Turtle Shell Paddling Trail


Located on Caddo Lake near Uncertain, Texas, discover the mystery of the cypress swamps the area is known for as you explore this 4.6 mile loop trail.


Getting There

Access site:

Put-in and Take-out: Johnson’s Ranch boat launch (launch fee applies)
GPS Coordinates (DD): 32.70755, -94.11843

Driving Directions to Access Site:

Johnson’s Ranch boat launch (launch fee applies)
From Hwy 43, turn onto FM 2198, travel about 5 miles to the end of the FM, go straight at the stop sign and turn left at the Johnson’s Ranch Sign. This is the entrance to the marina. The boat ramp is on the left.

Distance from nearest major cities:

  • Austin - 311 miles
  • Dallas - 170 miles
  • Houston - 239 miles
  • Jefferson - 15 miles
  • Longview - 44 miles
  • Marshall - 20 miles
  • Texarkana - 60 miles
  • Tyler - 60 miles

Map


Trail Description and Landmarks

Trail Length: ~4.6 miles roundtrip

Float Time: ~2-3 hours (depending on time spent on the bayou, water level, and wind speed)

Trail Markers: Each Caddo/Big Cypress Bayou Paddling Trail is marked with unique reflective arrow signs attached to trees and posts to guide paddlers. This trail's marker is a yellow arrow sign (shown right).

The Turtle Shell trail will take paddlers through a well marked maze of boat roads where they will see a beautiful, mystical and almost primeval Cypress swamp. Paddlers in early and mid summer will be amazed by the expanse of American Lotus lining this trail. Standing several feet above the water and in some areas hanging over the trail, with their large yellowish/white flowers and “showerhead” seed cones, these plants are some of the most photographed on the lake. This trail will pass by charming cottages hidden along the shoreline as you return to the put in.

Caddo Lake consists of both river (Big Cypress Bayou) and backwater swamp.  Lake-of-the-Pines is the nearest water control structure on the Bayou and is just up river of Jefferson, Texas, just a short distance west of Caddo Lake.  The Bayou is very popular and will have seasonally heavy motorboat traffic.  The backwater swamp also experiences motorboat traffic under the right water level conditions, and water levels are highly variable in the swamp.  Also be aware that hunting is permitted on surrounding property which includes duck hunting in the winter months.  Swimming in the swamp is not recommended.

Find information on additional paddling trails along Big Cypress Bayou and Caddo Lake.

Fishing

Fisherman can find bass, crappie, and numerous species of panfish. It is also fun to fish for bowfin and pickerel. Ask at any Caddo Lake bait shops what is on the fishes’ menu.

Wildlife and Ecology

The bald cypress swamp and bottomland hardwood forests will surround paddlers with diverse flora and fauna which includes approximately 189 species of trees and shrubs, 75 grasses, 42 woody vines, and 47 animals. You will likely hear and see green and gray treefrogs, bullfrogs, spring peepers, narrow-mouth toads, cricket fogs. More than 200 kinds of birds species including Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Mallards, Blue-winged Teal, cormorants, Anhingas, Barred Owls, nesting Northern Parulas, Yellow-throated Vireos, Acadian Flycatchers, Pine Warblers, Black-and-white Warblers, Prothonatary Warblers, Pileated Woodpeckers, Red-shouldered Hawks, Mississippi Kites, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, late summer Wood Storks, and Roseate Spoonbills. Over 90 fish and reptiles including many turtles (sliders, stinkpots, and softshells), snakes (such as various non-venomous watersnakes, ribbon snakes, and cottonmouths), and an occasional alligator. There are 47 species of mammals known to be found on Caddo lake including beaver, nutria, mink, white-tailed deer, feral hogs and lots of squirrels. Paddlers can’t miss the tall, Spanish moss-draped bald cypress trees, persimmon, and water elm. Paddlers will float through spatterdock, American lotus, Cabomba, and if their timing is right, American featherfoil and carnivorous bladderworts floating in the still water of the lake.

