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Big Thicket National Preserve Guide — Visitor Center, Hiking, and More

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Amar Hussain
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Amar Hussain

Senior Content Contributor

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Countries Visited: 63U.S. States Visited: 9

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
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Keri Stooksbury


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Big Thicket National Preserve is one of the first national preserves in the U.S., sprawling over 113,000 acres of land in Southeast Texas. This preserve has an incredible array of animals, plants, and ecosystems, making it an excellent place for exploring and discovering the beauty of this Texas region.

There’s something for every visitor to enjoy at Big Thicket, from hiking trails and paddling opportunities to backcountry camping and wildlife watching. Over 300,000 visitors visit this national preserve each year to experience a land like no other. 

How To Get to Big Thicket National Preserve

Big Thicket is located in the southeast Texas city of Kountze and stretches across 7 counties. The closest cities to this park are Beaumont, Texas, and Lufkin, Texas.

Big Thicket National Preserve Opening Hours and Seasons

The forest preserve is open 7 days a week, 365 days a year, with the visitor center open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. This visitor center is closed on New Year’s, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day. 

Nearest Airports to Big Thicket National Preserve

There are several airport options when flying to the preserve, depending on which area you plan to visit. Many visitors fly into the nearby city of Beaumont. In contrast, others choose to go to a larger city, such as Houston, a 108-mile trip via I-10.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport

George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) is the closest major airport to Big Thicket National Preserve. This airport is about an hour and a half from the preserve. 

This airport is a hub for United and serves over 26 airlines, including American, Delta, and Southwest. This airport offers countless destinations, including Cancún, El Paso, Los Angeles, Miami, and New Orleans. Once you arrive, rental car kiosks are available to arrange the rest of the journey to the preserve.

Jack Brooks Regional Airport

Jack Brooks Regional Airport (BPT) is located in Beaumont, about 45 miles from the preserve. This airport is a great option for those who need a connecting flight from Dallas/Fort Worth. American Eagle offers exclusive service to this airport. 

Upon arrival at this regional airport, you are just a short drive to Big Thicket. While there aren’t as many options as some of the larger airports, this option is close and convenient to the preserve. 

Driving to Big Thicket National Preserve

Several routes will take you to Big Thicket, but the main route through the preserve is U.S. Highway 69/287 between Beaumont and Woodville. The visitor center is located 7 miles north of Kountze and makes an excellent starting point for your visit. 

Taking the Train or Bus to Big Thicket National Preserve

There is no train or bus service to Big Thicket National Preserve.

Getting Around Big Thicket National Preserve

The best way to get around this preserve is to drive from place to place and then explore on foot. The preserve covers over 3.5 million acres, so exploring this park without a vehicle is impossible. For the water-lovers, there are also several miles of waterways to explore by canoe or kayak.

The National Park Service has a variety of interactive and printable maps on its website to help you plan your adventures. 

What To See and Do in Big Thicket National Preserve

A unique park to visit, the vast area is divided into 15 sections (9 land units and 6 water corridors). These units are a mix of developed and primitive units. A park map can help you locate the unit you plan to visit and note what is available in each. 


Big Thicket National Preserve
Image Credit: Ian Kessler via NPS

Big Thicket National Preserve is a birdwatching paradise. This preserve lies along a central migratory flyway, which means many birds fly to and from the area each spring and fall during their migration.

Some birds you’ll see here include the great blue heron, the northern mockingbird, the red-bellied woodpecker, and the wood stork. The best places to watch for birds are along the Sundew Trail, the Kirby Nature Trail, and the Cooks Lake to Scatterman Paddle Trail.

Hot Tip:

Don’t forget to pack your binoculars and camera for an even better view of the incredible birds found in the preserve.


There are many opportunities for fishing within the boundaries of Big Thicket. The preserve has lakes, ponds, and waterways perfect for casting a line and spending the day outdoors soaking in the sunshine and beautiful sounds of nature.

Catfish, bass, crappie, and gar are just some of the fish you’ll find in this Texas preserve. The best places to fish here include Neche River, Turkey Creek, Village Creek, and Pine Island Bayou.

Anyone over 17 is required to hold a fishing license, and all visitors are expected to follow the state fishing regulations. Be sure to read up on these guidelines to have the best fishing experience during your visit. 


Hiking Big Thicket
Image Credit: Scott Sharaga via NPS

About 40 miles of hiking trails cut through the preserve, making it popular for hiking enthusiasts. These trails vary from less than half a mile to 18 miles round-trip. Hiking allows terrific opportunities to see the wildflowers, carnivorous plants, and animals in the park.

Some popular hikes in the preserve include the Beech Woods Trail, Beaver Slide Trail, and the Sundew Trail. No matter your age or ability, there’s a wonderful hike for you to enjoy at Big Thicket. 


Hunting occurs from October 1 to February 19 at Big Thicket National Preserve. Visitors can hunt feral hogs, white-tailed deer, rabbits, waterfowl, and squirrels during this season. Hunters are to abide by the hunting regulations, obtain a free hunting permit at the visitor center, and stay in the designated areas when hunting. 


