If you are planning a trip to East Texas for a weekend getaway, you cannot miss Caddo Lake. Moreover, Caddo Lake is one of the best hidden weekend getaways and secret spots in Texas. The area is rich in history, has breathtaking landscapes, and there are so many fun things to do at Caddo Lake.
You can explore Caddo Lake by boat, kayak, and canoe. You can also go fishing, visit a Texas State Park, catch a stunning sunrise or sunset, and much more.
Whether you are visiting Caddo Lake on a solo trip, for a family vacation, or for a romantic getaway – you will not be disappointed. It is the perfect destination to escape and immerse in one of Mother Nature’s greatest gifts.
Full disclaimer – We received complimentary boat tours to experience Caddo Lack. As always, our opinions are non-biased and our own. We want to thank everyone for following and supporting us on all of “Our Sweet Adventures.”
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About Caddo Lake and its History
Caddo Lake is a 25,400-acre natural lake and bayou on the border between Texas and Louisiana. Moreover, it is said that it’s the largest naturally made lake in the Southern states and the only naturally made lake in the Lone Star State.
Ironically, the Texas side of Caddo Lake looks like it belongs in Louisiana because it is full of Spanish moss and bald cypress trees. In contrast, Louisiana has very little of the lake’s lush greenery and trees.
There are so many things that make Caddo Lake beautiful. For one, it is easily the prettiest lake in Texas, with the Spanish moss hanging from the towering bald cypress trees. It is also rich in history and known as the largest flooded cypress forest in the world.
Caddo Lake has an amazing and diverse wetland habitat home to a wide variety of plants and animals. Researchers have documented 216 birds, 47 mammals, and 90 reptile and amphibian species – and yes, that includes alligators.
On this historical side, historians have said that the Caddo Indians were the first primary inhabitants in the Caddo Lake as early as 200 BC. The Caddo Indians lived here until 1835, when they signed a treaty with the U.S. government and relocated to Oklahoma.
In the late 1800s, Caddo Lake and the Big Cypress Bayou channel were used by steamboats to transport a hot commodity, cotton. The steamboats would go from New Orleans all the way to Jefferson until the Great Raft was removed and water levels fell.
So in the early 1900s, a dam was created to help raise water levels again. It was also created to accommodate drilling equipment when oil was discovered under the water. Therefore, Caddo Lake became the first over-water oil well in the world.
As I said, Caddo Lake is rich in history!
Best Time to Visit Caddo Lake
Caddo Lake is a wonderful destination year-round because the bald cypress trees are almost always lush and green.
The spring and fall season is the best time of the year to visit. From late April through June, if the water levels are right, the lotus flowers will bloom, and it’s absolutely gorgeous on the lake. Additionally, the weather is perfect, the lake is not very crowded, and it’s the best time to catch trophy fish.
In the fall, November is the best month to visit to see fall foliage. Yes, there is fall foliage in Texas! The bald cypress trees turn from green to vibrant orange and red. A sunrise boat tour is breathtaking if you really want to see a colorful day on the lake.
The summertime is always a popular time to visit, but be aware, it can be scorching and extremely humid! In the winter, the bald cypress trees will lose their color for a short period of time, but if you enjoy fishing for crappie and white bass, then it’s the best time to visit.
Best Things to Do at Caddo Lake
Out of all our trips in the Lone Star State, exploring the mysterious yet beautiful Caddo Lake is one of our favorite destinations in Texas. In two days, we were able to experience some of the best things to do at Caddo Lake. I encourage you to try and do the same with the following below.
Enjoy a Boat Day Trip
If you can only do one thing at Caddo Lake, a day on the lake is a MUST! Whether you rent a boat and go out on the lake on your own or book a tour, this is the best way to experience Caddo Lake.
If you have your own boat, there are a handful of boat ramps available to the public – some require a fee. A few popular ones include Caddo Lake State Park, Shady Glade Marina, and Johnson’s Ramp.
We decided to book a boat day trip with one of the best – Captain Ron’s Swamp Tours. Captain Ron takes guests out on his 28-foot pontoon boat for 90 wonderful minutes through beautiful areas of Caddo Lake.
Throughout the tour, Captain Ron bestows his wealth of knowledge about Caddo Lake’s history with enthusiasm and a sprinkle of good Texas humor. We probably laughed just as much as we learned, which made the tour very enjoyable. It is no wonder why his business motto says, “It’s not just a boat ride, it is an experience,” because you truly receive an experience you will never forget.
If you need to book a boat day trip tour, look no further than Captain Ron’s Swamp Tours. He operates Friday through Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm.
Watch a Sunrise or Sunset on the Lake
There is always something special about catching a sunrise or sunset, especially at amazing destinations. Caddo Lake is no exception. In fact, it’s probably one of the best sunrise/sunset we have ever witnessed.
The best way to watch a sunrise or sunset on Caddo Lake is by boat tour, but not just any tour – I recommend booking a tour with Rich of Caddo Lake Bayou Tours. Rich takes guests from Shady Glade Marina and into a different part of Lake Caddo that has a perfect view of the sun rising or setting.
We are usually sunset people, but the sunrise at Caddo Lake may have converted us. Watching the sunrise is definitely one of the best things to do at Caddo Lake. Moreover, I would say it’s an experience you cannot miss.
