The adage that “everything is bigger in Texas” is undoubtedly true when it comes to the Big Thicket National Preserve. Astonishing not just for its expansive size – it encompasses over 100,000 acres and several different ecosystems – but also for its unique biological diversity, boasting thousands of tree, plant, animal, and bird species. It’s often called an “American Ark” as a credit to the wildlife that thrives in its mixture of pine forests and swamps, with waterways winding beneath the dense tree canopy. Over 150 varieties of mammals, reptiles and birds call it home, and you can find reptiles, tiny frogs, alligators, rare bird species and everything in between.
From the convenient location of our Jasper bed and breakfast, you’re less than an hour’s drive from the Big Thicket, where you can hike, canoe, bird-watch, and explore the natural wonders of the East Texas Piney Woods.
A Walk in the Woods – Spend an Afternoon on the Big Thicket Trails Text Here
With over 40 miles of interconnected trails, hiking in the Big Thicket is the best way to get out into pine and oak forests and take in the diverse landscapes as you progress from shaded trees to swamps and marshland. Start in the Turkey Creek Unit, one of 15 “units” or designated areas that comprise the National Preserve. The Kirby Nature Trail is perfect for all ages and hiking abilities, with loops as short as a mile and up to 2.5 miles. Marvel at the massive cypress groves and smell the sweet fragrance of pine trees as you cross over wooden boardwalks and along well-marked trails (follow the blue path blazes throughout this area).
If you’re in the mood for a longer outing, the Turkey Creek Trail extends up to 17 miles out and back. Choose how far you want to go while enjoying the meandering creeks, stopping at benches to rest, and take in the scenery at various spots while savoring the solitude of being deep in the preserve. For a truly unique experience, don’t miss the Pitcher Plant and Sundew Trails, accessible in this area and featuring Sundew plants, one of four carnivorous plants in the Big Thicket. Although somewhat small, it’s hard to miss the Sundew’s yellow, pink, and red leaves with long tentacles used to trap insects. Their glands attract prey, which then get stuck on their leaves, allowing the plant to begin digesting the insects – it’s a chance to witness biology in action and the cycle of life on full display!
Look for these markers on trails in the Turkey Creek Unit
Birds Aplenty and Discovering Big Thicket Wildlife
During the mid-20th century, this vast stretch of the Piney Woods was on the verge of disappearing due to widespread logging and oil development, but scientists pressed Congress to create the Big Thicket Preserve in 1974. Ever since, the forests have flourished, attracting hundreds of species of birds to nest and stop over during the massive spring migration.
March through May are prime months for birding during the annual spring migration, but bird-watching is excellent every season in the Big Thicket. While hiking the trails or paddling through the swamps on your canoe, you’ll likely hear the red-bellied woodpecker pecking away loudly while brown thrashers move about in nearby branches. The Birdwatchers Trail, located in the Menard Creek Corridor Unit, is a great place to see bird species like egrets and osprey, commonly found along the creeks and rivers throughout the preserve.
Although the birds get top billing, use your binoculars to spot other wildlife like frogs, salamanders, turtles, river otters, red foxes, and armadillos.
Tips for Visiting the Big Thicket National Preserve
There’s never a wrong time of year to venture into the Big Thicket – even in the summer heat, the tree cover provides shade, a chance to get respite from the intense Texas sun. Meanwhile, fall brings beautiful changes in foliage, winter has the most pleasant temperatures and fewer bugs, and wildflowers bloom in spring. Regardless of what time of year you visit, plan to wear pants and closed-toe shoes, bring plenty of water, and layer up with bug repellant – along with mosquitoes and horse flies, ticks are commonplace within the forested areas, but they are not a problem if you wear the proper clothing and use bug spray.
Although it’s always free to visit, and you don’t need to pay an entrance fee, start your day with a stop at the Big Thicket Visitor Center in Kountze, TX. There, you can watch a 15-minute video about the park’s history and get acquainted with the various units while getting updates from the knowledgeable ranger staff about trail conditions and updates (Big Thicket sometimes receives heavy rain, which washes out trails temporarily).
Much like boating on Lake Sam Rayburn or getting out on the water at Martin Dies, Jr. State Park, exploring the rivers, creeks, and lakes of the Big Thicket is one of the best ways to add adventure to your day in the East Texas wilderness. Check the Big Thicket special events calendar for upcoming 4-hour guided canoe tours led by experienced park rangers – canoes, paddles, and life jackets are free of charge, but you’ll need to make a reservation by calling (409)951-6700.
Stay with us, where the Big Thicket’s natural beauty is just a short drive away!