Trees! More trees!! Miles and miles of trees!!! Welcome to southeast Texas and the Big Thicket National Preserve and the southern range of the Piney Woods.
With a landscape unfamiliar to those of us from North Texas, the Big Thicket is a collection of 15 native forest parcels covering some 112-thousand acres north of Beaumont and south of Jasper. It contains Longleaf pines, Loblolly pines, beech trees, magnolias and countless others.
The Thicket is protected as part of the National Parks system. There are plenty of recreational opportunities to enjoy, especially hiking and kayaking. Stop at the preserve’s headquarters just off Route 69/287. You will find trail guides and maps, and helpful guidance from the staff.
I hiked the Kirby Nature Trail near the headquarters. It was about two miles in a circular loop through the forest. A woodpecker broke the silence as it chipped into a tree, searching for insects. MOSQUITO ALERT! Make sure you have plenty of bug spray containing Deet. Reapply every 15 minutes or so to keep the mosquitos at bay.
There are nine different hiking trails in the Thicket, some long ones that are suitable for backpacking overnight.
The next stop was south on Route 69/287 to Kountze and State Road 418, then east to Village Creek and a put-in point for kayaks and canoes. The launch point is on the south side of the road at the bridge.
Village Creek is a tea-colored river with a moderate current, flowing through the forest. From the launch spot to Village Creek State Park is 22 miles downstream, about 12 to 15 hours of paddling. If you plan to do the whole trip, figure two days. There are other take out points along the way, so shorter trips are available.
Another great paddling trail is located at Cook’s Landing, just outside Beaumont. The trail follows a five-mile loop around Cook’s Lake on the Neches River. The whole loop can easily be traveled in a day, even by novice paddlers.
Camping is permitted along the trails and rivers, so long as the rivers are in Thicket Preserve property. A free permit is required. Rangers at the headquarters station can help you map out your adventure and tell you about any camping restrictions.
I base camped at the Martin Dies Jr. State Park on Route 190, west of Jasper. That’s about 30 miles north of the Big Thicket headquarters, and generally considered to be the dividing line between the Thicket and the Piney Woods. Check the separate article for information on the park and recreational opportunities there, and in the Piney Woods national forests that cover much of southeast Texas.