Chocolate Bayou

Description:Chocolate Bayou is south of Houston, just outside the town of Alvin. In 1996 I would have given it a rave review for its tall trees and shaded banks, but I was very disappointed to have paddled it recently and found most of the big trees and all of the underbrush had been cleared from the west bank of the stream for most of the length of the paddle from Chocolate Bayou to Finkle Park. Chocolate Bayou runs basically north/south, so its potential for late afternoon summer paddles was clearly there as long as the tall trees stood and provided shade. I wouldn't recommend that now, but it is a nice wintertime paddle, particularly with a north wind.

There is another hazard to deal with as well - a low water dam about two thirds into the paddle. It is clearly marked and there is a good place to get out and line boats over the dam on river left. At high water levels this could be a very dangerous spot - be sure to scout before attempting to run. Scout at low levels too - you could damage the underside of your canoe, or worse yet, think it's safely runnable when it isn't. Take every precaution.

Other than the above, it's still a nice paddle, with good put-in and takeout spots. A slow-paced group can run it in four hours - or you can put in above or take out below if you'd like to make it a longer trip.

Directions: Take highway 35 south from Alvin. Shortly after it intersects with County Road 2917, highway 35 crosses Chocolate Bayou and immediately on the left past the bayou is Chocolate Bayou County Park. Turn left into the park, and follow the paved road to the boat ramp on the bayou. It appears the signage has been removed, but the basic park remains.  When you have unloaded your boats, you can run a shuttle by heading back towards Alvin on 35, but this time turn right on County Road 2917. In about 3 miles you will intersect with County Road 171. Turn right on 171 and follow it to where it makes a hard lefthand turn.  At that point, turn right into Albert Finkle Memorial County Park. That's your takeout. The park has picnic tables and a playground for kids but no restrooms (or at Chocolate Bayou park).

Alternate takeouts and put-ins: If you wish to have a more macho trip, you can double the length of the trip to about 12 miles by making your alternate takeout at highway 2004's crossing of Chocolate Bayou. There's a high bridge there and a large parking lot with ramps for motorboats. Expect a fair amount of fishing traffic. If you're a sea kayaker and enjoy seeing marshland birds, put in at 2004 and paddle a few miles downstream until you are almost into the Gulf, then left and into the marshlands. You will have alot of wind and motor traffic exposure there, thus the sea kayak recommendation. In mid-July a wide variety of marshland birds, and their babies, and all manner of brackish water and land crabs are here. There is no shade.

Paddling Instructions:  From Chocolate Bayou Park, you can paddle upstream for several miles until a log jam impedes farther progress.  The beauty of this segment is that it is still mostly wooded with a fair amount of natural vegetation in place.  Whether you go upstream or downstream, one of the vegetative features that is unusual is the large stands of equisetum, or horesetail fern, that have thrived in the increased daylight after the trees were cut down; and can withstand at least the periodic mowing that "enhances" the storm-drainage capacity of the stream - or at least that is how I interpret the need for clearcutting and mowing.

When you make the downstream run from Chocolate Bayou Park, you will have several miles' paddling until you will see WARNING and DANGER signs;  and a string of red lights on the low water dam.  On the left bank as you are facing downstream, is an old (and appears to be inoperable) boat lift.  The dock by the lift makes getting out of boats and moving them over the dam fairly easy, but be very careful to not get in the backwash of the water over the dam.  My most recent trip downstream was very odd in this location - the waters downstream were 6" higher than the upstream waters!  I think the reasoning for the dam is as a saltwater barrier, i.e., to keep saltier bay waters from moving upstream in periods of low stream flow.  If those salty waters were to be pumped onto rice fields, the crops and fields would be ruined.  The length of the run from Chocolate Bayou Park to Finkle Park is about five miles.

As you get close to Finkle Park you can enjoy the overhanging oak trees along a natural stretch of bayou that hasn't been cut.  It is interesting to notice how deeply the bayou has cut into the soil for most of the length of this trip.