Take a Hike

8 stunning hikes over 8 miles within 8 hours of Houston

It's time to make some outdoor plans for the fall. While many of us will venture close to home, many will experience the outdoors within a day’s drive of Space City. Here are eight hikes over eight miles within eight hours of Houston. For local hikes, check out more articles from CultureMap.

Sam Houston National Forest

Time from Houston: 1 hour

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Just north of Houston, you will find a beginner hiker’s paradise. As you pass through the pines and waltz among the hardwoods, you’ll experience a true sense of tranquility. The 128-mile Lone Star Hiking Trail is the longest hiking trail in all of Texas, with several day-hiking loops along the way. Local wildlife includes white-tailed deer, feral hogs, bald eagles, and the endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers.

Tips:

  • Always plan your trip and carry enough water and food.
  • November and December is hunting season, so get an orange vest for safety.
  • For detailed maps, weather reports, and more information, go to Lone Star Hiking Trail Club.

Big Thicket National Preserve

Time from Houston: 2 hours

Difficulty: Easy

Enjoy a stroll through the rolling landscape of the Big Thicket National Preserve, headquartered in Kountze, Texas. More specifically, enjoy the 15-17 mile Turkey Creek Trail, which boasts one of the largest natural collections of carnivorous Pitcher plants in the world.

Along with the Turkey Creek Trail, there are 40 miles worth of beautiful Southeastern Texas scenery. Again, you’ll see a mixture of native birds and other wildlife throughout this secluded trek.

Tips:

  • Make sure you bring high DEET bug spray; the mosquitoes will eat you alive out here.
  • If you plan on doing backcountry camping, obtain a permit before entering the preserve.
  • For more information, check out the National Park Service’s website.

Ouachita National Forest

Time from Houston: 6 hours

Difficulty: Strenuous

Located outside of Mena, Arkansas, the Ouachita National Forest boasts a wide variety of terrain, difficult for even the most experienced hiker. The 26-mile Eagle Rock Loop changes from a gentle beaten down path along the Little Missouri River, to a taxing ascent and descent of +/- 4,500 feet along the west side of the trail. You will also face knee- to waist-deep river crossings, extremely rocky terrain, and parts of the trail that aren’t well marked. Again, this is not for the faint of heart.

Tips: 

  • Ticks are everywhere in Arkansas — make sure you bring bug repellent and tweezers and constantly check your body for those little suckers.
  • This trail is best done in three days and two nights, but remember to bring a bear canister or properly hang your food, because there are several black bears in the mountainous region.
  • Check the Little Missouri River water levels. In 2010, dozens of people died in a flash flood when the river rose 15 feet in under an hour. So again, take proper precaution.

Kisatchie National Forest

Time from Houston: 4 hours

Difficulty: Easy

Heading over to our sister state to the east, Louisiana is home to the Kisatchie National Forest. Just southwest of Alexandra, the Kisatchie National Forest has one of the longest trails in Louisiana, the Wild Azalea Trail, at over 20 miles. Best hiked in cooler temperatures in the winter, the wild azalea bloom in the spring is a sight to see. You will pass by creeks and hills and plenty of wildlife in this gentle, picturesque trail.

Tips:

  • Despite being along a creek, the southern portions may go long distances without a water source, so plan accordingly.
  • Make sure to camp at least 30 feet from the trail, preferably in a pre-established campsite.
  • For more information, check out Pack & Paddle, as well as other hiking trails throughout Louisiana.

Colorado Bend State Park

Time from Houston: 4 hours 

Difficulty: Moderate

About two hours northwest of Austin lies the hidden gem of Central Texas, Colorado Bend State Park.  This park is everything an outdoor enthusiast asks for: rolling hills, rushing rivers, waterfalls, and caves. Besides hiking, other outdoor activities such as fishing, biking, and RVing are allowed. You name it, Colorado Bend State Park offers it. With 35 miles of trails total, there is plenty to see, but the main attraction is Gorman Falls. Towering over 70 feet high, Gorman Falls is one of the most beautiful in all of Texas.

Tips:

  • The park charges an entrance fee, so look up rates before you leave.
  • The trail can be very rocky and slippery sometimes. Make sure you have good ankle support.
  • Bring a map. There are several trails that cross paths, so it is imperative that you go in the right direction.
  • When the parking lots are full, the park closes its gates, so get there early and check the Facebook page for real-time information.

Davy Crockett National Forest

Time from Houston: 2 hours

Difficulty: Easy

West of Lufkin, the Davy Crockett National Forest provides hikers with the 20-mile long 4-C trail. Named for the Central Coal and Coke Company, the 4-C trail is made up of abandoned tramways built by the company. Keep an eye out for the towering oak trees along the trail.

Tips:

  • Water sources are scarce along the trail, so try caching water at different points before you depart.
  • The beaten path and low elevation change are perfect for hiking with your dog (but keep an eye out for snapping turtles and alligators in the pond).
  • Walnut Shelter is about halfway along the trail and a great place to camp.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Time from Houston: 8 hours

Difficulty: Moderate

In the heart of the Texas panhandle lies the second biggest canyon in the United States, Palu Duro Canyon. Step into this Georgia O’Keeffe painting and hike the 30-plus miles worth of trails the canyon provides. The most notable is the lighthouse trail, a 5.75-mile loop that ends in a famous obelisk, dubbed the lighthouse. Overall, the “Grand Canyon of Texas” is 120 miles long and is home to several plant and wildlife species including roadrunners, deer, and the occasional mountain lion.

Tips: 

  • Please pre-hydrate and plan on carrying plenty of water throughout the canyon.
  • Flash floods may occur; watch the weather before departing H-town.
  • You must pay the camping fee for overnight trips, and the park does not allow open fires due to the risk of wildfires.

Big Bend National Park

Time from Houston: 8 hours

Difficulty: Easy to strenuous

You may need to speed a little to get to Big Bend in eight hours, but it sure tops our list. Deep in the heart of Southwest Texas is the mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. It contains more than 1,200 species of plants, more than 450 species of birds, 56 species of reptiles, and 75 species of mammals. I would suggest for more extreme adventures to hop on the Outer Mountain Loop, which is a 30-mile circuit that covers much of the park's diverse topography. Take a day trip into the canyon as well, you surely will not be disappointed.

Tips: 

  • Again, cache water along the trail. Make sure you put your name and date when you will pick it up.
  • Backcountry permits are required. You may obtain them at the ranger station before entering the park.
  • Mexican black bears are present in the mountainous regions, so make sure to store or hang your food properly.
  • Temperatures fluctuate drastically between day and night in the desert, so wear and pack appropriate clothing. 

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