Best Texas rivers: Wichita River

We figured since our Colorado road trip sliced through parts of Texas we rarely visit, we’d trace the Wichita and the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red rivers on the way out, and the Pecos River on the way back.

Wichita River

Some readers may think this is dumb. There are so many more direct routes to Durango. Well, we’ve taken them. Many times. So alternate routes rule.

The Wichita rises among gentle prairie mounds about 30 miles southwest of Wichita Falls. Two tiny forks converge in Knox County for the river’s relatively short, 90-mile journey to the Red River.

The Wichita passes through two small lakes, Kemp and Diversion, the second reached only by a private road protected by a $15 toll gate. Much as we are devoted to river tracing, the price proved insuperable for our casual purposes.

A State of Texas fishery offers a feast for herons and egrets on a Farm to Market Road allowing one of the first looks at the released river.

The Wichita’s terra cotta color follows it from source to mouth, matching its sandy and sandstone banks.

Trees bunch along the Wichita’s contours, but the prairie slides right down into the water, filtered by grasses and wildflowers. Cliff swallows and barn swallows congregate around the bridges in even greater numbers than elsewhere in Texas. And despite some overgrazed, mesquite-poisoned stretches — and sandy oil patches — wildlife teems.

Agricultural hamlets — which double as suburbs for Wichita Falls — lie along its upper banks. Once a sustaining reason for the city of 100,000, the river now plows through neighborhoods, forming an informal greenbelt until it reaches Lucy Park near downtown.

This meticulously manicured park sat virtually empty during our loop around its trails. Here, the Texas Santa Fe expedition paused in 1841, where the Wichita Indians camped.

A flood had long ago demolished the shallow falls that lent their name to the city, but leaders decided in the 1980s to build a decorative replacement. (A plaque of congratulations from the city of Niagra Falls, N.Y. sits opposite a larger one commemorating the concrete firm that helped build the tourist attraction.)

East of the city, the Wichita flows through fertile farmlands, which, in the spring, look garden-like. One can reach the river here from gravel county roads, although, as usual, the actual mouth of the river lie out of our reach on private land.

This was our first true prairie river of the 14 we have traced in Texas, although the Leon qualifies for long stretches.

The high, muddy banks convinced us to keep the dogs away from the water, especially since getting in and out of the rented SUV meant a clean-up each time.

UPDATES: We’ll always update our trips and research on the blog. For a different display, go to¬†

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