Day Trips: The Big Thicket National Preserve, Kountze

One of the first preserves turns 50 against all odds

photos by Gerald E. McLeod

The Big Thicket National Preserve turns 50 years old this year. It took more than four decades of work and compromises for a national preserve protecting about 3% of the original forest to become a reality.

When immigrants in the 1800s began punching holes in the region the Native Americans called the “Big Woods,” the thick tangle of bogs, prairies, and forest covered an estimated 3.5 million acres in southeastern Texas.

One of the most biodiverse areas in the U.S., the preserve shelters at least 1,320 plant species, including many that are endemic. Four of the five known types of carnivorous plants found the U.S. are in the Big Thicket.

Add to that diversity of mammals, reptiles, and avian species that either call the Big Thicket home or rely on it seasonally.

By 1940, most of the region’s old-growth forest had been clear-cut in two generations.

Several local organizations lobbied state and federal officials to protect what remained of the region’s 10 ecosystems. President Gerald Ford signed the legislation creating the Big Thicket National Preserve and the Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida on Oct. 11, 1974: the first two national preserves.

The 113,000-acre reserve is broken into a “string of pearls” of nine land units and six water units primarily along the Neches River and Big Sandy/Village Creek. There are 313 miles of waterways, which is also one of the state’s longest wildlife corridors. Of the 33 miles of hiking trails, two short hikes take visitors to see insect-eating plants. There are no campgrounds, but backwoods camping is permitted.

The Big Thicket National Preserve is one of 19 national preserves managed by the National Park Service. Units of the BTNP are scattered between Livingston in the northwest and Beaumont in the southeast. Start any visit to the preserve at the visitor center just north of Kountze on U.S. Highway 287.

1,696th in a series. Everywhere is a day trip from somewhere: Follow “Day Trips & Beyond,” a travel blog, at

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Big Thicket National Preserve, Kountze, Beaumont, Livingston

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