Finding a river to kayak during a Texas summer can be a challenging task. Rain in July or August is typically a rare event, which translates to most of the rivers being very low. The Brazos near Graford, Texas is a river you can count on to at least be navigable. In the summer months it flows much slower though, so what might take a couple hours in the spring, can become a nice two day paddling trip. Mid-July we decided to give it a try.
Before we left for our trip we checked the river levels on the USGS website. Their website is a good one to have bookmarked for paddling trips. River trip durations vary widely based on the flow of the river at the time you go. We used the levels at the Graford gauge point for our trip. In the days leading up to our trip the flow rate was around 200cfs and that was pretty accurate for how the river felt. The gauge at Graford said the depth was 65 feet deep. I am not sure where exactly that gauge is located but at no point did we encounter depths deeper than our paddles and often it was only a foot or two deep.
Rochelle’s Canoe Rental has been a Brazos river fixture for decades. They offer various canoe and kayak rentals in addition to their shuttle service. They ask that you reserve your shuttle several days in advance so that they can be sure to hire enough shuttle drivers. When you arrive in Graford drive right to Rochelle’s. There you will need to prepay for the shuttle, give them your spare key, license plate number, and phone number. Be sure to bring cash because they do not accept cards. They have trip options varying from 10 miles to 19.5 to 37.5. We opted for the 19.5 mile trip. For this trip and the 37.5 mile trip you drive your kayaks to just below the dam. They will give you a map showing you where to put in. While you are on the river they will come and move your vehicle to either their property on the river, or to a spot further downstream if you choose to do the longer trip. The ten mile trip leaves from Rochelle’s and they move your vehicle downstream for your take out.
Camping on the River
There are numerous nice campsites starting within a few hours paddle from the put in at the damn. Our first day we put in around noon and took it easy paddling. At the end of Garland’s Bend, the first major twist of the river after the dam, we found an ideal campsite. The area was shaded and the bank had a nice sandy beach to pull our kayaks up onto. Right in front of it there were some small rapids to provide relaxing background music. We reached it at three that afternoon but we decided it wold be a great place to spend the afternoon. Just past the rapids proved to be fertile fishing ground as well and we feasted on a large bass for dinner that night.
There is a very popular island for camping after Fortune’s Bend, the next major bend in the river. It makes an excellent winter campsite, but with it’s few trees shade is very limited on hot summer days. The island can be reached with a good full day’s paddling when the river is moving slowly. Do not count on privacy though as many people choose it as their campsite. There is a fast moving current on the right side of the island that kids turn into their own water ride. They will get in at the top of the island and let the current sweep them downstream to the end of the island and then run back up to do it all again.
Beyond the island we found two other ideal campsites. The first was a cliff overhang that we ate lunch sitting beneath. We had perfect timing as a rare summer storm passed over while our lunch was cooking and we watched it from beneath our rock roof. The only downside to that site was we had to leave our kayaks in the water as there was no beach to pull them onto. There was a small tree growing from the rock bank and we used that to tie up our boats.
The second was on river right with a nice beach, large trees, and little brush.
Rochelle’s is hard to miss from the river. It is on river right immediately after passing under a bridge. With their wide beach and cleared parking area it is also a popular place for locals to come down to swim. There’s usually plenty of commotion with people beaching kayaks, others tubing and swimming, and even boy scout troops visiting from the big camp upstream.
Overall, this Brazos River Trip is an excellent summer paddling excursion. You won’t have the excitement of rapids but you’ll definitely feel away from it all and the lack of rapids makes it a perfect trip to bring kids along. The scenery is unspoiled with woods and pasture being all you’ll see. The river is mostly clear and rocky bottomed. The fishing is excellent and Rochelle’s makes the logistics easy.