The piney woods of East Texas is a gateway to outdoor recreation from hiking to boating to camping and more. Camping in Texas is a three-season getaway. With milder temperatures from fall through spring, Huntsville is perfect for a weekend getaway in the forest, close to Houston. Here are the top things to do in Huntsville, Texas with kids.
The East Texas Piney Woods
The East Texas Piney Woods is western edge of a four state area that covers more than 54,000 square miles of diverse forest. With lots of rainfall, visitors will find pine trees like longleaf, shortleaf and loblollies along with post oaks and blue jacks. The understory trees add pops of color with yaupon holly, flowering dogwood and sweetbay magnolia.
To see the best of the forest, travelers should take a hike in Sam Houston National Forest or Huntsville State Park. Additionally Lone Star Hiking Trail, the longest hiking trail in Texas, is in the East Texas Piney Woods.
Sam Houston National Forest
Texas offers four national forests, all located northeast of Houston. Located 50 miles north of the Houston metroplex, Sam Houston National Forest is managed area more than a developed park. So visitors will find limited services except in the recreation areas.
Established in October 1936, it protects 254 square miles, that’s 136,000 acres, in-between the towns of Huntsville, Conroe, Cleveland and Richards. It offers lots of hiking trails to explore the dense forest with conifers and deciduous trees.
The first fall cold front signals the leaves to change colors. Winter is mostly mild and the evergreen pines keep the forest shaded. Spring brings the flowering trees and wildflowers.
For birders, Sam Houston National Forest offers glimpses of the protected Bald Eagles during the wintertime. Or see an endangered red cockaded woodpecker working on a nest in a pine tree.
Lone Star Hiking Trail
If you’re a long-distance trail hiker, or training for a long-distance trail hike, the Lone Star Hiking Trail (LSHT) is contained entirely in the Sam Houston National Forest.
Though not as widely known as the AT or the PCT, it’s the longest hiking trail in Texas. The 128-mile marked trail is divided into three separate sections and includes several loops. Part of the LSHT maintains National Recreational Trail status.
The 40-mile Lake Conroe section starts east of Richards along State Highway 149 to the Stubblefield Recreation Area. Find trailheads 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 along with off-highway parking.
The 60-mile Central section of the LSHT starts at the Stubblefield Recreation Area and passes just north of Huntsville State Park. It continues to LSHT Trailhead 9 off FM 945, south of Evergreen.
The 27-mile Winter Bayou/Tarkington Creek section boasts the National Recreation Trail status. Pick up the LSHT Trailhead 9 and continue until Trailhead 15 off FM 1725, northwest of Cleveland.
The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club reached out to the United States Forest Service (USFS) in 1966 to construct the trail. In 1968, construction began with help from the Boy Scouts of America. The trail was completed in 1972 and the USFS maintains and manages the trail to this day.
Lake Conroe is a 21,000 acre lake with fishing and boating in its recreational areas west of Huntsville. Its boat ramps are located at Stubblefield Recreation Area and Scotts Ridge Day-Use Area.
Find multi-use trails for OHV, equestrian and mountain biking along with a Lake Conroe boat ramp at Cagle Recreation Area. Located five miles west of Interstate 45 on FM 1375.
A swimming beach area and rental boats are found in Double Lake Recreation Area, located one mile south of Coldspring on FM 2025.
As one of the largest lakes in Texas, Lake Livingston is east of Huntsville and offers the Lake Livingston State Park. With hiking, boating, swimming and fishing, it is a top thing to do in Huntsville.
Lake Livingston’s largest fish population is the white bass though it offers catfish, crappie and perch. Hiking in Lake Livingston’s State Park ranges from the .3-mile Oak Flat Trail to the 2.1-mile Trinity Trace Trail.
Located at 300 Park Road 65, Livingston, TX, one mile south of Livingston on U.S. Highway 59. Reservations recommended and adult admission is $6 a day and kids 12 and younger are free.
Camping in Sam Houston National Forest
Find camping at several campgrounds in the Sam Houston National Forest.
Stubblefield Recreation Area
Built during the Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1937 as a part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal Plan. Young men developed parks across the U.S. in the 1930s.
This area offers developed campsites, restrooms with showers along with access to the LSHT.
Located at Forest Service Road (FSR) 215 where it crosses the north fork of the San Jacinto River. Each campsite requires a nightly fee.
