5 Must Do Things Around Big Thicket National Preserve

Courtesy of Big Thicket National Preserve

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.

Out east sits a heavily-forested pocket of land known as the Big Thicket, blanketing more than 113,000 acres and hosting all kinds of ecosystems. The area is often referred to as a “biological crossroads,” bringing together swamp, desert, Gulf coastal plains, Midwest prairies, and eastern hardwood forest.

About hour and 45 minute northeast of Houston, there are plenty more ways to explore the area around Big Thicket but here are our 5 must-dos for the natural wonder:

5 Must Do Things Around Big Thicket National Preserve

  1. Hit 40 miles of hiking trails Sitting slender alongside the winding Turkey Creek, the Turkey Creek Unit is the most developed section of the preserve, featuring over 20 miles of trails perfect for a day hike, including the biodiverse Kirby Nature Trail. Up in Tyler County, the Beech Creek Unit offers rolling terrain and the Beech Woods Trail loops through a magnificent hardwood forest. Or, you can explore the quiet, densely forested Loblolly Unit off trail. See a map of Big Thicket trails.
  2. Take a kayak out on the water  –  Boating, paddling, and fishing are popular pastimes along the Neches River, also known as “the last wild river in East Texas.” Village Creek State Park sports the flat-water Village Creek along with smaller streams, oxbow lakes, sloughs, and its paddling trail, which sits at 21 miles long surrounded by white sandbars and tall Texas trees. For those that need to rent a kayak or canoe, East Texas Canoes is a choice spot. Learn more and explore a list of other Big Thicket paddling trails.
  3. Camp out under the stars – Fire up the marshmallows and spend a night under the big and bright stars of the Lone Star State. Those who want to spend time in the pristine, unsettled woods can get a backcountry camping permit and set up camp at year-round spots like Big Sandy Creek and the Canyonlands. Big Thicket is also nearby several campgrounds and RV parks, including Indian Springs Campground and RV Park, Big Thicket RV Park, and Red Cloud RV Park, among others.
  4. Go birdwatching and wildlife viewing In 2001, Big Thicket National Preserve was recognized as a Globally Important Bird Area by the American Bird Conservancy. The area sits among two migratory bird flyways; the Central and the Mississippi. You’ll find that bird watching is best from mid-April to mid-May, and a bit less active during the fall.
  5. Fuel up on country eats – East Texas, Creole, and Southern-style eats are on display in a number of laidback bars and restaurants. Drive through Kountz and you’ll stumble upon Caroline’s Quality and Quantity Bar-B-Que; there’s homestyle haunt GiGi’s Kountry Kitchen rocking burger baskets, chopped bbq potatoes, and grilled or fried fish and shrimp in Village Mills; over in Lumberton, you can pop into Mexican Cajun haunt Tia Juanita’s Fish Camp, where you’ll find Mex-Cajun mashups like blackened seafood nachos, charro beans & rice, and grilled boudin quesadillas; go for all-you-can-eat fried catfish at Katfish Kitchen; or get traditional Cajun eats from boudin links and crawfish pies to chicken & sausage gumbo at Boutte’s Cajun Market.
Paddling in Village Creek State Park | Courtesy of Beaumont CVB

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Brooke Viggiano is a food and lifestyle writer residing in Houston. When she's not contributing to publications like 365 Things to Do in Houston, Thrillist Houston and the Houston Press, she's on the hunt for the coolest happenings in the city. You can follow her musings on Twitter @BrookeViggiano .