Wake at dawn and hit the trails for a sunrise hike through loblolly pines found in the Piney Woods region. Grab a paddle for an upstream jaunt and catch the biggest largemouth bass of your life at Lake Fork. With four national forests, plenty of state parks, historic towns and more lakes than you can count, the Piney Woods region has exactly what you need for the perfect day.
Start your outdoor adventure by getting up close and personal with nature’s peaceful escape along any of the 40 miles of hiking trails in the Big Thicket National Preserve. Big Thicket was designated an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations in the ’80s and consists of land and water corridors that, together, represent more than 113,000 protected acres of upland hardwood and pine forests, savannahs, creeks, bayous and blackwater swamps.
The Big Thicket region is a comprehensive introduction to some of the most compelling aspects of the Piney Woods’ natural world – a timeless woodland where canopies unravel in fragrant blooms or collapse in draping moss while paths, boardwalks and bridges elevate you above a landscape ruled by carnivorous plants, amphibious creatures and a past primordial power.
After your soul-filling woodland jaunt, meet some of the members of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, whose very smart ancestors made the Big Thicket their home over 150 years ago. Just north of the Big Sandy Creek Unit, the tribe’s 4,500-plus acre reservation features a campground with a 26-acre lake and hosts an annual powwow every June.
If you’re feeling paddle-strong, take on the 21-mile Village Creek Paddling Trail, located along a stretch of the Neches River. This one-way trip meanders between high banks and sandy beaches beneath cypress shade, providing paddlers with a fisheye view of the Piney Woods. If you end up biting off more river than you can chew, feel free to dip out at any of the access points along the creek.
Anglers looking to reel in their next big catch will find that the massive Toledo Bend Reservoir is the place to be. The Reservoir, nestled along the Sabine River between Texas and Louisiana, is considered the largest human-made lake in the south. With a jaw-dropping 1,200 miles of shoreline and 185,000 acres of surface water, Toledo is a favorite choice for fishing as well as recreation. Bassmaster Magazine has named the Reservoir the top fishing destination in the country on more than one occasion – and for good reason.
While you’re in the area, take a brief break from the great outdoors to explore the vintage charm of Jefferson. This quaint spot with brick streets and horse-drawn carriage tours is a great place to shop for antiques, explore historic landmarks, take a riverboat ride and soak in some small-town charm.
For a more intimate outdoor experience, The Piney Woods region hosts plenty of quiet hideaways like Daingerfield State Park, tucked away just two miles southeast of the town of Daingerfield. This forested park, scattered with mature pines, red oaks, maples, walnuts, sassafras and dogwoods, surrounds a ginormous spring-fed lake. The lake, an impoundment of free-flowing spring water with a 5 mph speed limit for boats, makes for pleasant swimming, meditation and pondering.
Daingerfield highlights the charm found throughout our eastern forests, a particularly colorful region of the state year-round. The flowering dogwood’s dramatic blooms announce the arrival of spring, and its leaves turn a vibrant red in the fall. The black walnut, a prized but scarce native hardwood, can be found here growing up to 100 feet tall. So too can the water oak, with its mature bark of gray ridges and dark green, shoehorn-shaped leaves. The colonial white oak is perhaps the giant of this forest, growing even higher than the black walnut and living over half a millennium. Check out the sassafras with its shiny blue fruit on red pedicels. The brilliant green twigs were once chewed for their pleasant taste, and the oil from the tree’s roots and bark made tea. In fact, colonists believed the extracted oil could cure just about anything that ailed them.
With so many things to discover in the Piney Woods, you’ll want to spend a week in this lush forest and stay for the hikes, nature and relaxation.