Skip to Content

National Forests and Grasslands of Texas

Planning a visit to the national forests in Texas? Or road trip to the national grasslands?

These underrated natural areas are best places to hike, camp, enjoy nature and escape the crowds.

In fact, did you know that forest land covers about 38% of the Lone Star State? 

That’s right there are over 60 million acres of forest and woodlands in Texas.

These national forests make great outdoor destinations for hiking, camping, biking, and scenic drives. 

The forests are also home to Texas’s unique ecosystem.

East Texas national forest are amazing day trips from Houston Texas
East Texas national forest are amazing day trips from Houston Texas

Here you will find a variety of wildlife and small critters, birds, and fish that live in the reservoirs, streams, and rivers in the forest. 

The conservation of these forests also helps in reducing the impact of carbon emissions and they deserve a special place in Texas environmental engineering efforts. 

How many National Forests are there in Texas? 

There are four national forests in Texas and one national grassland better managed by the US Forest Service.

Most of these are located in the eastern part of the state. 

The forests include Sam Houston National Forest, Angelina National Forest, Sabine National Forest, and Davy Crockett National Forest.

The Caddo – Lyndon B. Johnson national Grassland is the fifth forest service land. 

The forests are what primarily distinguish the lush landscape of East Texas from the desert of West Texas.

Here you will find a variety of hardwood trees and evergreen pine forests.

The numerous water resources in the forests and rainfall result in a variety of water recreation activities. 

The national forests are one of the best places to see fall in Texas.

They look beautiful in autumn when the hardwood trees change color.

They also look stunning in spring when trees such as dogwoods blossom and wildflowers bloom over the landscape.

Summers in Texas national forests are hot and humid but the trees provide enough shade to enjoy a relaxing hike.   

Best National Forests in Texas

When visitors think of outdoor natural recreation areas in Texas, they most often think of famous state parks in Texas like….

……Mustang Island or Colorado Bend State Park or….

…..the many national parks in Texas like Big Bend National Park!

The national forests are often overlooked and hence, rarely crowded.

They offer a unique adventure to explore the outdoors without crowds. 

Here is a little information about the national forests and grasslands along with activities to do in each of them.

Angelina National Forest

Located a little over 2 hours from Houston, Angelina National Forest is an amazing place to visit.

The forest is in the Piney Woods region of Texas and looks beautiful year-round.

One of our favorite times to visit is during fall when the leaves change color. 

While the forest is primarily home to pine trees, certain areas such as the Boykin Springs Recreation Area are home to hardwood trees that look brilliant in the fall.

Hike the Sawmill Trail here to enjoy the fall foliage from late October to mid-November. 

This trail will also lead you to Boykin Creek Waterfall, one of the best waterfalls in East Texas.

Sam Rayburn Reservoir, located in the center of the Angelina National Forest, offers excellent boating and fishing.

There are several picnic areas, boat ramps, and other recreation amenities in the forest. 

Hunting is also allowed here and you can go looking for game meat such as deer, ducks, and quails.

The forest is also excellent for birding.

You can expect to see endangered species such as the bald eagle and the red-cockaded woodpecker.

We recommend taking along a pair of binoculars when you visit the Angelina National Forest. 

Davy Crockett National Forest route in Texas
Davy Crockett National Forest route in Texas

Davy Crockett National Forest

The hidden gem of Davy Crockett National Forest is located north of Houston.

It is named after the legendary frontiersman Davy Crockett who played a significant role in the Texas Revolution. 

The primary attraction here is the Ratcliff Lake Recreation Area.

The area surrounds the 45-acre lake. Land activities include camping, picnicking, hiking, and birding.

The lake is great for swimming, boating, and fishing.

The 2 mile long ‘Tall Pine trail; around the lake is perfect for families. 

The other popular recreation area is the Big Slough Wilderness Area located about 5 miles north of Ratcliff.

A 20 mi long national recreation trail passes through here.

This wilderness area is isolated and undeveloped, hence this is popular with those who want to disconnect and have a primitive outdoors experience. 

The Neches Bluff Overlook offers a sweeping view of the fine forest and the Neches River.

Davy Crockett National Forest also has dedicated horseback trails.

The forest has abundant wildlife.

You can easily spot deer, squirrels, bald eagles, woodpeckers, wild ducks, quails, and more. 

The recreation areas also have several campsites.

If you can camp, then definitely go stargazing. The night sky looks fantastic from here.

The best time to visit Davy Crockett National Forest is during fall. The colors look really spectacular here. 

Ratcliff Lake is popular for kayaking in Texas
Ratcliff Lake is popular for kayaking in Texas

Sabine National Forest

Sabine National Forest is also located in East Texas along the border between Texas and Louisiana.

This lush natural preserve is our favorite when it comes to shady hikes in the summer. 

The forest has long been settled by nomadic inhabitants from Missouri Valley.

You will find a variety of archaeological sites, historical markers, and old railroad bridges within the Sabine National Forest. 

The forest was once depleted due to excessive timbering.

But since then conservation efforts have resulted in a lush forest that is home to our variety of wildlife, birds, and fishes. 

The forest is a popular outdoor recreation destination for visitors from the greater Houston metropolitan area.

Activities here include camping, fishing, hiking, picnicking, and a variety of water activities at the Toledo Bend Reservoir. 

Toledo Bend Reservoir also happens to be the largest artificial lake in the state according to water volume.

Visitors can camp in five different campgrounds including lakeshore camping along the reservoir.

The forest is also popular for horseback riding and mountain biking. 

Sam Houston National Forest

Sam Houston National Forest is an easy day trip 50 miles north of Houston.

Hiking is one of the most popular outdoor recreation activities in the forest. 

The Lone Star hiking trail passes through the Sam Houston National Forest.

This marked trail is excellent for getting out in nature and wildlife watching.

The trail is 128 mi long and excellent for backpacking.

The best time to hike this trail is winter through spring since you won’t have to contend with the extreme Texas heat. 

Other activities include camping and scenic drives.

The forest has many recreation areas out of which our favorite is the Big Creek scenic area.

The Cable Recreation Area a long click cornrow is great for boating, skiing, and other water sports.

Other popular areas for canoeing and paddle boats include Double Lake Recreation Area and Kelly Pond Recreation Area. 

The Sam Houston National Forest looks spectacular in spring when colorful wildflowers bloom all around.

The redbud and dogwood blossoms also look beautiful here.

Hunting is also popular in the park. Permits are required for hunting.

Common game animals include squirrels, deer, and wild ducks. 

Caddo – Lyndon B. Johnson National Grasslands

Caddo – Lyndon B Johnson National Grasslands are located in the Prairies and Lakes region of Texas.

They are an hour’s drive away from Fort Worth. 

The wildlife found here is quite different from that found in the national forests of Texas.

On a visit you can spot white-tailed deer, coyotes, red fox, turkeys, quails, bobcats, and squirrels. 

A variety of fish species also live in the many lakes that are within the grassland area.

Visitors need hunting and fishing licenses for the activities. 

The grasslands comprise two distinct park units: The Caddo National Grasslands and Lyndon B Johnson National Grasslands.

Popular activities include camping, hiking, fishing, and water sports. 

Numerous water recreation areas such as Lake Coffee Mill, Lake Crockett, and Black Creek Lake are located within the grasslands.

The grasslands are also popular with mountain bikers and horseback trail riders. 

We hope you liked our post on the best national forests in Texas.

These outdoor natural recreation areas make for great family trips in the Lone Star State.