When people think of Texas, many think of dusty, windblown plains, rodeos, and cowboys. Rarely do they envision towering pine trees, creeks winding through a maze of cypress sloughs, or bogs with carnivorous plants. In other words, they rarely think about Big Thicket National Preserve.
Commonly known as the “Ark of the Continent”, The Big Thicket region is home to an impressive array of approximately 1,300 species of trees, shrubs, vines, and grasses. By virtue of its diverse habitats, which range from sand hills to swamps, Big Thicket hosts a wide array of wildlife. About 60 mammal species are found in the preserve, in addition to almost 90 reptile amphibian species, more than 1,800 invertebrate species, almost 100 fish species, and 175 bird species.
Big Thicket National Preserve consists of 15 units covering 112,250 acres of land and water spread over seven counties in southeast Texas. While public roads connect the units of the preserve, few roads lead into it; the best way to explore and experience this area is by foot or by boat.
Approximately 40 miles of hiking trails and countless miles of creeks, bayous, and 9 miles of the Neches River wind through the Big Thicket. Most visitors come to hike, birdwatch, canoe, and kayak. The Big Thicket is a place of discovery, a place to wander and explore, and a place to marvel at the richness of nature.
The best place to start your visit is at the Big Thicket National Preserve Visitor Center. View Big Thicket: America’s First National Preserve, the 16-minute orientation film on the cultural and natural history of the Big Thicket area, browse the many educational displays and exhibits, and examine hands-on items in the Discovery Room. Preserve rangers are also available to help you plan your visit and answer questions.
The visitor center is located seven miles north of Kountze, on US Highway 69 at the junction of FM 420.
Village Creek and the Neches River provide many paddling options for canoeists and kayakers, ranging from just a few hours to several days. The preserve includes two Texas State Paddling Trails: the 21-mile Village Creek Paddling Trail and the 5-mile Cooks Lake Paddling Trail. Local outfitters can provide equipment and shuttle services.
There are no developed campgrounds or campsites in the Preserve, but primitive camping is allowed in many areas. The visitor center issues free camping permits.
Life of all types abounds in the Big Thicket. This national preserve protects the incredible diversity of life found where multiple habitats converge in southeast Texas. Hiking trails and waterways meander through nine different ecosystems, from longleaf pine forests to cypress-lined bayous. Hiking trails range from a 0.3-mile boardwalk loop to 15 miles.
Big Thicket National Preserve lies in the path of two major migratory bird flyways. Bird migration peaks between March and early May. Approximately 185 bird species either live in the Preserve or migrate through it. The more sought-after birds are the red-cockaded woodpecker, brown-headed nuthatch, and Bachman’s sparrow. The Sundew Trail tends to be a good place to see nutchatches, woodpeckers, and other bird species. The visitor center sells a checklist of birds found in Big Thicket National Preserve; alternately, the checklist can be downloaded from the NPS website.
There is no shortage of land and water to explore, with tracks offering the chance to study overlapping ecosystems including ancient forests, Southern upland plains, and coastal drainage areas. Defined by the presence of swamps, birds, and bugs, it is a place that might inspire followers of naturalists, Henry Thoreau and John James Audubon, as opposed to the Frederic Remington, painter and sculptor of the Wild West.
Big Thicket National Preserve was established on October 11, 1974, to protect its rich biological diversity.
On December 15, 1981, the Preserve was designated an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Man and the Biosphere Program. On July 26, 2001, the American Bird Conservancy recognized the Preserve as a Globally Important Bird Area joining thousands of others around the world
Big Thicket National Preserve does not charge entrance fees or user fees.
Texas Spoken Friendly
We can never have enough of nature.
—Henry David Thoreau