The Davy Crockett National Forest, just an hour north of Houston proper, makes a perfect hiking day trip or weekend getaway. The forest’s 4C National Recreation Trail provides up to 20 miles of footpath winding through dense forest, around lakes and swamps, and over a few bluffs for scenic views.
The trail is easy enough to bring children for a short, gentle stroll; or you can hike midway in with a buddy, have lunch at the central shelter, and tromp back out the same day. If you prefer, you also can make the whole 20 miles into a nice weekend backpacking trip.
This is real Texas wilderness. Although it previously was logging country, it has regrown, and again looks pretty much how it did when its namesake pioneer, Davy Crockett, roamed the woods in his famous coonskin cap. And at 160,000+ acres, it’s Texas-sized too. Plenty of space to have all to yourself, even this close to Houston.
Perhaps the best thing about hiking this East Texas Trail is its sense of solitude. It’s the type of temporary seclusion that, at least in Texas, you can only find in this tall-tree area. In East Texas, we hardly call anything under 50-feet-tall a real tree. So the scrub brush and oaks in the rest of the state have nothing on the pines and hardwoods of the Houston area, and especially those in this protected national forest.
For this reason, the 4C Trail is at least partially shaded much of the way, making it a relaxing, contemplative hike. That doesn’t mean it can't be challenging though. Spring is the perfect time to hike the trail, but even with the mild weather—generally 75-85 degrees from March through early May—the forest canopy holds in humidity. Add to this the fact that the trail passes through sections like the swampy Big Slough Wilderness Area section of the trail, and you will definitely feel the heat. So especially in summer, bring (or cache) lots of water, because you will definitely sweat.
In the Davy Crockett Forest, you share space with lots of wildlife, including everything from bald eagles to deer, to alligators and other reptiles. You’ll be able to walk the shores of Ratcliff Lake as well as the banks of Walnut Creek and the Neches River (depending on where you start on how far you go), and fishing can be good in these waters, and swimming too!
Access and Camping
The main trailhead is at the Ratcliff Lake Recreation Area off highway 7, in Kennard, Texas. The parking fee is $3. Campsites are available year-round at the Ratliff Lake campground—ranging from $10 for primitive to $20 for full RV hookups. The northern end of the trail, Neches Bluff, also has primitive sites. Along the trail, there are primitive sites at Walnut Creek (11 miles in) and Pond Camp (13 miles in). You are also allowed to camp on your own just about anywhere along the trail, except during deer hunting season (November and December), when camping is restricted to the main camps and hunter camps off the trail. To get the latest site information, call the Davy Crockett National Forest service at 936-655-2299. For maps and other helpful information, visit this 4C trail-guide site .