Cotton Lake is due east of Houston, about 35 miles from downtown. This is a true coastal wetland area, a spawning grounds and nursery for many forms of aquatic and wetland life. It's a good place to see wading birds, from herons to roseate spoonbills, and occasional alligators. In the spring swamp lilies and Louisiana iris are blooming in profusion. In summer there are wild hibiscus. There are few tall trees, so expect a lot of sun exposure. In fall and winter there are lots of ducks and geese, and plenty of hunters. This is an "out and back" trip so can take as short or as long a time as you wish.
Alligators are fairly common in this area, but they are very timid and will sink as soon as they see you if they are in the water. But if you surprise them on land, they will race to the water to hide. If you are between them and the water, it will seem as though they are coming after you. So be careful to stay in the middle of the channels so they have room to get to the water without running over you. This trip needs at least 3 hours and can take all day. You can portage over levees and get to new areas. If you don't have good navigation skills, using the sun and how many times you have turned right and left, take a compass. You can use the Cove, TX quadrangle map to orient yourself but the marsh looks very little on the map and there are many more passageways than show on the map. Another fun thing to do in the summer is to take an umbrella to "sail" home with. The bow person holds the umbrella so the wind catches it and the stern person rudders to control the course. It gets a little more interesting for solo paddlers.
From Interstate 10, take the Cove/Winfree/Old River exit (Exit 803). Go South on FM 565, for approximately .8 mile. You will come to an intersection with highway 3246/Gou Hole Road. Turn left on Gou Hole Road and follow it for approximately .7 miles to the intersecting street which is Maley Road. Go right on Maley Road and drive slowly through this residential area. The next intersection has a sign with a left arrow pointing to the Boat Ramp. If you follow the sign to the left, you will go to a brand new put-in which is on Old River. If you go right, you come to the older boat ramp which is on Cotton Lake. This is the area for which the paddling directions are written.
Paddling Directions: From the public boat launch follow the line of the sticks that marks the boat channel southeast over to Horse Bayou. Look over your shoulder on the way out to see what to look for on the return trip. A short ways down the bayou it branches to the right and goes to Old River Lake. If you stay to the right, you take Horse Bayou into the marsh and then take whatever channels will lead south to Trinity Bay. Sometimes the water is high enough to paddle all the way down the easternmost channel and you can paddle west just before a few houses that are located on the levee road that is on the south and east sides of the marsh. Sometimes the water runs out before you get that far and then you will have to find alternate channels running east. A portage is possible but the mosquitoes get very hungry for human flesh when you disturb their rest by stirring up the grasses and bushes. You can also stay farther north and taken main channels down to Trinity Bay where there is usually a tiny beach to have lunch on. To get back, work your way to the west and north. This gets you to Red Bayou/High Tree Bayou that can be paddled back into Cotton Lake at its southwest end. At the north end of the bayou, it winds around the sides of a lake for a power plant. There are lots of large rocks along the south shore there. The power plant personnel do not want us on those rocks. So, if you want to take out for a rest, stay close to the water. Take one of the openings back into the lake proper and set a course approximately northeast to get back to the takeout. The north shore has houses and a large sailboat and a tower which will help orient yourself as to where the boat launch is.
Information provided by Marilyn Kircus