Free Caddo Lake State Park Boondocking locations and vacationing go go together. The trip is absolutely AWESOME since there are so many sites you may see in addition to Caddo Lake!
I eventually stopped shaking after drinking my first cup of scalding hot coffee at first light. It had been a chilly night in November, but the forecast called for a sunny, warm day that would be ideal for paddling a canoe across Big Cypress Bayou.
A few feet from my tent, I can hear birds chirping their hearts out while I observe Caddo Lake State Park’s beauty slowly coming to life.
My previous visits to Caddo Lake were in the spring, but it is clear on this autumn morning that Caddo is a park for all seasons. Spongy moss hanging haphazardly from deep green cypress trees in the summertime was now mud brown desperate to hold to stunning burnt orange cypress trees.
Henry Ford utilized the same moss as filling for the cushions in early Model Ts, until consumers complained of irritating insects emerging from the seats. The Caddo Indians undoubtedly could have warned Mr. Ford, considering they lived in the neighborhood for 12,000 years. Well before the dams were completed, they established long-lasting settlements along the bayou, constructed ceremonial hubs, and kept up extensive trading lines. These early Texans vanished somewhere in the 19th century.
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The depths of the Big Cypress Bayou somewhere between 8 and 20 feet and has never had rushing water or rip currents to sweep away the abundance of the surrounding forest. The slowness of the flow leads to the water being heavy with micronutrients as it fills with decomposing materials falling into the stream and staying in place. Caddo’s nourishing water support plankton, 71 kinds of fish and a huge assortment of reptilian and mammal animals.
The bayou’s Saw Mill Pond is a pristine home for American blossoms and lily pads, a great place for frogs or turtles to take a sunny nap, and a popular spot for shorebirds like great white egrets and blue herons to have breakfast. All of these creatures can be observed from a long, secure pier. Although they are rarely observed, alligators and snakes are common in the bayou. They have learnt to avoid motorized fishing boats by staying close to the coast.
The bayous that crisscross the little lakes at Caddo Lake State Park change shape as it rains. In 2015, flooding in the surrounding towns of Karnack and Uncertain resulted in evacuations and significant structural damage to most buildings.
At the park, you can rent canoes for anywhere between $10 for the first hour and $50 for a full 24 hours. Having life jackets and oars supplied, the canoes comfortably accommodate three persons. The park rangers provide information about neighboring sites that can be reached by raft, pontoon, or fishing boats, as well as a list of organized bayou and swamp tours, when visitors check in to the park.
Maybe I’ll just take a seat, unwind, and enjoy the scenery of the bayou as someone else handles the rowing. It’s alluring. There are also fishing trips offered.
Caddo Lake is surrounded by a number of hiking routes. Most of them are quick and simple strolls that pass through interesting Civilian Conservation Corps buildings from the 1930s, such as a well house, a well picnic pavilion, a boat house, a concession, and latrines. In addition to building roads, CCC workers transformed 15 American Army barracks and chow halls into log homes that are still in use today.
Small creeks that slowly seep out of the bayou and flow across the forest are crossed by rustic boardwalk bridges. Insect-eating birds can be found all throughout the bayou because of its abundance. Watch out for the charming and active Pileated woodpecker on tree trunks. Armadillos, raccoons, minks, nutrias, and white-tailed deer may cross your way during the trip.
More than 50 campsites, ranging from basic to full-hookup locations with electricity and water, are available in the park. The properties have plenty of space between residents and are shaded by a variety of trees and shrubs. There are numerous recently renovated restrooms with showers located close to the campers.
Caddo Lake State Park boasts nine primitive cabins with barbecues and sheltered areas if camping in the great outdoors is not your thing. The Shady Glade Resort in Uncertain has a resort, a café famed for its fried catfish, a marina, a fishing pier, and an RV park.
A fun family day trip destination for east Texans is Caddo Lake State Park, which is only 5 miles from the Louisiana border. Outside the park, restaurants situated along the bayou provide peaceful views of elegant white egrets as well as mouthwatering fare for people of all ages.
Peach cobbler from the Big Pines Lodge in Karnack was highly praised. For their mouthwatering homemade coleslaw and off-the-beaten-path BBQ, Riverbend Restaurant in Uncertain is worth the journey. Unique street tacos made with goat or beef brisket meat are grilled at the Cajun-inspired Mexican restaurant Aseret on Highway 134. The Lighthouse in Uncertain serves delicious hamburgers if you don’t mind a bar atmosphere.