I highly recommend you bring your camera because Rich understands nature photography. He knows the best areas to stop at to catch the light hitting the bald cypress trees. The photos I took on our sunrise tour are probably some of the best pictures I have ever captured, thanks to the beauty of the lake and Rich’s knowledge as a guide.
In addition to the sunrise/sunset tour, Rich also offers guided photography tours, fishing trips, and a two-hour sightseeing tour. All of the tours are available 7 days a week at any given time between sun up and sundown.
Visit Caddo Lake State Park
Caddo Lake State Park is easily one of the best state parks in Texas. It is located at the upper end of Caddo Lake, which is known to have some of the best fishing in the area.
Furthermore, Caddo Lake State Park has so much to offer guests. You can go hiking through the piney woods, fish on the pier or the lake, canoe through the bayous, enjoy birdwatching, camp or stay in a cabin, and launch your boat from the camp. If you plan to canoe, the park offers canoe rentals by the hour on a first-come-first-serve basis.
In addition to the many fun things to do at Caddo Lake State Park, its diversity makes this park majestic. A towering Piney Woods Forest and picturesque Saw Mill Pond lead into the Big Cypress Bayou. Everywhere you look, there is something beautiful to discover.
Paddle the Water Trails
If you are looking for a peaceful workout with a scenic view, then paddling the waters of Caddo Lake is your answer. Whether you kayak or canoe, paddling through a maze of sloughs is one of the best things to do at Caddo Lake and should be on everyone’s Texas bucket list.
Visitors can rent or bring their own gear and equipment. Otherwise, Caddo Lake State Park, Johnson’s Ranch, and Riverbend Outfitters offer canoe and/or kayak daily rentals.
Caddo Lake has over 50 miles of trails to navigate by kayak/canoe. Each trail is marked with unique reflective arrow signs attached to trees and posts to guide paddlers. If you rent from an outfitter, they may be able to provide a map for you. Otherwise, Texas Parks and Wildlife has a map of all the trails here.
Caddo Lake has more than 70 fish species swimming beneath the waters, but the crappie, largemouth bass, and catfish are the most popular. It is also known as the most scenic trophy bass fishing lake in America, so fishing is one of the best things to do at Caddo Lake. If you are lucky, you can reel in a trophy-size bass of over 8 pounds!
Fishing conditions are good throughout the year, but each species has its best time of the year. You can fish on the pier, by kayak, or by boat. For the best results, I recommend booking a fishing tour with an experienced guide.
A Texas or Louisiana fishing license is required to fish at Caddo Lake. Furthermore, you can also check all of the regulations at the Texas Parks and Wildlife.
Take a Hike
There are two places to go hiking at Caddo Lake – Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Caddo Lake State Park. In my opinion, the best place to hike is at Caddo Lake State Park. Though there are only 2 miles worth of trails at the park, each trail is a great escape.
The four hiking trails at Caddo Lake State Park are short but are considered a moderate difficulty because of the steep inclines and stairs. Each trail takes hikers into the Piney Woods Forest, where you completely forget that you are steps away from a lake filled with Spanish moss and bald cypress trees.
Our favorite trail is the .7-mile Caddo Forest Trail which has seven charming wooden bridges to cross.
Sleep By the Lake
When it comes to accommodations by Caddo Lake, there is almost no limit of options. The two most popular places to sleep by the lake are camping at the state park or renting an Airbnb lakehouse.
Caddo Lake State Park campsites have water, electricity, full hookups, and screened shelters for campers. If you enjoy the great outdoors, camping at Caddo Lake has everything you need.
If you need a place to rest your head in the comfort of a home, do not worry, there are several Airbnb rentals directly on the lake. From luxurious lakehouses to serene cabins, and family-friendly houses with waterslides into the bayou, your oasis awaits you.
Explore Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge
If you want to explore more of the area, Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge offers various activities to enjoy. Visitors can hike the nature trails, watch for wildlife, go biking, and drive the scenic 6-mile Auto Tour Route.
Dine with a View
After a long day on the lake, you will surely work up an appetite. Therefore, I recommend enjoying a delicious meal at Big Pines Lodge Restaurant and Waterin Hole. The restaurant sits adjacent to the lake with a covered patio so guests may enjoy tasty food with a gorgeous view.
Locals and visitors rave about the variety of seafood dishes and fried foods at Big Pines Lodge Restaurant and Waterin Hole. Specifically, the farm-raised alligator, whole catfish, and fresh-cut, double battered fried onion rings.
All of the dishes come in big portions, so you definitely need to come hungry. Furthermore, each table is offered complimentary homemade hushpuppies, coleslaw, and a relish tray. Make sure you leave room for dessert because guests also receive complimentary ice cream.
Must order: Fried Alligator, Fried Onion Rings, and Catfish (any-style).
Tip: If you book with Captain Ron’s Swamp Tours, his dock is at the restaurant. So you can eat lunch or dinner before or after your tour.
I hope this post has inspired you to visit one of Texas’ greatest treasures. As you can see, there are so many fun things to do at Caddo Lake. After one visit, I guarantee you will immediately want to return to this majestic and mysterious lake – I know we do!