Sam Houston National Forest is located 50 miles north of Houston, within Montgomery, San Jacinto, and Walker counties. The Sam Houston National Forest has 161,508 acres with 47,609 acres in Montgomery County, 59,746 acres in San Jacinto County, and 54,153 acres in Walker County. The forest is administered with the other three national forests located in East Texas by the Texas Forest Service, located in Lufkin. The local ranger office is located in New Waverly.
The Sam Houston National Forest is used for multiple purposes. Fishing, trapping, and public hunting of white-tailed deer, feral hog, waterfowl, dove, other migratory game birds, squirrel, quail, rabbits, hares, predators, furbearers, and frogs is permitted. Other outdoor recreation opportunities include camping, hiking, bicycling, and wildlife viewing. Primitive and developed designated campsites are available. Management plans outline direction for a forest under the multiple-use concept. However, even the most carefully planned system of management cannot foresee environmental or natural factors which can cause drastic changes in a forest. Fire, storms, insects and disease, for example, can alter the way a forest is managed.
The entire Sam Houston National Forest is designated as a wildlife management area through a cooperative agreement between Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and the U.S. Forest Service. This special designation provides benefits to those who use the Sam Houston National Forest, including hunters, as well as to the wildlife that inhabit the area. Extra fees paid by hunters who use wildlife management areas are collected by TPWD, and are returned to the Forest Service for use in those areas. These funds pay for a variety of programs to improve wildlife habitat and other enhancement programs such as wild turkey restoration, creation of wildlife openings and additional law enforcement. They can also be used to gather and analyze data to improve wildlife habitat. Hunters who wish to hunt deer or small game in the Sam Houston National Forest must purchase the appropriate wildlife management area hunting permit available at locations where state hunting license are sold. Hunters and those who accompany them must wear hunter orange while hunting with a firearm in the Sam Houston National Forest. Hunters and fishermen are required to have a Texas license and follow State regulations.
On the northeast boundary of the forest lies the 82,600 acres Lake Livingston. Lake Conroe, to the southwest, offers 22,000 acres of water-oriented recreation. Both lakes are noted for black bass and year round fishing. The Forest Service provides three access points to Lake Conroe. There is a boat slip available on the San Jacinto River, near Stubblefield Recreation Area north on the lake, and a boat ramp along the northeastern shore of Lake Conroe at Cagle Recreation Area, and another boat ramp is at Scotts Ridge on the southwestern shore of the lake.
Both Lake Conroe and Lake Livingston offer great pleasure boating experiences and water sports.Lake Conroe and the southern section of Lake Livingston also offer open water for sailing.
Multi-use Trails provide recreational opportunities. Driving off-road vehicles such as dirt bikes & small 4-wheelers, and horseback riding are two of the many popular recreational uses of the Sam Houston National Forest. Special trails have been designated and developed for these multiple uses include Off Road Vehicles (ORV), equestrian & mountain bikes. These trails are loop trails that return to the starting point. ORV use is restricted to the designated to multi-use trails, and trails are closed after rainfall to protect soils, reduce erosion and protect sensitive fish in the area. ORV can find more information by contacting the local district ranger’s office at 1-888-361-6908 Telephone menu messages provide open and closed trails information 24 hours a day.
Hiking is a popular way to enjoy the Sam Houston National Forest and its beauty. The 128-mile Lone Star Hiking Trail, winds through the Sam Houston National Forest. A portion of the trail has gained National Recreation Trail status. The trail is marked with two-inch by four-inch aluminum markers to guide hikers, and has recreation areas available at three different points. Primitive camping is allowed off the trail, except during deer hunting season when camping is restricted to designated camp. The Lone Star Hiking Trail consists of three major sections. The Central Area of the trail runs eastward from Stubblefield Recreation Area, through the Four Notch area to Evergreen and then south down FM 945 to the trailhead parking lot. The Four Notch Loop, a 9.2-mile section, is in the middle of this 60-mile area of trail. The Winters Bayou/Tarkington Creek Area of the trail runs from FM 945 east to Double Lake Recreation Area, then south through Big Creek Scenic Area and then southwest through Winters Bayou. This 27-mile section of the trail has National Recreation status.
