The Big Thicket National Preserve’s (www.nps.gov/bith ) name is somewhat misleading. Sure, there are areas of dense forest seemingly impenetrable by man or beast. But for the most part, this National Park Service property is merely woodsy, with pines, oaks, and swamplands dominating the landscape. It’s what occupies this flora that makes the Big Thicket a national treasure.
Species from the Gulf Coast , Central Plains, and Southeastern forests coexist with critters from the deserts, bayous, woods, and swamps. Birds from all regions of the country that should never be sharing air space pass through the area on migratory routes.
There are 85 tree species, nearly 186 kinds of birds, and 50 reptile species, including a small, rarely seen population of alligators. In short, the tremendous variety of habitats coupled with the thicket’s geographic location result in a truly unique destination for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts.
A good place to start is the Big Thicket’s visitors center (located seven miles north of Kountze at the intersection of U.S. Hwy. 69 and FM 420, 409/951-6725, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.). The center provides brochures and maps and includes a discovery room with interactive and educational exhibits related to the history and scope of the Big Thicket. Visitors can also view a 30-minute orientation film and have access to a NPS nature guide offering a short excursion to several of the ecosystems found in the preserve.
Those planning to stick around awhile can take advantage of the Big Thicket’s many recreational opportunities, including hiking, with eight trails offering more than 45 miles of mild terrain through the muggy forest. Dogs are allowed on all trails within Big Thicket. Dogs must be leashed at all times no longer than six feet, and all waste must be removed and disposed of properly. Bikers should head to the preserve’s Big Sandy Creek Unit.
One of the most popular activities at Big Thicket is bird watching, and the Big Thicket Loop offers ideal opportunities. Bird migrations peak between March and May, and some of the most sought-after species include the brown leaded nuthatch, the red cockaded woodpecker, and the Bachman’s sparrow. Camping is also available, but only at primitive sites (no hook-ups). Campers must have a valid Backcountry Use Permit, available at the visitors center or headquarters offices.
The preserve is also known for its water-based activities, particularly fishing, popular along the Neches River, Village Creek, and Pine Island Bayou. Preserve rangers require fishers to have a valid State of Texas fishing license. The Big Thicket also contains two major canoe trails, the scenic Neches River and naturally rustic Pine Island Bayou. Find out about other canoeing, kayaking, and boating opportunities throughout the preserve by checking with the visitors center for maps.
The Big Thicket does not charge fees for park entrance, activities (aside from fishing and camping permits), education programs, or hunting permits. Naturalist activities are available with reservations, or on selected weekends. Call 409/951-6725 for information or to make reservations.