Paddling the Big Thicket
Image Credit: NPS

There are many opportunities for paddling within the boundaries of the preserve. Creeks, rivers, and bayous can all be found here, making it a perfect place for kayaking and canoe exploration.

There are 3 established paddling trails, including the Cooks Lake to Scatterman Trail, Collier’s Ferry to Lake Bayou Trail, and Village Creek Trail. These trails range in distance from 4.8 miles to 21 miles round-trip. There are also multiple opportunities to join a ranger on a ranger-led paddle program. These free programs include a canoe trip, group canoe or kayaking trips, and learn-how-to paddle programs.

Bottom Line:

One of the best ways to explore this fantastic preserve is by boat, so be sure to add a paddling adventure to your itinerary.

Visitor Center

The Big Thicket Visitor Center is the perfect spot to launch your excursions at the preserve. This building is located in the center of the Big Thicket region. Don’t skip this visitor center if you want to learn about the preserve. There are many exhibits, giant replicas of the native plants in the preserve, a park film, and a store for getting all your keepsakes. This is also where visitors can get free permits for backcountry camping and hunting.

Best Times To Visit Big Thicket National Preserve

Any time you can visit Big Thicket National Preserve, you are guaranteed a wonderful time. However, there may be a better time than others to plan your trip, especially if you are hoping to experience a particular event or activity.

Best Time To Visit Big Thicket National Preserve for Ideal Weather

Weather conditions can greatly impact a trip, so it is essential to plan to visit when the weather is ideal. A trip to Big Thicket in March will provide the best weather conditions. The temperature ranges from 50 to 74 degrees, which is comfortable for exploring the park. 

Best Time To Visit Big Thicket National Preserve To Avoid the Crowds

Turkey Creek Trailhead
Image Credit: Scott Sharaga via NPS

Exploring the preserve without crowds and traffic is ideal. To avoid the crowds, visit this national preserve in late October. There are fewer visitors, and the weather is comfortable, with bursts of fall colors visible in the trees. 

Best Time To Visit Big Thicket National Preserve for Birdwatching

Birdwatching is a popular activity at Big Thicket National Preserve. If you are hoping to catch a glimpse of the magnificent birds that make their home in the preserve, plan to come in mid to late April. Nearly 300 types of birds have been documented in the preserve, and 74 of them nest here, making it a bucket list location for birdwatching. 

Cheapest Time To Visit Big Thicket National Preserve

Saving money while traveling might sound complicated, but it is possible with a bit of planning. To save money on your visit, plan to come in December. This is one of the least busy times to visit, and flights and accommodations have proven to be at their lowest during this part of the year. Saving on lodging and flights puts more money in your pocket, helping you enjoy your vacation to the fullest. 

Annual Events in Big Thicket National Preserve

Big Thicket National Preserve offers a regular schedule of programming throughout the year, such as canoe trips, nature walks, and night hikes. There are also additional events that take place on an annual basis.

Winter Planting Event

Each year in December, the preserve hosts a winter planting event. Volunteers work with Big Thicket to plant native plants in the Big Sandy Creek Unit to restore the longleaf pine forest habitat and protect the park’s endangered species. This event is open for guests of all ages and is an excellent way for visitors to impact the preserve and the world. 

Halloween Night Hike

Each year near Halloween, Big Thicket National Preserve hosts a spooky event called the Halloween Night Hike. This is a terrific way to explore the preserve and enjoy Halloween-themed activities. The hike is a 1-mile loop led by a park ranger who points out the different animals that live in the darkness. This free event requires reservations, so be sure to call the visitor center in advance to request a spot. 

Where To Stay in Big Thicket National Preserve

Whether you prefer camping in the great outdoors or setting up for a visit in a contemporary hotel, there is something for everyone in and near Big Thicket National Preserve. With only 1 accommodation option within the park boundaries and a long list of options nearby, there’s no need to worry about finding a place to lay your head when visiting this preserve.

Inside the Park

Big Thicket backcountry
Image Credit: Scott Sharaga via NPS

The only option for lodging within the boundaries of Big Thicket National Preserve is to set up camp in the backcountry. There are endless options for backcountry camping, and it is the best way to experience the park’s natural beauty. Those who want to camp in the park must obtain a free permit, which is available in the visitor center. 

Towns Near Big Thicket National Preserve

There are several towns near Big Thicket National Preserve for those who want to stay near the park. From small towns to larger cities, there are plenty of options to appeal to every visitor.

Beaumont, Texas

Beaumont is a larger city near Big Thicket National Preserve that is a great place to stay if you want to set up a home base near the preserve. This town is approximately 32 miles from the preserve and has many lodging, dining, and recreation options. 

There are plenty of options for lodging in Beaumont. Whether you prefer camping at an RV resort or a luxury apartment, there’s a perfect solution for every traveler. 

The dining scene is a treat for food enthusiasts. This town is close to Louisiana, so there’s a great mix of Tex-Mex, good ‘ol Southern comfort food, and seafood. Family restaurants, pubs, and cafes are scattered throughout the city. If you enjoy Cajun food, be sure to stop at some of the restaurants along the Cajun Trail.