The Lone Star Hiking Trail may be hiked year round, but during deer hunting season in November and December, hikers should wear highly visible clothing. The trail provides excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. Hikers may also view rivers, creeks, lakes and streams that meander through and around the Sam Houston National Forest.
The 3,855 Little Lake Creek Wilderness is on the western edge of the pineywoods of East Texas about five miles north of the City of Montgomery. It was designated wilderness in 1984 under the Texas Wilderness Act. The area derives its name from the perennial creek of the same name that flows south through the center. The wilderness area is bisected by three major creek drainages: Little Lake Creek, Pole Creek, and Sand Branch. Those drainages create a rich ecological mosaic. Loblolly and shortleaf pines dominate ridgetops that are separated by a wide variety of hardwoods along the creek channels. The area is bounded by private land to the south, FM 149 to the east, FS 211 and an abandoned pipeline right-of-way to the west, and FS 231 to the north.
Big Creek Scenic Area was established in 1962 and is composed of 1,420 acres. The area is considered to be a special interest area and is noted for its vegetative diversity and scenic qualities. This area was set aside primarily for recreational enjoyment. No camping is allowed in Big Creek Scenic Area. The Lone Star Hiking Trail goes through the scenic area offering four trail loops of various lengths for hikers to enjoy. Big Creek Scenic Area is approximately six miles west of Shepherd, and a parking lot is conveniently located off FS 217.
Deer is the most popular game animal in the Sam Houston National Forest, with squirrels following at a close second. Quail and dove are found around newly regenerated timberland. Water sportsmen can enjoy fishing and duck hunting on area lakes and streams. During the winter months it is not uncommon to see Bad Eagles soaring over the lake or perched in a pine tree. Another endangered species, the red-cockaded woodpecker, can be found throughout the Sam Houston National Forest and is frequently spotted by visitors.
There are three developed campgrounds in the Sam Houston National Forest: Cagle, Double Lake & Stubblefield Recreation Areas. Double Lake facilities are available by reservations or on a first-come, first-served basis if site has not previously reserved. Cagle and Stubblefield are available on a first-come, first-served basis only. Reservation can be completed by calling the National Recreation Service at 1/877/444-6777 or by internet at www.recreation.gov
Cagle Recreation Area is located miles west of Interstate 45 on state road FM-1375 at New Waverly, along the shoreline of Lake Conroe on the west fork of the San Jacinto River. Cagle is a new campground with full service hook-ups. It has a boat ramp with large parking lot, 48 camping spots with electric, fresh-water & sewer connections, and hot showers with restrooms. The area offers lakeshore hiking and bicycle trails, along with excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. Visitors can take advantage of boating and water sports, fishing, and picnicking overlooking Lake Conroe.
Double Lake Recreation Area is located on the east side of the Sam Houston near Coldspring, surrounding a 24-acre lake one mile south on FM-2025. Built initially in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Double Lake Recreation Area facilities includes family camping units, group camping, picnicking units, a picnic shelter, swimming area and beach, and a concession stand with a bathhouse. Each family camping unit has a table, fireplace, tent pad, parking spur, and lantern-holder post. There are units with water, sewer, and electrical hook-ups. Canoes and paddleboats can be rented at the concession stand at Double Lake which also has groceries, ice, and other items for sale. Bass, bream, and catfish have been stocked in Double Lake, and fishing is permitted under applicable state laws. Only small electric motors are allowed on the lake. Double Lake Recreation Area also provides access to the Lone Star Hiking Trail.
Stubblefield Recreation Area is located on the west side of the Sam Houston National Forest along Lake Conroe, where Forest Service Road (FSR) 215 crosses the west fork of the San Jacinto River, and lies on the north shore of Lake Conroe. Stubblefield has 28 camping units and also provides access to the Lone Star Hiking Trail. Hot showers with restrooms are available for all campers and day-use visitors. Stubblefield is a beautiful forest setting for fishing, hiking, birding, hunting or camping for an enjoyable outdoor experience in the National Forest.
Kelly Pond Recreation Area and Multi-use Trailhead is located west of Interstate 45 approximately eight miles along FM-1375 west of New Waverly. This site offers close locations to the multi-use trails and Lone Star Hiking Trail and has a restroom available. Picnic tables and campsites with lantern post and grills are available. Kelly Pond offers a more primitive camping experience and is surrounded by Sam Houston National Forest.