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Paddling Lake Charlotte

 
 

Paddling Lake Charlotte offers a smorgasbord of paddling.  Traditional we start on the wide, usually slow moving, Trinity River at its junction with I-10, east of Houston.  There are boat ramps on the turnarounds on either side of the river but we have always put in on the west side.  Then we paddle up against the current for about a half mile and take a little bayou looking stream to the north east which is called Lake Pass.  This stream goes through a swamp with some high ground.  It frequently floods and takes out trees so there are always downed trees as well as brush growing in the water to give lots of practice on boat control, especially if in a kayak.  We share the river with power boats, air boats, and in the summer, jet skis.  A few boats venture a short ways into Lake Pass.  On every trip only one or no power boats make it up to any of the Lakes except sometimes a boat comes into the lake from a pass on the north side of it.
    Then , if the water level is favorable, we can take another little pass into Lake Miller.  This doesn't show on the topozone map referenced below but comes into Lake Miller at the curve in the lake  at the east side.  It is easy to spot if you are watching for it. Often the lake is draining out through this little pass and making a strong current against your progress. This is very twisty  and also has downed trees but only is about 150 yards long.  The paddling changes from a bayou through a swamp to a paddle through a little lake, thickly ringed with cypress trees.  We set a course south and west, lining up on the largest tree on the bank across from the entrance.  Along the short paddle, maybe 1/2 mile, we often see lots of birds.

Put-In Under the I-10 Bridge over the Trinity River

 
 

Looking across Miller Lake from the Entrance channel. Captain's Miller's grave is near the largest tree behind the paddlers.

  Black crowned night herons, Forrester terns, royal terns, ring-billed gullls, mottled ducks, great egrets, roseate spoonbills, double crested cormorants, coots, snow geese,  snowy egrets, osprey and even eagles are possible.  Usually we see lots of white ibis both along Lake Pass and on the north side of Lake Miller, back in the swamp. Sometimes we see hundreds of feeding egrets and herons or lots of roseate spoonbills if the water is low.
    When we arrive on the other side, we always wiggle our boats through the hords of cypress knees and take a break, sometimes just for a snack and a little hike to find Captain Miller's grave. He was the original homesteader, I believe. If you walk up to the first pipe line west of the lake, you will see 3 posts.  The middle one is where you need to angle back towards the lake.  You will be on the highest ground around and under a huge oak tree that was obviously here when Captain Miller was alive.  The site is marked with green metal fence posts - maybe 6-8 of them around the perimeter of a metal plate with the details on Captain Miller.  This is also a great place to eat lunch.  Then we paddle along the north end of the lake, looking for a way to the swampy trail to Mud Lake.  I think the trail has gotten overgrown with grassy plants as well as some kind of broad-leaved ones.  We paddle up a little ways and then have to come back.  But if the water levels are high enough, I  have been able to find this most beautiful swamp trail from the southeast corner of Mud Lake.  I saw the only alligator I have ever seen in the area in this trail - an 18" baby still in black and yellow.  Another time, we also found a black crowned night heron rookery as we bushwhacked from the trail back to Miller Lake.

 
 

Our last choice is to paddle back out the little pass to Lake Pass and continue on to Lake Charlotte, the largest of the lake trilogy.  The pass gets narrower and has lots of trees down.  Sometimes we hear and see a pileated woodpecker working the still standing dead trees that are just at the mouth of Lake Charlotte. We work our way through the tight pass and suddenly find ourselves in a much larger lake.  This lake often is affected by the wind and can have high waves.  I've never seen it so high I couldn't paddle it, even in a canoe but once, a friend and I fought the wind for nearly an hour before making it across to Cedar Hill.  This used to be just a little shell bottomed high place and one of the few you could count on for a lunch stop or even a nice, cooling swim in the clear water.  Now it is a park , Cedar Hill Park.  Directions to it are below..  I think you can camp there.  You can certainly use it for a paddle and then come back and have a meal there.  The picnic area is just up from the primitive boat ramp.
    We have sometimes choosen to go past the point you can see on your right and then find a path through the cypress trees.  Basically this is just hiking with your canoe or kayak and picking your best course. You will soon see the trees thinning and arrive in Mud Lake.  This lake is a rookery in summer and also has an eagle's nest off the south end.  There are signs warning you to stay out of the area.  You can find the swamp trail from the south east corner of Mud Lake and work your way back to Miller Lake.

.......

Captain Miller's marker - this is on about the highest point before the pipeline and only about 100 feet from the pipeline towards the lake. One of the largest Oaks in the area is only about 20 feet to the back and left of the grave. If you can see water to your right, you need to go back down the pipeline to the next white marker and then come in and look for the green metal stakes that outline the marker.

 
 

Cypress Gnomes along the northeast side of Miller Lake

We can also paddle  northwest from Cedar Hill and after about 3/4 of a mile of paddling, come to a large pass heading north.  This is Mac Bayou and leads through higher ground with cypress mixing with other trees, and even some pine appearing.  At the beginning, the banks are sandy.  Later, they are covered in mud in wet times. This pass will take you up to a cut that leads to a sulfur plant that is no longer in use.  If you turn west here, you will paddle about 1/2 of a mile and meet the Trinity.  In this cut, willows now line the banks and it is much more open. We often meet boats in both these areas. The Trinity is the widest of all and has the most boat traffic.  In the winter, most of the people are duck hunters or fishermen.  In the summer there are also water skiers and jet skiers.
We can can sometimes continue north up Mac Bayou, with just a little jog east as you cross the cut to the river.  This leads to a very shallow lake, Mac Lake. On September 21, 2003, it was the biggest I have ever seen it and we did not have time to paddle a little passage off of it in the top easiest corner. But normally, is very overgrown in places. But it is a fine place in which to just mess about.
    This trip can range from about 8 to about 18 miles, depending on how many lakes you visit and if you come back by Lake Pass or take Mac Bayou. Most of my trips average 12 to 15
miles.

 

 
 

Maps:
Look at this at 1:25,000 to see more details.
http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?lat=29.86861&lon=-94.72389&s=200&layer=DRG25&size=s&u=0

Note: This shows the entire area. The high ground almost directly across from the entrance is Cedar Hill Park.

Directions:
To Trinity River Bridge - take I-10 east from Houston, TX to the bridge, cross it and take the turn immediately to the right after it and come back under it.

To Cedar Hill Park the new put in on the eastern side.
Take exit 810 (about 30 miles east of Houston and east of the bridge) off of I-10,
go north 2.9 miles on 563 and turn east on Lake Charlotte Road. You will not see a sign for the park but will see a sign for a Christmas Tree Farm. Go 1.1 miles and the entrance to the park is on the right. No sign - just a entrance with a gate made of poles. Once there, drive through the park until you come to an area near the lake.  The road circles around here and there is a very primitive boat launch leading to the lake off of it.

 

View of bridge for put-in and take-out.

 
 
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Web site by Marilyn B. Kircus. Last modified on September 21, 2003