Caddo Lake on the Texas and Louisiana border is a unique place as it is home to the world’s largest cypress grove. Being from the hills, I have always found cypress trees interesting. From the way they adapt to living in water to the fact that they are a conifer tree whose needles change color in the autumn and drop for the winter. They are really cool trees. With more than 25,000 acres, Caddo Lake is big. And one great way to explore this large grove of amazing trees is to paddle one of the lake’s many water trails. The Hell’s Half Acre Paddling Trail is one of the more popular floats because it begins at Caddo Lake State Park.
This water trail is 8.8 miles round trip and is marked with red arrow trail markers. Depending on how much time you spend on the bayou, how hard the wind is blowing, and the level of the water, the trip can take between three to four hours. So it’s a great afternoon float.
Finding the trailhead for Hell’s Half Acre Paddling Trail
The put-in and take-out is at the Mill Pond at Caddo Lake State Park. The Mill Pond is a beautiful small inlet from the bayou and is great for watching wildlife, especially birds. If you don’t have your own kayak or canoe, Caddo Lake State Park can rent them out to you at the park headquarters.
To find the Mill Pond, enter the park and drive until the road becomes one-way. Follow the one-way road around, past the boat launch, and onto the next parking lot. This is where you can launch your boat.
Is it a lake, a swamp, or a bayou?
Well, the answer is, yes. Caddo Lake is a combination of all those things. It is a maze of wetlands that includes backwaters and bayous. Created naturally by a large logjam, Caddo Lake has dams and reservoirs to keep it under human control and management. The average depth of the lake is between eight and 10 feet, but the depth on the bayou averages about 20 feet.
The bayou is narrower but more free of vegetation than the backwaters and wetlands. It has more of a lake feel than a flooded forest feel.
There are alligators in the waters, along with a whole bunch of other fun wildlife. Caddo Lake State Park has some great information on alligators.
Mill Pond and Big Cypress Bayou
The Hell’s Half Acre Paddling Trail begins in the Mill Pond, a backwater area. It quickly takes you to the Big Cypress Bayou, which gives you an open lake feel aspect of Caddo Lake. When you enter the bayou, swing a right paddle downstream.
On your right, or the south shore, there are houses and a restaurant. And on your left, or the north shore, is the Caddo Lake Wildlife Management Area. The WMA shows you the natural beauty of the area.
The homes on your right are high up on stilts and remind you that the water level on Caddo Lake can fluctuate a great deal.
After you’ve paddled about 2.5 miles, a small opening appears to your left. A red sign directs you to leave the bayou and begin traveling upstream through the Carney Canal.
Carney Canal to Carter’s Chute
Once you enter the Carney Canal you begin to get the feel of being wrapped in trees, as opposed to open water. Through the Carney Canal, the banks on your left and right rise high above the water and you see pine trees. For a minute you forget you are in a swamp.
Carney Canal is the beginning of Boat Road C, which is one of the major boat roads through Caddo Lake swamp and the WMA. Around mile 3.3 the higher ground that surrounded you in the canal sinks down and the narrow channel spreads wide.
In this part of Hell’s Half Acre Paddling Trail, you really feel the swamp aspect of Caddo Lake. You are surrounded by tall bald cypress trees with moss hanging all around. American lotus and lily pads also surround you.
In this part, you really need to watch for the trail markers. They are not hard to spot, but you do not have a narrow path or well-worn trail to follow.
The last portion of the trail overlaps with the Carter’s Chute Paddle Trail. If you have more time, you can add this trail for a longer paddle. The Carter’s Chute trail is marked with gold trail markers.
When you reach the end of the trail and have explored as much as you like, follow the trail markers back to the bayou and back to the state park.
Hell’s Half Acre Paddling Trail
Don’t let the name fool you! Hell’s Half Acre Paddling Trail is a wonderful water trail and a great way to explore Caddo Lake. This is just one of several paddling trails on the lake. For a list of more trails and descriptions, click here. Arkansas has some pretty cool water trails too.