nights are cool and the days are warm in spring, the gators, turtles, and other critters come out of the water to warm themselves. You can often see them lying on the beaches and felled trees sunning themselves. In spring, the birds are changing out seasons too. Winter birds are flying north and summer birds are arriving. In early spring, many of the animals are waking up from their long winter sleeps. They are hungry and frisky.

Caddo Lake State Park Walking Trails

Caddo Lake State Park, operated by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), has four trails. Hikers and bicyclists can use them, but on some trails at this park, bikes must remain on the pavement. Alligators live in the park. All four trails are near Sawmill Pond. 

When exploring Caddo Lake, do not go alone, but if you must, let someone know exactly where you are going. GPS and cell phones have a low connectivity at Caddo Lake. Dress for your adventure and carry a stick. It is extremely easy to get lost on land or water at Caddo Lake. See the hiking safety tips and alligator safety section below the trails section. Check out this map of the state park trails to plan your outing.

The Caddo Forest Trail

The Caddo Forest Trail is 0.7 miles long and rated as moderate. This trail has two points of interest, the CCC Pavilion and stone pillars that support a bridge. Several foot bridges cross little streams. This trail connects you to the other three trails.

The Pine Ridge Loop

The Pine Ridge Loop is 0.2 miles long and rated as moderate. Follow this trail to see the lesser-known side of Caddo Lake State Park. Portions of the trail are steep. There are walkways that seem to be on the edge of a hill, with deeper valleys on the side and multiple sections of water running through it.

The Pine Ridge Spur

The Pine Ridge Spur is 0.2 miles long and rated as easy. Hike through the upland pine forest, and find yourself in a bottomland hardwood forest as you continue on the Caddo Forest Trail.

The CCC Cut Through (Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s)

The CCC Cut Through is 0.2 miles long and rated as moderate. This trail is short but steep and features two staircases, including one built by the CCC. Starting at the fishing pier, it connects to the rest of the trails. You can rest at the CCC Pavilion. 

Caddo Lake State Park Paddling Trails

Caddo Lake State Park has over 50 miles of paddling trails for visitors. The paddling trails are the finest trails to enjoy canoeing and kayaking in Texas. Visitors can bring their own kayaks, canoes, or paddle boards or rent a canoe or kayak. Caddo Lake State Park has many boat ramps, and the Caddo Lake Marina is open year round for launching canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards. 

The Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) Trails

The Caddo Lake Wildlife Loop is a 9 mile trail. It is located at 15600 Highway 134, Karnack,Texas. The refuge is open during daylight hours. Here, you can enjoy hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding on the trail and take advantage of the wildlife observation areas. You have the opportunity to learn about the history of the refuge. 

Horseback riders who wish to access the refuge must obtain a registration number from the Friends of Caddo Lake. Ample horse trailer parking is available on the refuge. For additional permit regulations regarding horseback riding on the Wildlife Observation Trail, call the refuge office at (903) 679-9144.

Caddo Lake NWR Auto Route

The six-mile-long auto tour provides an opportunity to see a small portion of the refuge's native flora and fauna, to learn about its rich history, and the ongoing efforts to restore the refuge to its natural state. The refuge is open during daylight hours. Use caution when parking along the Auto Tour Route, as soft ground is frequently present. Please park in a manner that does not interfere with the flow of traffic.

Caddo Lake Safety Precautions and Regulations

Staying Safe

  • Know your limits. Prepare for sun and heat. Wear sunscreen, insect repellent and appropriate clothing/hiking shoes.
  • Drink plenty of water. Your body quickly loses fluids when you’re on the trail. Bring a quart of water per hour of activity.
  • Tell others where you’ll be. If possible, avoid exploring alone. Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return. If you get lost, please stay put.
  • You may not be able to connect. It’s a good idea to take along a cell phone and GPS unit, but don’t count on them.
  • Potentially harmful plants and animals may live here. You’ll see them more easily if you stay on trails.