Double Lake Recreation Area
Originally built by the CCC in 1937 as well. This area includes developed campsites, restrooms with showers along with access to the LSHT. Also find a lodge along with 21 miles of mountain biking trails that circle Double Lake.
From Hwy. 59 in Cleveland, take FM 2025 north 17 mi., turn right at Double Lake. Each campsite requires a nightly fee.
Cagle Recreation Area
It offers a developed campground though not accessible from the Lone Star Hiking Trail. Find full-service hook-ups along with restrooms including showers.
Located at FM 1375 West, New Waverly, TX. Each campsite requires a nightly fee.
Primitive camping is allowed in the Sam Houston National Forest as long as campsites are 200 feet from the trail and water sources. Though camping is limited to the developed recreation areas during the fall deer season when hunting is permitted in the forest.
Huntsville State Park
With 2,000 acres of forest, the Huntsville State Park features 27 miles of hiking trails. Along with hiking, visitors can rent a canoe, kayak or paddle boat for Lake Raven.
Keep an eye to the sky for a bald eagle, a pileated woodpecker or any of more than 250 birds seen in the park. Scan the underbrush along the water’s edge and spot a beaver, an otter or even an American alligator—all residents of the park.
The CCC in Huntsville State Park
Another project of FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps, Company 1823 consisted of 200 African American WWI veterans. Work began in 1937 and they constructed an earthen dam along with the CCC Lodge. The CCC also constructed culverts for drainage and the stone curbing that makes CCC parks distinctive.
During a flood in 1940, the dam failed and so it had to be replaced. This, along with WWII, prevented Huntsville State Park from opening until 1956.
Hiking in Huntsville State Park
The trails in Huntsville State Park are wide and well maintained. Most trails are bike-friendly as well. Find challenging trails, like the 8.5-mile round trip Triple C Trail. Or stroll the Loblolly Trail, easy enough for a toddler at .2-miles.
Access the LSHT from Huntsville State Park. Huntsville State Park is a popular camping spot for through hikers on a multi-day long distance hike.
Camping in Huntsville State Park
Find screened shelters along with 160 campsites in the park. The CCC built a Lodge along the lake’s edge along with the boat house.
Located at 565 Park Road 40W, west of Interstate 45 and south of Huntsville. Adult admission (13+) is $7 with kids 12 and under entering for free. Camping is extra.
Sam Houston Statue
If you’re driving along Interstate 45, it’s hard to miss Big Sam, a 67-foot tall concrete statue of Sam Houston. Designed by David Adickes, travelers should stand at the statue’s base to appreciate its scale.
Located at 7600 Highway 75. The Visitor Center offers area information. Open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free to visit.
Sam Houston Memorial Museum
Located on the campus of Sam Houston State University, walk through a 15-acre area to learn about the first president of the Republic of Texas. As his homestead, visitors will see the original buildings along with historical artifacts.
Located at 1836 Sam Houston Ave. Open Tuesday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. No admission.
Sam Houston State University
If you’re traveling with teen in tow, then a trip to Sam Houston State University might be on the itinerary. Founded in 1879. it’s the third oldest university in Texas.
It offers guided tours on weekdays and they are free. A self-guided tours are also available.
The SHSU Visitor Center is located at 1905 University Ave., Huntsville.
Texas Prison Museum
This museum is dedicated to the history of the Texas Prison Museum including its imprisoned. The Texas Prison Museum also features a look to the inside workings of the prisons in Texas.
Located at 491 Hwy 75 N., Huntsville, TX.
RV Parks and Deluxe Cabins near Huntsville
For those who love a roof, real beds, a gas grill and air conditioning, consider reserving a camping cabin at Thousand Trails Lake Conroe RV and Camping Resort. Roast a hotdog, toast a s’more then take a hot shower in your private cabin.
The resort also offers a spot for every type of RV out there. And find lots of activities for the kids.
Located at 11720 Thousand Trails Road in Willis.
Hiking Tips for the Lone Star Trail
While the LSHT trail is marked extensively on trees along the route, directional signs are few and far between. Hiking by GPS or compass is necessary.
Water and restrooms aren’t available on the trail so pack accordingly. The best way to find the numbered trailheads is through the maps feature of smart phones. And remember to drop a pin when you park as a point of reference and to find your vehicle.
The trail is narrow with tall underbrush in some places. Dogs are allowed on leash. Not ideal hike for first time hikers or young children. Though teens and adults enjoy the challenge.
Remember to look for ticks after hiking.
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