The school year is upon us and with the economy still lagging, many people are probably thinking more about paying for school supplies and children’s fall clothes than getting in some last-minute time away.

But fear not – the rivers and lakes overseen by Brazos River Authority offer plentiful opportunities to take a free or inexpensive vacation before the kids dive headlong into their studies.

Paddling the river
The Brazos River and its tributaries offer thousands of miles of possibilities for free fun. Since these streams are largely public lands, one can canoe, camp and play in them at no cost.

The Brazos has long drawn legions of paddlers, attracted to the often serene waters and the river’s beautiful landscape. Among the more popular stretches are the segments of river below Possum Kingdom and Granbury lakes, where the Brazos rolls through hilly stretches of the North Texas landscape.

Maps of these scenic areas are available by clicking here for a map of the river below Lake Granbury and here for below Possum Kingdom Lake. Another well-traveled segment is between the Army Corps of Engineers’ Lake Whitney and the City of Waco. Click here for more information.

Close to the Brazos’ mouth, paddlers can take in the picturesque Gulf Coast region, where a group called Houston Wilderness has been promoting and developing the Brazos River Trail. Detailed trail maps including put-in and take-out locations, park and restroom facilities may be found by clicking here.

One thing to remember when planning a trip to the river is while the river is public, most of the land along its banks is privately owned. Paddlers should avoid leaving the river bed and risking violating trespassing laws. Consequently, river access points are limited.

While the Brazos River Authority does not operate access areas, there are private companies that do. You may find lists of take-out and put-in points and other useful river information at the Southwest Paddler Web site, here.

Camping and visiting the lakes
While camping is limited on the Brazos’ banks without permission of the private landowners, many people choose to camp on sandbars or the dryer areas of the river bed. It’s free and a great way to find a spot to pitch your tent away from the crowds. More information about camping and other activity along the river is available by clicking here.

If your yearning to get back to nature draws you to the lake instead, the Authority offers numerous camping spots at our three reservoirs: Lakes Limestone, Granbury and Possum Kingdom. Camping or day visits are free year-round at most Authority public areas. Two locations at Possum Kingdom Lake are free from early-September to mid-May with a fee being charged for camping or day use from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Reservations are not required.

The Authority lakes have distinctive personalities and at least one is within a short drive for many Texans. Lake Limestone, about 40 miles east of Waco, is the Authority’s “hidden gem.” While it may be lesser known than some of its sister lakes, Limestone is loved by anglers and campers alike. And if you keep an eye out, you might just spot the lake area’s pair of resident bald eagles. Limestone has four Authority parks, with a variety of amenities. For more information, click here.

Lake Granbury is situated southwest of Fort Worth, right in the middle of the City of Granbury, a regional tourist destination. Fishing, boating and camping are also popular here. The Authority has eight public use areas as well as restrooms, picnic sites and fishing piers. For Lake Granbury information, click here.

Possum Kingdom is the Authority’s largest and best-known lake covering 17,700 acres northwest of Fort Worth. The Authority has 10 public-use areas here, most offering camping year round with loads of amenities including two new children’s playground areas and access for those with disabilities. On the lake, popular activities include fishing, water skiing and scuba diving, to name a few. Click here for more on Possum Kingdom.

Possum Kingdom hiking trails
Authority staff members have been busy making improvements and sprucing up Possum Kingdom’s recreational areas in recent months. One of the more popular changes has been the addition this summer of a third section of hiking trails winding through the hills of the lake’s central peninsula.

The latest, five-mile addition brings the trail system’s length to 16 miles. You can now easily hike from one Authority recreation area to another while avoiding even the sounds of traffic. The wide trails are suitable for hikers with a wide range of abilities, averaging a 5 to 20 degree slope.

You can enjoy the sites and sounds of Texas flora and fauna along the winding trails or at one of the 19 lookouts. One trail winds to the top of Johnson Peak, where the spectacular vista affords views of most of the lake, including the well-known Hell’s Gate.

Click here for a printable trail map.

So at a time when many are pinching pennies, you can still get away and enjoy the waning days of summer nearby and for free on the Brazos or one of the Authority’s lakes.