Trail Etiquette

  • Trash your trash. Pack out all of your trash and Leave No Trace!
  • Leave feeding to nature. Feeding wild animals will make them sick. Please do not feed them.
  • Take only memories and pictures. Please don’t disturb or remove any of the park’s plants, animals, or artifacts.
  • Don’t Pocket the Past! Help preserve Texas heritage. Leave artifacts where you find them and report their location to a ranger.
  • Keep pets on leashes for their safety, and to protect wildlife.
  • We need to know about your caches. Please check with park HQ before placing geocaches within the park.

Alligator Safety Precautions

DON’T let your pets swim or run along the shoreline of waters known to contain large alligators. Alligators could be attracted to dogs because they are about the same size as a large alligator’s natural prey.

DON’T swim or allow pets to swim in areas with vegetation that is growing up out of the water. Alligators favor this type of habitat.

DON’T swim, walk dogs or small children at night or at dusk along the shoreline of waters that are known to contain large alligators. Large alligators feed most actively during the evening hours. This is one reason Florida has made it illegal to water-ski after dark.

ALLIGATORS have a natural fear of humans and usually begin a quick retreat when approached by people. If you have a close encounter with an alligator a few yards away, back away slowly. It is extremely rare for wild alligators to chase people. However, never make the mistake of thinking that an alligator is slow and lethargic. Alligators are extremely quick and agile and will defend themselves when cornered. A female protecting her nest might charge a person who gets close to her nest, but she will quickly return to the nest after the intruder leaves.

IT is not uncommon for alligators to bask along the banks of a pond or stream for extended periods of time. These alligators are usually warming their bodies; they are not actively hunting. Often times, a basking alligator may be seen with its mouth open; this is a way to cool its body temperature down, since alligators do not pant or sweat. An approaching human should cause these alligators to retreat into the water. (In some cases, the alligator may be protecting a nest). However, an alligator may be considered a nuisance if it leaves the banks of the water body to spend time near homes, livestock pens, or other structures.

IF you see an alligator while walking a pet make sure that your pet is on a leash and under your control. Your pet will naturally be curious, and the alligator may see your pet as an easy food source. Alligators possess a keen sense of smell. In areas near alligator sightings, it is wise to keep pets inside a fenced area or in the house for a few days during which the alligator will move on.

IT is not uncommon for alligators to pursue top-water fishing lures, and this activity does not constitute a threat to humans. As with fish, alligators are attracted to these lures because they mimic natural food. Most alligators can be easily scared away from boats or fishing lures. However, alligators that repeatedly follow boats, canoes, or other watercraft, and/or maintain a close distance without submersing may be considered nuisance alligators.

IF you see a nuisance alligator, consider why it is there. Did someone clean fish and throw the heads into a pond or river? If so, they created a potential alligator problem and could be breaking state regulations. Since October 1, 2003, it has been a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 for anyone caught feeding an alligator in Texas. 

DO not throw fish scraps in the water or leave them on shore. 

Gator Facts

  1. Feeding an alligator ultimately leads to its death.
  2. An alligator can run on land as fast as a horse for one-quarter of a mile.
  3. An alligator can bark like a dog, and it will hiss a warning if you venture too close to it.
  4. An alligator hunts for food and feeds between dusk and dawn.
  5. Below 60 degrees, alligators are less active and sometimes burrow into the ground.
  6. You will usually see an alligator’s eyes when it is in the water.
  7. Female alligators lay their 15-60 eggs in June and July in mounded nests above ground and fiercely protect them. Nests average about two feet in height and five feet in diameter. A mama gator may charge a human that wanders too close to her egg nest, but she will retreat once the threat moves away.
  8. Alligators do not become tame in captivity.
  9. Deliberate feeding of alligators puts you, your pets, your neighbors, and wildlife at risk.
  10. Alligators are timid and avoid humans whenever possible.
  11. Alligators are a federally protected species.
  12. In the past 20 years in Texas, legal protection, enhanced habitat conditions, and water impoundment projects have resulted in the rapid growth of alligator populations.

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