My fondest Caddo Lake memory was paddling along the swamp in kayaks at night with friends, looking for alligators’ red eyes on the shore while enjoying the country music and laughing coming from nearby cafés and private home decks. Caddo Lake State Park is a great place to come every day.
Paddlers can use the more than 50 miles of canoe and kayak trails in the Caddo Lake region. Explore the enigmatic network of sloughs, swamps, and bayous by following the trail markers placed along each trail.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Backwater Jack’s RV Park, Greater Caddo Lake Association, Cypress Basin Chapter-Texas Master Naturalist, Friends of Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and TPWD-Caddo Lake Wildlife Management Area collaborated to make these pathways a reality.
14 Caddo Lake State Park Boondocking Location
1. Boondocking Caddo Lake State Park Option – Lake Hawkins
White Oak, Texas
GPS: 32.5207, -94.8417
Public Lake surrounded by residential areas. Hawkins, Texas is really convenient to the park and is a great Caddo Lake State Park Boondocking spot. Trash bins and a portable toilet cleaned regularly. No designated area. You can see where previous people parked or had fires. Very peaceful. We found it to be a lovely overnight spot. It was quiet and peaceful. The campground is located on a little wooded peninsula with beautiful views. The campsites are primitive, but there was a porta potty available. Because it was freezing, we were not surprised to be the only campers. We hope to return sometime when the weather is warmer.
2. Boondocking Caddo Lake Option – Cedar Springs
Upshur County Landing Road
Ore City, Texas
GPS: 32.840822, -94.696681
Corp of Engineers
This Caddo Lake State Park Boondocking is located within the Corp of Engineers Southwestern Division’s Fort Worth District. The camping area is near Lake O’ The Pines. Campground is quaint. A few picnic tables. Its County Campgrounds but not maintained. The bathrooms are horrible. DO NOT ENTER bathrooms. But, as far as a peaceful primitive camping area fairly close to water, it was acceptable. I would camp there again. Its close to the boat ramp, so you have to sounds of boats from early morning until late evening.
Cedar Springs is open all year.
3. Boondocking Caddo Lake State Park Option – Walmart
GPS: 32.51228, -94.35685
The road in is Paved. Walmart is open year round. There are 30 or more campsites at this location and the maximum RV length is unlimited. You may stay overnight at Walmart. No one in lot, not even big trucks when I arrived at 2pm. I asked Mgr. on duty and she said I would have no problems parking overnight.
4. Boondocking Caddo Lake Option – Municipal Lot
GPS: 32.755776, -94.344034
The road in is paved. to this Caddo Lake State Park Boondocking Municipal Lot is open All year. There are 6-15 campsites at this location and the maximum RV length is unlimited. You may stay Unlimited at Municipal Lot. Free to park, $12 per day to use the 30/50 hookups and water. Jefferson is a very hospitable, walkble town north of Marshall. Stayed a week visiting an old buddy, the lot is across the street from the sheriff’s Dept and as safe as it gets.
5. Boondocking Caddo Lake State Park Option – Caddo Lake WMA
State Highway 43
Caddo Lake, Texas
GPS: 32.739967, -94.167259
Fish and Wildlife Service (Official)
Caddo Lake WMA is open closed during hunts and is an excellent Caddo Lake State Park Boondocking option. Camping is free of charge but all campers must check in and out and possess a permit to recreate on Texas WMAs. The permit is $12 (a wma hunting permit is also valid $48 is required to recreate on all Texas WMAs. This is a still an open camping area. No marked sites, but anywhere in the grassy area is okay for tent camping. We checked with Vanessa with TPWD to verify after checking it out to make sure. Don’t forget your permit before entry. No AT&T signal except for emergency calls only.
6. Boondocking Caddo Lake Option – Louisiana Welcome Center, Rest Area
9945 I-20 West
GPS: 32.450751, -94.00332
Rest Area (Official)
The road in is Paved. Louisiana Welcome Center, Rest Area is open year round. There are 30 or more campsites at this location and the maximum RV length is 45 feet. You may stay overnight at Louisiana Welcome Center, Rest Area.
7. Boondocking Caddo Lake State Park Option – Eldorado Casino
451 Clyde Fant Parkway
GPS: 32.5187, -93.745827
Must check in with Valet. Parking Area Description: Small lot. Not recommended for big rigs. Maneuvering in the lot can be a challenge — disconnecting any toad before arriving at the casino is strongly recommended.
8. Boondocking Caddo Lake Option – Horseshoe Casino
711 Horseshoe Blvd
Bossier City, Louisiana
GPS: 32.515316, -93.737351
Overnight free parking–no services. Best to check in with the Valet service.
