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Big Thicket National Preserve: Group Trips Into the Wilds of Southeast Texas

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If you’re an outdoorsy person, and like to spend time with Mother Nature, then Big Thicket National Preserve is for you. This region’s natural history makes it perfect for customized group activities, such as canoe trips, guided hikes, and camping excursions. Its busiest seasons are the spring and fall (particularly on weekends), due to milder temperatures, and if you’re planning on going, there a several ways to plan ahead.

Big Thicket National Preserve: Group Trips Into the Wilds of Southeast Texas

Photo: Facebook/Big Thicket National Preserve

A heavily forested area located in Southeast Texas, the Big Thicket encompasses roughly one million acres (based on the 1936 “Biological Survey of the East Texas Big Thicket Area”.) Although no exact boundaries to the region exist, it occupies the majority of Hardin, Tyler, Liberty, Polk, and San Jacinto Counties and is roughly bordered by the Pine Island Bayou, the San Jacinto River, and the Neches River. In its northern expanse, it blends into the Piney Woods ecoregion and has historically been the most densely forested region in Texas. In 1974, Congress passed legislation creating Big Thicket National Preserve and establishing it as one of the first national preserves in the U.S. In 1993, additional legislation was passed to expand the Preserve, and today, the National Park Service manages more than 112,000 acres of its lands and waters.

Big Thicket National Preserve: Group Trips Into the Wilds of Southeast Texas

Photo: Facebook/Rich Kostecke

Some essentials that you’ll need when heading to the Preserve are hiking or walking shoes (recommended for the trails), and possibly boots in for low areas, especially after a rain). Sunscreen, bug repellent, drinking water, and one illustrated guide to local vegetation and trails (at a minimum), are all recommended. If paddling is more your bag than hiking, there are also a variety of scenic canoe excursions available. The favored backcountry canoeing option is a 49-mile stretch of Pine Island and Little Pine Island bayous, starting out near Saratoga and ending in Beaumont. There’s also a more tranquil paddle encompassing 93 miles of the Neches River from B.A. Steinhagen Lake to Beaumont. And for those that like a little adventure, there’s a 37-mile trip down Village Creek to the Neches River. And information on shuttling services can be found online or at the preserve headquarters.

Big Thicket National Preserve: Group Trips Into the Wilds of Southeast Texas

Photo: Facebook/Doris A Quiroz

If you’re looking for ecotourism, conservation, and education efforts, the Big Thicket Association publishes a regular newsletter called the Big Thicket Reporter (the most recent of which are posted on a link on their main page), which covers all of these as well as plans for upcoming projects. Camping is also available in the area at Martin Dies Jr. State Park and Village Creek State Park, both of which include water and electrical hookups and tent sites. At the former, campsites can also be secured along the shores of B.A. Steinhagen Lake, which is not only peaceful but not too shabby to fall asleep beside nor wake up looking at. If you prefer to completely rough it, primitive camping (where you bring your own water and carry out what you’ve packed in) is available within the Preserve is permitted in designated areas as well as on sandbars along the Neches River. With plenty to do and learn, a trek to the Big Thicket National Preserve in southeast Texas should have a place of honor on your to-do list this spring or fall. Pack for safety, plan ahead, and enjoy all it has to offer!