There are endless possibilities for recreation and entertainment in this Texas town. From exploring parks to fishing and hunting to museums and historic sites, there’s something for everyone to enjoy here.

Bottom Line:

Staying in Beaumont is well worth the short drive to and from Big Thicket. It makes a wonderful home away from home during your national preserve vacation.

Kountze, Texas

Big Thicket National Preserve is located in Kountze, making this city the closest option for visitors who want accommodations other than backcountry camping. Kountze was historically a railroad town in the late 1800s. Today, it is mainly known as the Gateway to the Big Thicket.

The lodging options in this town include locally-owned bed and breakfasts, budget-friendly motels, and a few chain hotels. The dining options range from family-run diners and a few fast-food chain restaurants for quick meals on the go. 

For recreation, visitors enjoy spending the day at Big Thicket, exploring the other parks in the area, taking in the art and history museums, and visiting wildlife rescue centers. If you are looking for the closest town to the preserve, look no further than Kountze. This charming town has everything you could need for a wonderful stay.

Where To Eat in Big Thicket National Preserve

There aren’t any places to dine within the park’s boundaries, but there are many places nearby. Whatever you crave, you will find a hunger solution within just a few miles of the preserve. Check out some of the top restaurants nearby and see if you’d like to add them to your itinerary. 

Floyd’s Seafood

Floyd’s Seafood is in Beaumont, about a 40-minute drive from the preserve. This restaurant is a great place to get your fill of home cooking and Cajun classics. Here, you can grab lunch, dinner, and late-night drinks every day of the week.

Gumbo, soup, fresh salads, seafood entrees, and Louisiana dishes are just some of the types of food found on the menu here. Some of the most popular meals include seafood gumbo, raw oysters, catfish dinner, and the shrimp po’boy sandwich. A visit to Floyd’s Seafood is well worth the drive. There’s something for every palate at this Texas restaurant with a Louisiana twist. 

Mama Jacks

Mama Jacks is a local restaurant in Kountze, just 7 miles from Big Thicket National Preserve. This diner serves home-cooked foods with daily specials that taste like Grandma made them. This restaurant serves early morning to late afternoon, making it an ideal place for breakfast, lunch, and an early dinner. 

The menu features old-time classics like fried chicken, spaghetti and meatballs, chicken and dumplings, and meatloaf. Customers rave about the chicken and sausage gumbo, the crawfish étouffée, and the homemade peach cobbler. Be sure to stop by Mama Jacks before, during, or after your adventures at the preserve.

Big Thicket National Preserve Facts

Big Thicket Armadillo
Image Credit: Soren George-Nichol via NPS

1. A New National Preserve

Big Thicket National Preserve was established on October 11, 1974. The preserve was established with nearly a decade of proposed bills and over 50 years of campaigning for a park. 

2. What’s in a Name?

Early European settlers had a major role in naming Big Thicket National Preserve. They used the term “Big Thicket” when referring to the dense, impenetrable forest. The name Big Thicket was widespread once people began settling in the area. 

3. Biosphere Reserve

In 1981, Big Thicket National Preserve was designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The preserve is dedicated to fostering community-based partnerships to promote sustainable economies, protect its natural resources, and teach about environmental stewardship in Southeast Texas. 

4. Carnivorous Plants, Oh My!

Big Thicket National Preserve has a few different types of carnivorous plants. The best places to see these are on the Sundew Trail and Pitcher Plant Trail, and they can be seen just about year-round. Pale pitcher plants, sundews, bladderworts, and butterworts are some of the carnivorous plant species found in the preserve. 

5. Endangered Species

There are 2 animals on the federal endangered species list that have made their home in Big Thicket: the red-cockaded woodpeckers and the Louisianna black bear. A long list of animals is featured on the State of Texas Threatened and Endangered Species list. These animals include the alligator snapping turtle, wood stork, timber rattlesnake, and Bachman’s sparrow. 

Final Thoughts

Big Thicket National Preserve is a land brimming with incredible experiences and adventures. No matter what you enjoy, from camping under the stars to fishing, and from guided paddle tours to hiking the remarkable trails, you can find endless opportunities for recreation and learning at this national preserve.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to enter Big Thicket National Preserve?

There is no fee for entering Big Thicket National Preserve.

Is there Wi-Fi or cell service at Big Thicket National Preserve?

The preserve does not offer public Wi-Fi. Cell service is available in some parts of the preserve but limited in the backcountry regions.

Can I bring my dog to Big Thicket National Preserve?

Big Thicket National Preserve welcomes dogs as long as their owners abide by the pet rules and regulations.

How much time does it take to explore Big Thicket National Preserve?

A couple of hours to a few days is what is recommended for those wanting to explore this preserve. Your itinerary will help you determine the length of time needed for your visit. To simply drive to the highlights of the preserve, you can do that in a couple of hours. You can stretch your visit into a few days if you want to hike, canoe, or birdwatch.

Amar Hussain's image

About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.


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