Private Property

Respect private property by not trespassing or littering and keeping noise levels down. This river and lake are classified as navigable, which permits public use of the streambed and, if necessary, the banks to portage any hazard. Any other use of private river banks without permission of the landowner can be considered trespassing. Under Texas Penal Code (§30.05), criminal trespass occurs when one enters property after receiving notice not to enter. Notice includes verbal notice, a fence, sign(s), purple paint on posts or trees, or the visible presence of crops grown for human consumption.

Events & Attractions

For more information please see the Paddling Events calendar.

Uncertain
The small town of Uncertain on the shore of Caddo Lake offers many accommodations and restaurants. Services are available to help you enjoy the lake by fishing, hunting, paddling, touring, or photography. www.cityofuncertain.com, 903-789-3443.

Caddo Lake State Park
Thick bald cypress and a tangle of aquatic plants thrive in the waters at Caddo Lake State Park, which consists of 484 acres on Caddo Lake down the bayou from Backwater Jack’s. Because the vegetation is so lush, much of the lake is really a maze of sloughs, bayous, and ponds. Activities enjoyed by visitors include camping, hiking, canoe and kayaking, picnicking, nature study, and fishing.
www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/caddo-lake, 903-679-3351.

Caddo Lake Wildlife Management Area
The Caddo Lake WMA has 8,005 acres in Marion and Harrison Counties.  On the Caddo Lake WMA visitors will see bottomland hardwood forests, upland pine-oak-hickory forests, and mature hardwood forests.  Visitors will also see flooded bald cypress forests and a very diverse collection of aquatic vegetation.  WMAs are entry by permit only and Caddo Lake WMA offers primitive overnight camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, bird watching, photography, canoeing, and kayaking. www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/hunt/wma/find_a_wma/list/?id=104, 903-679-9817.

Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge contains some of the best examples of mature flooded bald cypress forest in the United States and includes cypress tress nearly 400 years old. Nature and wildlife can be viewed on the Refuge from hiking, biking and equestrian trails, and an auto driving route. The Refuge also has hunting opportunities. www.fws.gov/refuge/caddo_lake/, 903-679-9144.

Downtown Jefferson
Jefferson, the seat of Marion County, is a historic small town that remains largely unchanged from its 19th-century past as a riverboat port. You can walk the original streets, tour authentic buildings and relive its colorful history. It has numerous antique stores, restaurants, museums and an old-fashioned general store. Annual events include a historic homes tour in May. www.visitjeffersontexas.com, 903-665-3733.

Marshall
Marshall is the seat of Harrison County with a population of 24,000.  Downtown attractions include a renovated courthouse, shops, art galleries, restaurants, and the Michelson Art Museum. Annual events include the Fire Ant Festival in October and the Festival of Lights from late November through January 1st. Marshall Convention & Visitors Bureau, 903-702-7777.

Partnership

This trail was made possible through a partnership between Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Greater Caddo Lake Association, Cypress Basin Chapter-Texas Master Naturalist, Friends of Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and TPWD-Caddo Lake Wildlife Management Area.

Shuttles & Rentals

Johnson's Ranch Marina

On Caddo Lake - 5131 East Cypress Drive, Uncertain, TX 75661
903-789-3213 or 903-789-3268, canoe rentals
www.johnsonsranch.net

Crip’s Camp

325 Goose Prairie Drive, Uncertain, Texas 75661
903-789-3233, canoe rentals
www.cripscamp.com

East Texas Sonar

3200 N. Eastman Road, Longview, TX 75605
903-663-4648, canoe rentals
www.easttexassonar.com

Austin Canoe and Kayak

Rent kayaks, canoes, and standup paddleboards by the day to take anywhere you want, when you want. Locations in Austin, Houston and the San Marcos/New Braunfels area. For more information, visit http://www.austinkayak.com/rentals.php

REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.)

Rent kayaks, canoes, paddles, and PFDs (personal flotation devices) 7 days a week at your nearest REI co-op.
For the closest Texas store, visit http://www.rei.com/FindStores?state=TX&radius=900

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