In our Must Do Things Around Greater Houston series, we take a look at Houston’s vast array of communities, neighborhoods and destinations to bring you five fun, tasty, surprising and enticing reasons you should give each one a visit. Started in 2016, with complete updates in 2018 through 2019, we’re now refreshing, updating, and adding to this series for 2021—including new destinations and communities within reach of Greater Houston.
One of four national forests in Texas, Sam Houston National Forest is a massive, 160,000-acre woodland stretching across three counties (Montgomery, San Jacinto and Walker) and containing the beautiful Hunstville State Park. North of Houston, it makes for a choice spot for fishing, bird and wildlife watching, biking, canoeing, camping, and hiking on its award-winning trail.
Here’s how to make the most of your time in nature in and nearby Sam Houston National Forest:
5 Must Do Things Around Sam Houston National Forest
- Hike the award-winning 129-mile Lone Star Hiking Trail – Dubbed the hiker’s “Jewel of Texas” and earning National Recreation Trail status, the Lone Star Hiking Trail snakes across Sam Houston National Forest—from Richards, Texas on its west side to Cleveland, Texas on its eastern edge. Nature lovers can explore the primitive, relatively flat terrain year-round; though proper “trail manners” are expected, as there are points that pass through private properties.
- Spend a night under those big and bright Texas stars – Campers can check out any of three developed campgrounds in the forest; the Cagle, Double Lake, and Stubblefield recreation areas. Located along the shoreline of Lake Conroe on the west fork of the San Jacinto River, Cagle is a newer campground with a boat ramp; 48 camping spurs with electric, fresh-water and sewer connections; hot showers with restrooms; lakeshore hiking and bicycle trails; wildlife viewing; a picnic area overlooking Lake Conroe and more. The Double Lake area is located on the east side near Coldspring, Texas, sitting pretty along a 24-acre lake, amongst pines and hardwoods and offering family camping units, picnics, a swimming area, and more. Stubblefield is parked on the west side of the forest on the north shore of Lake Conroe, offering 28 camping units, hot showers with restrooms, and access to the Lone Star Trail. The Cagle and Double Lake facilities are available by reservations or on a first-come, first-served basis, while Stubblefield is available on a first-come, first-served basis only.
- Get a taste of lake life – Both Lake Livingston and Lake Conroe are enveloped by the Sam Houston National Forest. Over on the northeast side, the 82,600-acre Lake Livingston rocks open water that’s perfect for sailing, water sports, fishing, kayaking, and more. The 22,000-acre Lake Conroe sits to the southwest, with three access points from the forest and year-round boating, fishing, and other recreational activities.
- Go for a joy ride on the multi-use trails – You can take your dirt bike, quad, ATVs, or regular ol’ bicycle on the multi-use trails at Sam Houston, the only park with a trail open to Off-Highway Vehicles (trails are closed under certain conditions such as when soil moisture could lead to damage, so call the Ranger’s Office at 936-344-6205 for trail status before you make the trip). The picturesque trail system is also a choice spot for nature strolls, hiking, and horseback riding.
- Lose yourself amongst the natural beauty of Huntsville State Park – Set six miles southwest of Huntsville within the Sam Houston National Forest, this park-within-a-park offers 2,000+ acres of East Texas Pineywoods, plus the beautiful 210-acre Lake Raven, and horseback trail rides, camping, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, and other outdoor exploration opportunities. Hit the 21 miles of scenic trails, checking the bird binder and nature center, and stay overnight in a screened shelter or campsite. Just be sure to watch out for alligators, as they live in the park (find alligator safety tips here).
Social Distancing & COVID-19
As we enter into the vaccination phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, medical experts still advise that we have a way to go before we achieve herd immunity and can safely resume pre-pandemic activities. In the meantime, you can remain vigilant in protecting yourself against the coronavirus by continuing to wear face masks when in public spaces, practice social distancing of at least six feet, limit your touching of surfaces, and frequently use hand sanitizer or soap and water to keep your hands clean.
While the Governor of Texas has lifted mandatory mask orders and capacity limits, most businesses are still requiring face masks to enter and enforcing reduced capacity. Familiarize with your destination’s policies ahead of time and please respect their public safety precautions.
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