For those looking for a rugged, challenging hike in Texas, you can find it right here in the Houston area. With nearly 130 miles of footpath winding through the Sam Houston National Forest, the Lone Star Hiking Trail (LSHT) is indeed the longest wilderness hiking trail in the entire state of Texas.
The trail is surrounded by tall pines, old hardwoods and dense, vine-tangled forest interrupted occasionally by remote creeks, streams, and lakes, some of which hold alligators. For some odd reason, many think Texas’ other half—the left side, from Austin, and west—is the wilderness of Texas. But while the LSHT may not have the high-desert feel of Big Bend or the limestone ridges of Central Texas, when you experience the seclusion of its deep woods, you will know what real Texas wilderness is. Sure, it’s mostly flat in elevation, but it’s flat-out rugged. No fancy city stuff out here.
The Houston area is where the Southeastern United States really starts. The characteristic tall trees, deep soil, swampy waters, thick briars, and thicker southern drawls all contribute to the Deep South feel that you just can’t get in other parts of the state. And even though the Lone Star trail is less than an hour north of Houston, one of the nation’s largest cities, you’ll never know it. It wanders through the 163,000 acres of Sam Houston National Forest, on the outskirts of small towns like Huntsville, Conroe, Cleveland, and Richards.
Of course, you don’t have to hike the whole 130 miles, which sometimes serves as training ground for Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers. You can just take in a few miles on a day trip, or spend a weekend hiking around one of the campgrounds along the trail. Even on short hikes or one-night stays, you’ll get a good taste of what this wild land has to offer—the heavily wooded path, abundant wildlife, and coyote howls at night.
Access and Camping
There are 15 trailhead parking areas scattered along the trail, and two main developed campgrounds—Stubblefield, roughly 15 miles in from the western end, near the northern tip of Lake Conroe; and Double Lake, about 20 miles from the trail’s eastern end. You can also primitive camp just about anywhere off-trail, except during deer hunting season (November and December), when camping is limited to official camping areas. Still, there are plenty of places to access the trail as well as many spots to rest. To make campground reservations, call the National Recreation Service at 1-877-444-6777.
The best local resource for all things related to the trail is Houston’s own Lone Star Hiking Trail Club. They have made available a concise thru-hikers guide to the trail, with regularly updated information about trail conditions, water sources, and more. But whether you plan on doing a day hike or a thru-hike, your first step should be into the pages of the definitive guidebook, The Lone Star Hiking Trail: The Official Guide to the Longest Wilderness Footpath in Texas.