9. Boondocking Caddo Lake State Park Option – Pardee Calloway Primitive
GPS: 32.773171, -93.462544
Corp of Engineers
Free Caddo Lake State Park Boondocking in the Corp of Engineers Mississippi Valley Division’s Vicksburg District. This campsite does nuse a reservation systerm. First come, first served.
10.Boondocking Caddo Lake Option – Corner of the Old Field Primitive
GPS: 32.787734, -93.474636
Corp of Engineers
Free Caddo Lake State Park Boondocking in the Corp of Engineers Mississippi Valley Division’s Vicksburg District. First come -> first served. No reservations accepted. This location is at low elevation.
11. Boondocking Caddo Lake State Park Option – Ivan Lake
206-232 Ivan Lake Road
Cotton Valley, Louisiana
GPS: 32.831437, -93.4933
Corp of Engineers
This Caddo Lake State Park Boondocking spot is located within the Corp of Engineers Mississippi Valley Division’s Vicksburg District. First come -> First Camped. Reservations not accepted.
Ivan Lake is open all year.
12. Boondocking Caddo Lake Option – Lower Mound @ Sulphur River WMA
GPS: 33.1675, -93.938393
Fish and Wildlife Service
Lower Mound @ Sulphur River WMA is open Year-round. Caddo Lake State Park Boondocking in designated areas only. There are two such areas in this WMA. The area consists of one of the last remaining large tracts of bottomland hardwood habitat along the Red River Valley. May be closed to the general public during (lottery) quota hunts.
13. Boondocking Caddo Lake State Park Option – Crabtree Landing @ Sulphur River WMA
GPS: 33.2136, -93.936096
Fish and Wildlife Service (Official)
Caddo Lake State Park Boondocking in designated areas only. There are two such areas in this WMA. The area consists of one of the last remaining large tracts of bottomland hardwood habitat along the Red River Valley. May be closed to the general public during (lottery) quota hunts.
14. Boondocking Caddo Lake Option – Alex Smith County Park – Miller County Arkansas
16731 HWY 237
GPS: 33.233808, -94.010508
Located at 16731 HWY 237 Doddridge, Arkansas in Miller County, AR Free campsites, all without water or electric. However there is a nice public restroom. Beware, no swimming, there are alligators in the water. Very nice little Caddo Lake State Park Boondocking spot.
Discount Paid Caddo Lake Alternatives Outside the Park
1. Caddo Lake State Park
GPS: 32.691833, -94.179536
State Park (Official)
The road in is Paved. There are 30 or more campsites at this location and the maximum RV length is unlimited. About 60 sites starting at $10 for “water only” and up from there. Entry fee is $4. The little lake offers some Spanish moss draped bald pines and canoe rentals start at $10 for 1hr. The real bayou is close by so this could be a base for that. Mosquitos are numerous of course but there are also no-see-um flies (in October). All shaded in forest. Unfortunately the train is very loud during the night which spoils it a bit for me.
2. Boondocking Caddo Lake Camping Option – Earl G. Williamson Park
11425 LA Hwy. 1
Oil City, Louisiana
GPS: 32.729228, -93.974115
Corp of Engineers
Cost $6 to $12 Day
The road in is Paved. There are 6-15 campsites at this location.
3. Boondocking Caddo Lake State Park Camping Option – South Abutment East
1700 Bodcau Dam Road
GPS: 32.703559, -93.507282
Corp of Engineers
Cost $6 Day
4. Boondocking Caddo Lake Camping Option – Tom Merrill
976-998 Bodcau Dam Road
GPS: 32.706675, -93.516843
Corps of Engineers
Cost $12 Day
The maximum RV length at Tom Merrill is 20 feet.
5. Boondocking Caddo Lake Camping Option – Jackson Creek – Wright Patman Lake
GPS: 33.221031, -94.30014
Corps of Engineers (Official)
The road in is Paved. Jackson Creek – Wright Patman Lake is open Year-round. There are 16-29 campsites at this location and the maximum RV length is 25′. You may stay 14 Nights at Jackson Creek – Wright Patman Lake. Free COE park camping. No entrance fees.
Jackson Creek is a free camping park with a boat ramp. Camping is allowed for no more than 14 days. Facilities include picnic tables, ground fire rings and lantern holders at each campsite and a central vault toilet. No water or electricity is available. This is an abandoned state park that the COE took over and maintains. The campground loop is dirt. The sites aren’t grated anymore and aren’t really level or obvious.
