Best rivers in Texas: Angelina River

The Angelina was the last of the larger Texas rivers traced during our 10-year program to follow 50 of them from their sources to their mouths, or vice versa. Actually, it was also the last river altogether.

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We had to stop in Looneyville. Had to. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

RELATED: How to Trace the Medina River.

It rises in an area with a lot of history in Rusk County not far from Nacogdoches, winds down into the giant Sam Rayburn Reservoir before wriggling down to join the Neches River at B.A. Steinhagen Lake.

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Angelina River near Douglass, Texas. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

RELATED: Repost: Texas River Tracing: Neches.

We left civilized Nacogdoches early and found the river at Douglass, a not very wide spot in the road that was the location for several Spanish missions. A little collection of historical markers with their backs to the road gave a detailed history of the Spanish presence in this area.

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Lots of history on the Angelina River. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman.

We picked up the Angelina through some gentle bottomlands that glowed with late fall colors.

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Angelina River not far from Lufkin. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

But pretty soon we hit the Sam Rayburn Reservoir, a vast lake that we had spied the day before at the mouth of the Attoyac. Once again, we found the perfect spot to view its expanses, an Army Corps of Engineers park laced with pines and brightly colored hardwoods high atop a bluff.

Related: Tracking down good reads on Texas rivers.

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Sam Rayburn Reservoir on the Angelina River. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

It’s easy to see why this stretch of lake would be a recreational magnet, especially during the summer. But why not in the winter? At every park during this December trip, we were typically the only guests. Couldn’t be a better time for camping, picnicking or boating, as far as we were concerned. The air was comfortably cool and dry, and — more to the point — there were no mosquitos.

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Love the Army Corps of Engineers parks all over Texas. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Right below the dam, we found a river community that rightly hugs the shores of what must be an ideal stretch for fishing and exploring. The Angelina at this point is broad and slow-moving as it approaches the Neches.

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Angelina River below Lake Sam Rayburn Dam. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Finally we ended up at B.A. Steinhagen Lake. We’d been here before on our Neches tracing, when a drought left it a meager patch of water. Now it’s full and clear and ready for visitors.

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Angelina River as it drains into B.A. Steinhagen Lake. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

That’s it. We traced 50 Texas rivers in 10 years. We saw a lot of the state that very few people have seen. We took a lot of backroads and saw a lot of back country. The sense of accomplishment is, needless to say, mixed with nostalgia.

The question comes up now: What to do with all these experiences? Book? Digital guide? We honestly don’t know.

For 10 years, it was just about the roads and the rivers.