Big Thicket, Texas

The Lone Star State's most diverse ecosystem is ripe for canoeing

Big Thicket Texas Canoe Paddling Primordial

Big Thicket in Texas offers canoeing that can seem, at times, mystifying. Photo: Flickr user meltedplastic

By Larry Rice

BIG THICKET, TEXAS: Located in eastern Texas, not far from the Gulf of Mexico and near the Louisiana line, is a hodgepodge of junglelike rivers, blackwater bayous, swamps, and savannas called the Big Thicket, which once covered more than three million acres. Only about 300,000 scattered acres have survived, 86,000 of which are contained in Big Thicket National Preserve in nine separate land units and four water corridors.

The Big Thicket is an area of contrast and surprise-a biological crossroads of North America. The Thicket nurtures plant life found in southeastern swamps and the arid southwest, the Appalachian forests and the open woodlands of the coastal plains.

Trekking through the Thicket can be deceiving and treacherous, but if the opportunity arises, you certainly should canoe it. Of most interest to paddlers is a 54-mile section of the Neches River that flows through the preserve, from below H. A. Steinhagen Dam to the U.S. 96 bridge. Lining the slow-moving, flatwater river is a dark curtain of hardwoods laced with stands of pine, and hushed baygall swamps with towering old magnolia and water tupelo trees.

Primitive canoe camps range from clean white sandbars to open palmetto flats on the fringes of the Thicket. But for an otherworldly campout, I enjoy sneaking into one of the many cypress sloughs and oxbow lakes for the night. Misty, spooky places of green solitude, they have evocative names that call up visions of Civil War deserters, moonshiners, and desperadoes who once holed up in the Thicket. But today the area is mostly the realm of birds (over 300 species have been recorded), ‘gators, deer, otters, razorback hogs, and one of the continent’s foremost selections of reptiles and amphibians.

The river can be floated all year. Summers are hot and humid, with daytime temperatures between 85 and 95 degrees. Moderate temperatures in the mid-50s are normal for winter. Spring and fall are the most pleasant seasons for outdoor activity.

Contact: Big Thicket National Preserve at (409) 839-2689. For shuttles and canoe rentals, call EASTTEX Canoes at (800) 814-7390; and ask about Village Creek, an excellent choice for an additional one- or two-day paddle through the Big Thicket.

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