The Big Thicket National Preserve- “One’s fondness for the area is hard to explain. It has no commanding peak or awesome gorge, no topographical feature of distinction. Its appeal is more subtle.” – Big Thicket Legacy, University of Texas Press, 1977.
The Big Thicket National Preserve is a heavily forested area that lies within Hardin, Liberty, Tyler, San Jacinto, and Polk counties. Covering approximately 105,684 acres. The area is roughly bound by the San Jacinto River, Neches River, and Pine Island Bayou. The area has been described as one of the most bio diverse areas in the world, outside of the tropics. The Big Thicket National Preserve was established in 1974 in an attempt to protect plant and animal species which inhabit the area. This area was the first national preserve established in the United States National Park System, in 1974.The Big Thicket is also the only national preserve in Texas. In 1981, the Big Thicket was designated as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. The preserve consists of nine separate land units as well as six water corridors. Centered about Hardin County, the BTNP extends into parts of surrounding Jasper, Jefferson, Liberty, Orange, Polk, and Tyler counties.
The Big Thicket’s geographical features are believed to have their origins with the Western Interior Seaway. The Western Interior Seaway was an inland sea that covered much of North America during the cretaceous period. Over the course of time the area that is now Texas’s coastline was smoothed out by the water. During the last glacial period on earth, plant and animal species from many different biomes are said to have moved into the area. Before their extinction, the Big Thicket is believed to have been home to most species of North American megafauna. Today the Big Thicket is home to numerous species, and has been described as the “biological crossroads of North America” or the “American Ark”. The area contains over 100 species of trees and shrubs, but is dominated by Longleaf Pine. The National Park service lists more than one thousand species of flowering plants and ferns within the Big Thicket, including 20 different types of orchids and four types of carnivorous plants. Animal life includes 300 species of migratory and nesting birds, many of which are endangered or threatened. The Big Thicket is also home to numerous reptile species, including all four groups of North American venomous snakes and alligators.
The Big Thicket is unremarkable compared to the impressive views of other national parks and preserves. The area lies on the flat coastal plain of southeast Texas, and is crossed by numerous small streams. What the Big Thicket lacks in geography is made up for by the biodiversity contained within. At one time the region was much larger than it is today, covering more than 2 million acres in East Texas. The Spaniards, who once ruled the region, defined the region’s boundaries in the north as El Camino Real de los Tejas, a trail that ran from central Texas to Nacogdoches; in the south as La Bahia Road or Atascosito Road, a trail that ran from southwest Louisiana into southeast Texas, west of Galveston Bay; to the west along the Brazos River; and to the east along the Sabine River. Timber harvesting in the early 19th and 20th centuries drastically reduced the densely wooded region.
The Big Thicket National Preserve contains several small towns. Most of the town in the Big Thicket in the late 19th century, at the height of the lumber industry.
Approximately 40 miles of hiking trails wind through Big Thicket National Preserve, giving hikers the opportunity to observe many different ecosystems. Some trails are closed during hunting season. Wildflower viewing is best from March to October. On July 26, 2001, the American Bird Conservancy designated the Big Thicket National Preserve a Globally Important Bird Area (IBA). The Preserve is on two migratory bird flyways: the Central and Mississippi. Bird watching is excellent from mid-April to mid-May and less active during the fall. Boating, canoeing, fishing are most enjoyable from April to October. Hunting in specific areas is authorized by a Preserve-issued permit, accompanied by a valid State of Texas Hunting License, from late September/early October to the end of February. Trapping in specific areas is authorized by a Preserve-issued permit, accompanied by a valid State of Texas Trapping License, during the months of December and January.
Enter Beaumont, Texas, via Interstate 10 and then take U.S. Highway 69-287 north from Beaumont. Eight miles north of Kountze, Texas, take FM 420 east and follow the signs to the visitor center.
Amtrak and commercial bus transportation are available in Beaumont, Texas.
Phone 409-951- 6700
There are no developed campgrounds or RV hook-ups in Big Thicket National Preserve. Visitors may get permits to backpack into certain park units or to camp on sandbars along the park waterways. There is no lodging available in Big Thicket National Preserve. Lodging is available in nearby communities. The communities of Woodville, Kountze, Silsbee and Beaumont, Texas, all offer lodging. There are also several bed and breakfast facilities adjacent to the Preserve.
Dogs are allowed on all trails within the Preserve. They must be leashed at all times with a leash no longer than 6 feet long, and all waste must be removed and disposed of properly. Dogs are not allowed to be used for hunting.