Lake Charlotte/Wallisville/Lower Trinity River

Description:  This area has been touted as the "largest Westernmost cypress swamp" along the coast of Texas.  Described here is the area east of the Trinity River and three lakes that are incorporated.  Lake Charlotte is the largest of these three lakes;   Lake Miller second;  and Mud Lake third.  New growth cypress trees line Lake Pass.  They have grown considerably in the 20 years since I first visited this area and shade the Pass along most of its length.

The Pass appears paddleable year round.  When this area and upstream along the Trinity River have had little rainfall, the levels of the shallow lakes may go so low that they can not be paddled, and the mud bottoms are too soft for long distances to make poling a viable alternative.  When the Trinity is in flood stage, one can literally paddle through the trees and little or no dry land is visible.  Lake Miller's southern shore is about the highest elevation for finding a dry spot to get out of a canoe under flood conditions.

The area teams with wildlife.  Summer visitors can be rewarded with the sight of hundreds of shorebirds feeding on the shallow lake bottoms.  Winter avian visitors include many migratory species, and there are hunting blinds on some of the lakes (Charlotte for sure), so you may want to take that in consideration if you're paddling during duck and goose hunting season.  I have seen beaver along Lake Pass, alligators, and a recent Houston Canoe Club trip saw a herd of wild hogs.  White ibises, night herons, and many other birds nest in the area.  Also large nests of wasps, some at head height in the pass, so keep your eyes open!  Lots of snakes too.

For a map of the Lake Charlotte area,  click here   I recommend setting the scale to 1:200,000 to see the area.

Driving Directions:  To get to Cedar Hill Park, exit IH10 at exit number 810, labeled "Anahuac, Liberty, FM563".  This is about 30 miles east of Houston.  Follow FM563 about 2.8 miles north.  Lake Charlotte Road intersects at this point.  "Hatcher's Christmas Tree Farm" is the easiest-to-spot landmark at this intersection.   Turn left (west) on Lake Charlotte Road.  In another 1.1 miles, the entrance to the park is on your left.  If you go past the entrance, you will have to make a sharp righthand turn.  The Sherman Cemetery is directly across  Lake Charlotte Road from the park entrance, which at this writing (February 2001) has absolutely no signage.  Drive on down the park entrance road until you can see the water.  This park has nice picnic facilities and plenty of good parking for a day on the water. 

In the past,  HCC trips departed  from the parking area on the east bank of the Trinity river.  To get there from Houston:  take Interstate Highway 10 eastbound for approximately 30 miles from downtown.  You will cross the Trinity River on a very high arched bridge.  On its east side is Exit 806/"Frontage Road" exit.  Get off there, but slow on the exit ramp as you need to make an acute-angle right turn from the ramp onto the access road.  You're now headed back toward the river.  Just before the road goes under the highway above, you will see a dirt road off to your left.  Turn on to that road and go about 1/4 mile down to the river bank.  There is plenty of parking on the grass and a concreted (although in poor repair) ramp from which you can launch.

Paddling Directions

Since December 2000, there are two good access points for the area.  The newest one, at Cedar Hill Park, puts you right on the banks of Lake Charlotte.  The classic put-in is from the banks of the Trinity River, and requires upstream paddle of several miles through Lake Pass.

Lake Pass is about 1/4 mile from the parking lot under the I-10 bridge.  It is upstream on the east bank of the river.  It is about 2 miles long.  Numerous downed trees (work of beavers and Mother Nature) make navigating a little more challenging.  You will pop out of a willow thicket at the far southern end into Lake Charlotte.  Note your entrance area carefully, as you'll have to find it for the return.  If you proceed east on Lake Charlotte about another 1/4 mile and look carefully through the trees you will notice a clearing a couple of hundred yards in through the woods.  If your timing is right and water levels are up, you can now cut your own path through the woods and into Mud Lake. As of the latest paddle trip (February 2001), there are red, 4" round reflectors nailed to trees that mark the best path. This is a beautiful little lake with an off-limits-in-nesting-season end.  That's off to your left as you enter.  If you paddle on to your right you will see an obvious water pathway into the woods again.  This is a lovely pass that leads back to Miller Lake.  It looks deceptively easy on the map, but is much more challenging in real life.  A compass and a GOOD map will help you through here, although I usually find the "look for the clearing through the trees and paddle through the brush" technique is most successful.  I understand a paddle trail is to be marked through this area, but not there as of last time I paddled (summer 1999).  Another willow thicket hides the passageway from the northwest corner of Miller Lake, back to Lake Pass.  This is a very simplified report of the layout and sights of this area - get a good map, or better yet, join a Club trip to really enjoy it, and easily find your way home afterward.  The full roundtrip as describe above is about 8-10 miles of paddling.  There is no overnight camping permitted in this area, to my knowledge, other than the parking area.

Commercial barge traffic, and many pleasure boats, use the Trinity River so keep your eyes peeled for traffic on the river.  Only shallow draft small craft can make it up the Lake Pass or into Lake Charlotte from upstream.

The Cedar Hill Park access puts you right on Lake Charlotte at the northeast corner.

Pictures

At certain times of the year, the open waters are often covered with a bloom of duckweed.  Here's what it looks like:  no, it's not pollution, it's a natural phenomenon.

The mouth of Lake Pass as it empties into Lake Charlotte.  High water level.

A winter's family paddle on Lake Charlotte.

Description created July 5, 2000 by Natalie Wiest

Trip Reports

July 15, 2000 Report for Lake Pass trip

For a fine photo tour of a February 2000 trip to this area, be sure to see Sharon Anderson's trip page at http://www.loyart.com/canoetrips/canoetrips.html.   Click on Trinity River....

Marilyn Kircus' photos of Lake Pass trip.