How to Paddle Buffalo Bayou

April 2021

Resources:

Tom Helm Canoe Guide Service

Bayou City Adventures

The easiest, nicest paddle on Buffalo Bayou is from the Woodway boat launch in Memorial Park. And the easiest takeout with parking is probably now just below the Sabine Bridge on the left bank near downtown, a float of a several hours or more, depending on the flow and your skill and effort. See below for takeout and other access options.

The Woodway boat launch, an official Texas Parks and Wildlife paddling trail takeout, is located in the Old Archery Range of Memorial Park, a small overlooked and neglected section of the park that actually used to be an archery range. You can still find old targets there, along with the remnants of a 19th century brick factory, a 20th century boy scout camp and picnic tables, among other things. You will float past some of the last remaining high banks in Houston revealing our geologic history. Go soon before the Memorial Park Conservancy destroys them.

The entrance to the Old Archery Range is on the south side of Woodway just west of Loop 610. There is ample parking for vehicles and trailers and easy access on a sloped concrete ramp down to the bayou’s edge. Well, except for the thick mud at the bottom of the ramp.

The concrete ramp leading to Buffalo Bayou below the Woodway Bridge from the parking lot in Memorial Park’s Old Archery Range. Be sure to take a reusable trash bag, provided for you courtesy of Eagle Scout Saswat Pati. Photo April 10, 2021

Of course, if you are looking for a longer adventure you can put in just below the dams at Highway 6 or further downstream in Terry Hershey Park. For this you might want to hire geologist and river guide Tom Helm.

But watch out for the Precinct 5 county constable out there, as for some reason the constable’s office takes exception to people legally unloading their boats, particularly trailers (even Boy Scouts!), in public parking lots to float in public streams. FYI, the public in Texas has a constitutional right to access a navigable stream through public land.

Note that these access points are not all easy and require some dragging and clambering.

Locations of put-ins (and takeouts) with parking:

Terry Hershey Park

Highway 6

There is a public parking lot on the right (west) side of Highway 6 as you head south with access to the north bank of the bayou in Terry Hershey Park.

Dairy Ashford

There is public parking on the right (south) bank just downstream (east) of the Dairy Ashford Bridge over the bayou in Terry Hershey Park.

Beltway 8

There is parking on the north (left) bank of the bayou underneath the Beltway 8 Bridge.

Briarbend Park

Briar Bend Park is a small city park located on the right (south) bank of Buffalo Bayou off a short residential extension of Woodway Drive west of S. Voss Road and south of San Felipe. Parking is on the street. Reusable trash bags available here too courtesy of Eagle Scout Edward Millard.

Looking upstream on Buffalo Bayou from the boat launch in Briarbend Park, sadly littered with concrete rubble in an effort to artificially reinforce the bank. Photo by SC August 10, 2020

Memorial Park

As noted above, boating access in Memorial Park is located in the Old Archery Range immediately west of Loop 610 just south of Woodway Drive. There is public parking and spaces for boat trailers. Long ago there used to be access to the bayou along the railroad right-of-way between the Arboretum and the main section of Memorial Park. But the conservancy has closed that area to vehicles.

Hogg Bird Sanctuary

There is a large public parking lot in the Hogg Bird Sanctuary at the southern end of Westscott Street off Memorial Drive which serves visitors crossing the footbridge to the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens in River Oaks. The left (north) bank immediately downstream of the bridge provides some short, steep and often slippery access between the adjacent parking lot and the bayou. Note that the parking lot is open only between the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Side note: You used to be able to take out just downstream at Brenner’s on the Bayou (avoiding the big alligator that once lived there) and then enjoy a nice meal and drink outdoors on the porch there. Give it a try!

Buffalo Bayou Park

 The Lost Lake Welcome Center (formerly The Dunlavy)

There was once a nice, sandy, sloping takeout below the Dunlavy on the right bank in Buffalo Bayou Park. But the Harris County Flood Control District scraped the vegetation and lined it with concrete riprap. The original park plan was to have a boat launch and boat rental there. Note that the canoe and kayak rental (Bayou City Adventures) has moved downstream to the Buffalo Bayou Park Welcome Center on Sabine Street.

However it is still possible to takeout below the Dunlavy. Note that parking is limited to two hours.

Sabine Street

Downstream of the Sabine Bridge there is a grassy slope on the left bank where you can take out and drag your boat to the parking lot. Plenty of parking in the public lot behind the Fonde Recreation Center.

Good to Know

Our recommendation is to hire paddling expert, naturalist, and geologist Tom Helm for the best, most informative river trip.

Be sure to check the water level and flow before you go. Base flow is a very low, slow current at about 150-200 cubic feet per second. After a storm, the Army Corps of Engineers will release impounded rain water from the dams in west Houston,  and the current can be fast and dangerous. Or exciting. Anything over 2,000 cubic feet per second is for experienced paddlers only. There are also pipelines and downed trees in the bayou, so watch out.

The bayou always looks different; it’s a living thing and always changing. But it especially looks different at high or low water. Below 300 cubic feet per second you can see the layers of geologic history in the high banks. Or used to be able to, before so many large private bank stabilization projects destroyed not only the natural banks but the natural functioning of the stream. (See here, for instance.)

Rivers naturally erode and build up again, transporting sediment from one side to another, downstream and around meanders, sediment that would normally end up as sand on the beaches of the bay. Trees, including downed trees, and other vegetation help trap that sediment (and our trash), restoring the banks, cleansing and absorbing the water.

On Buffalo Bayou, our banks, particularly the high banks, mainly slump or slide down, leaving small sandy beaches at their base where willows and other riparian vegetation (sometimes invasive) take root again. The erosion and slumping, along with the brush and trees lying on the banks, may look like damage to those unfamiliar with the natural process of a dynamic river. But the bayou is constantly adjusting and rebuilding itself. It’s a healthy process. It’s best to let the river heal itself. The brush and trees will collect sediment and restore the banks, and provide habitat for wildlife. Even steep, sheer banks are necessary for nesting birds like kingfishers and protect them from climbing predators.

Do it. Listen and learn. Watch for beaver and prehistoric alligator gar. Have a great time! It’s amazing. And sad.