Saturday, September 7, 2013

Day Trips from Dallas - Caddo National Grassland

It occurred to me that I kicked off this blog with an article about trips that can be done in a single day from Dallas, but haven't done another one since.  I'll pick up where I left off today.  For the first time since 2001, I was actually able to enjoy Labor Day weekend without working at all, and my wife suggested that we take a quick "road trip" to enjoy the day.  I say "road trip" in quotes, because in my warped mind, a drive doesn't count as a "road trip" unless it's long enough to require an overnight stay somewhere.  But anyway, after the jump, I'll talk about our quick trip to Caddo National Grassland, along the Red River Valley to the northeast of Dallas.

What It Is

Caddo National Grassland is jointly managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Texas Department of Parks & Wildlife.  You can find more information about the area here.  We went for hiking and a relaxing picnic lunch, but there are many other activities available, as I'll describe later.  In other words, a convenient escape from the city for city slickers, and if you dislike crowds, you get a much more peaceful boating experience than on the big Dallas-area lakes (though ironically, although it's a "grassland", it's actually quite heavily forested).  We started at the west end of the park, at Coffee Mill Lake.

We then found a trail that headed into the woods, which ended at another overview of the lake.  A goose flew across the lake just as we got there, but unfortunately, couldn't get a good photo.

We then enjoyed a peaceful hike back through the woods.  It's kind of hard to imagine that we're only 75 miles from home in the suburbs at this point.

Finally, we drove over to the second lake, Davy Crockett Lake.  No coonskin caps were to be found, and I couldn't immediately locate any hiking trails, either, so we just took a couple of pictures of the lake and left.

Things to Do

There are no developed facilities at Caddo, but primitive camping facilities (basically, tap water, bathrooms, picnic tables, and grills) are available at Coffee Mill and Crockett Lakes.  Most people, though, come here for hunting and fishing, or boating in the lakes.  Caddo is also an excellent spot for wildlife viewing, especially birds.  If you want to hunt or fish, state licenses are required.  The primary prey for hunting are wild hogs, deer, wild turkeys, and, of course, various types of ducks and quail.

Many hiking trails are also available, but tend to be poorly marked and maintained.  Carry a map and a compass with you if you venture on to a trail, and wear long shirts and pants, as the couple of trails we saw featured high grass.  Also, most hiking trails double as equestrian trails, so watch for horse poop.  Watch closely for trailheads along FM 409 - they are not well marked in advance.

How Much it Costs

The National Forest Service charges a fee of $2 per vehicle per day - quite the bargain, really.  There are no manned entrance stations, so you pay at honor stations set up at the picnic areas at Coffee Mill and Crockett Lakes, and at selected trailheads.

How to Get There

The Bois d'Arc Unit is located approximately 95 miles from downtown Dallas.  The lakes and most trailheads are located off of FM 409, which goes east-west across the grassland.  There are two primary ways to get there:

1) Take US 75 (Central Expressway) north past McKinney, then north on SH 121 to Bonham.  Briefly go east on US 82, then turn left at the light at SH 78.  Turn right at FM 273.  In Telephone (I love the name of that town), turn right at FM 2029.  Proceed a couple of miles, then turn left at FM 409.  You will see the signs welcoming you to Caddo National Grassland.
2) Take IH 30 east past Greenville, and take the exit for SH 24 to Commerce.  Just past Commerce, turn left at SH 50, and proceed to Ladonia.  Turn right at SH 34.  As you reach US 82 just north of Honey Grove, SH 34 ends and becomes FM 100; stay on FM 100 and continue north about 10 miles.  Finally, turn left at FM 409.
3) If you want to try your luck at the Ladonia Unit, proceed approximately 4 miles southwest of Ladonia on SH 34.  The forest service advises that the unit's boundaries are poorly defined, so use caution if you hike in this area.

Or if you're a road trip geek like me, go one way on the way up and the other on the return, making a complete circle in the process.  Using downtown Dallas as a reference point, driving time is 1 1/2-2 hours each way.

When to Go

Caddo is open year-round.  The weather is best in the spring and fall, especially mid-March to late-April and early-October to mid-November.  Bring plenty of bug spray, especially from late spring to early fall.

Serving Suggestion

- The two lakes make for a great picnic spot, so bring a picnic basket and a cooler.  Or better yet - bring a fishing pole or two and grill your fresh catch on the spot afterwards.  Just don't do like I did, and forget the plates, napkins, and silverware.
- If you aren't the picnicking type, Hickory Bar-B-Que (208 E. Sam Rayburn Drive in Bonham) is supposed to be pretty good, if you like BBQ.
- On the way up or back, visit the Eisenhower Birthplace in Denison, or the Sam Rayburn Library and Birthplace in Bonham.

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