FLOAT YOUR BOAT
New paddling routes offer different perspective on Houston’s Buffalo Bayou
Bruce Bodson is only steps away from the bumper-to-bumper racket of Allen Parkway. But standing next to a bright orange kayak, the part-time tour guide is headed toward serenity — ready to paddle away for a couple of hours from the newly opened Lost Lake boat launch, where Bayou City Adventures began renting out kayaks and canoes last month.
“We had a grandmother and three grandkids come in here the other day, and none of them had ever paddled before,” Bodson says on a recent afternoon, before trudging down the short ramp from the visitors’ center at Lost Lake to the muddy bank of the bayou to launch his kayak. “They went down to Sabine Street and back with no problem after we gave them a little instruction on how to handle the boats.”
Although the company has been offering Houstonians a chance to paddle the bayou since 2010, the new launch lets visitors put in closer to downtown. The 3-mile round trip — your choice of with or without a guide — from the new launch to the Sabine Street bridge and back will stretch to Allen’s Landing when construction there wraps up early next year.
The short route is easier for first-time paddlers to tackle and good practice for Bayou City Adventures’ most popular route: the Houston Skyline Tour, a 7½-mile one-way trip that originates at Woodway Memorial Park and ends at Sabine Street, says owner Rico Torres. While that tour is open to beginners, the three-and-a-half hour
“You have to get over the idea that you’re going to stay clean and dry because it’s definitely a water sport.” Bruce Bodson
course can take its toll on arms and shoulders.
Down on the water, Bodson slides into the backseat of an orange tandem kayak to lead a trip through the new route.
“You have to get over the idea that you’re going to stay clean and dry because it’s definitely a water sport,” says Bodson, who likes spending time on the water when he’s not working as an environmental lawyer.
The bayou’s water is cleaner than it once was, but it’s far from the blue one’s imagination might summon at the thought of a kayak adventure.
“People get confused by the color. They think it’s brown because the bayou is dirty, but in fact, it’s sediment that builds up,” says Anne Olson, president of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, the nonprofit leading the charge to revitalize the bayou.
With a typical flow of about 100 cubic feet per second, the bayou is slowmoving, which means muck tends to stick around for a while.
“There has been an improvement in Buffalo Bayou’s water quality over the years as Houston has invested in better wastewater facilities,” Olson continues, noting that decades ago, the annual Buffalo Bayou Regatta was not-so-affectionately known as the Reeking Regatta for the pungent water. These days, that nickname has fallen away.
“The water’s definitely still not swimmable, but for canoeing and kayaking, it’s great,” she says.
In kayaking, you use a two-sided paddle, alternating arms to dig the curved ends into the water. There’s likely to be at least a few splashes while you’re switching sides over the course of 3 miles, so wear old clothes — and if you bring a phone or camera to snap photos of the downtown views, stow it in a watertight bag.
There isn’t much to see for the first stretch of the new tour, other than runners and bikers moving along the footpaths above the bayou’s banks. Views open up after passing under the Waugh bridge about a quarter-mile into the journey, where you will smell — but likely not see — the 300,000 bats that make their home inside the tiny crevices below the bridge.
The next half-mile offers a couple of peeks at wildlife — a flock of baby ducks waddling along the bank, birds scouting for stray bats to consume. It’s quiet and peaceful, with just a slight breeze and none of the hustle and bustle usually seen in the nation’s fourth-largest city.
“When you start coming out from the Montrose bridge, that’s when you start getting really good views of the Houston skyline from the bayou,” Bodson says.
The waterway winds a bit from there to the end of the route, ducking under
Memorial Drive twice as it curves up and back down, the skyline tucking away behind corners in a game of hide-and-seek until it’s impossible to ignore at the Sabine Street bridge.
“It’s a new perspective on Houston,” Bodson said. “And it’s beautiful.”
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Bayou City Adventures tour guide Bruce Bodson checks out one of the new routes on Buffalo Bayou, which originates at the Lost Lake boat launch.
The Houston skyline appears in the distance during a trip down Buffalo Bayou with tour company Bayou City Adventures.
A turtle takes in some sun on the banks of Buffalo Bayou.