Inside Caddo Lake State Park Camping
1. Caddo Lake boondocking Alternative – Full Hookup Campsites
Cost $20 Day
These sites (#18-25) are in Woodpecker Hollow. Sites #18 and 21 are wheelchair friendly. Tents are not allowed in these sites.
2. Caddo Lake boondocking Alternative – Campsites with Electricity
Cost $10 Day
Tents must be on the 15’ x 15’ tent pad. Located in the Armadillo Run (#26-36) and Squirrel Haven (#37-45) camping areas. Campsites #34 and #38 are wheelchair friendly.
3. Caddo Lake Boondocking Alternative – Campsites with Water
Motor homes and trailers are not permitted in the Mill Pond Camping Area. Tents must be on the 15’ x 15’ tent pad. Campsites #49 and #54 are wheelchair friendly.
History Of Caddo Lake
Texas was first seen by Spanish explorers in 1542. In 1685, French explorers came. On the Red River in the late 1600s, both tribes came across the Caddo. With the newcomers, the Caddo was effective in trading and negotiating.
The Caddoan people gave that lake their name. One myth claims that an earthquake that formed Caddo Lake was brought on by a Caddo chief disobeying the Great Spirit. Another describes how the lake was created as well as how Sha’chahdnnih (Timber Hill), the final known Caddo hamlet, came to be.
Around 1800, the Caddo started to settle in the region close to Caddo Lake. They constructed ceremonial hubs and upheld extensive commerce networks. They fished, grew corn, beans, and squash, and used bows and arrows to hunt wildlife.
However, a dispute over Caddo land erupted between the Spanish and the French. By the middle of the 1800s, the loss of Caddo territory had escalated due to American colonization from the east and invasions by other Native tribes.
In 1859, the Caddo were forcibly relocated to Oklahoma by the American government.
Legends and Logs
Domingo Teran de los Rios, a Spanish adventurer, came across an impassable logjam on the Red River in 1691. The similar “Great Raft” of downed, partially submerged trees obstructing the river in 1806 forced the American Freemen-Custis Expedition to take a different route.
Over 50 miles of uprooted trees were placed in the river to form The Great Raft. Spring floods has degraded riverbanks, uprooted trees, and worsened logjams for generations. Around 1800, a lake was created in Louisiana’s Cypress Valley when the raft impeded river flow.
Things To Do On Your Caddo Lake Visit
With less than 100 residents, the little town of Uncertain is situated right on Caddo Lake. You’ll most likely visit it to take a boat tour of Caddo Lake. The best way to see the lake is on a tour. The guides are quite knowledgeable and can educate you a lot about the surroundings and fauna. A list of tours departing from Uncertain is available here.
Midway through the 1800s, Jefferson, Texas, was a significant port city that served as an important point of entry for the Republic of Texas and later the State of Texas. With the spread of railroads, the town’s prominence diminished somewhat; it now has a population of about 2,500. The city has a wealth of historic attractions, including several haunted hotels, a trestle bridge, and a railcar once owned by a railroad developer.
Compared to Uncertain, Jefferson is a significantly bigger town with more to do. Despite being bigger than Uncertain, it still retains a lot of the charm of a little town and boasts lovely buildings that are full of charm. You can go shopping for antiques, take a ghost tour, or eat at a variety of eateries. A couple of notable venues include the Jefferson General Store for a variety of food and souvenirs; the Museum of Measurement and Time for an amazing collection of timepieces and salt and pepper shakers; and Kitt’s Kornbread Sandwich and Pie Bar for all things cornbread. For even better views of the iconic Howe Truss Train Trestle bridge, which also features a nightly LED lightshow, check out the Turn Basin Trail.
Kayak On Caddo Lake
Get on the water when you visit Caddo Lake! You can take a guided boat tour, hire kayaks or canoes, or both. Since you will be able to explore various areas of the lake with each experience, I highly recommend doing both. We chose to rent kayaks because of Covid.
From Riverbend Outfitters, we rented kayaks that we launched into Big Cypress Bayou. They provided a drop-off that was entirely contactless. At Backwater Jack’s RV and Campsite, they merely set our kayaks—complete with maps and labels bearing our names for when we arrived—out on the sand. Because my partner is 6’4″ tall, they provided us with extra-large sit-on-top kayaks made for fishing. Although relatively large for lake cruising, the kayaks were pleasant and stable. I believe it would have been simpler for me as a rookie kayaker with a smaller kayak, but I persisted regardless!
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