The Piney Woods is less of a specific place, and more a state of mind. The Piney Woods cover much of southeast Texas, east Texas and into Arkansas and Oklahoma.
The main attractions in the Piney Woods are the four national forests, all located in southeast Texas. They cover nearly 700,000 acres and offer a multitude of recreational opportunities. The forests are the Angelina, Davy Crockett, Sam Houston and Sabine. All are located south of Lufkin, east of Interstate 45 and west of the Sabine River.
There are a variety of camping options in the forests. All offer tent camping, some have hookups for RV’s, and all have primitive camping in the wilderness areas. Rangers warn against wilderness camping during the hunting seasons, which run from October to January. No permit is required for wilderness camping.
A guide to Texas national forest recreation can be found online at the National Forest website. Click on the Recreation Matrix link to get information on specific camping areas.
The forests offer hiking trails, mountain biking, bridal trails, and off-road vehicles trails. This fall the only multi-use trail, located in the Sam Houston forest, is closed due to severe damage from heavy rains. Some of the forests have boat docks on lakes. Others have waterways more suited to canoes and kayaks. It’s advisable to call the specific national forest you’re interested in, to check on the status of facilities prior to making the long drive. The national forests are a good four to five hours drive from North Texas.
There are fees for using the national forests, the amount varies depending on the campground. They range from a standard fee for day use, expanded fees for camping and forests that have boat launch and swimming areas. There are also special fees for hunting and use of off-road vehicle trails. Again, it is good to call ahead to the forest headquarters to find out what fees apply, and how much they are.
There are several state parks in the Piney Woods area. The largest is Martin Dies Jr. State Park, west of Jasper, off Highway 190. It has over 200 campsites, many with water and electric hookups. The park has hiking and mountain biking trails, and several paddle trails for canoes and kayaks.
I base camped at Martin Dies and kayaked the Walnut Trail up the eastern slough into a beautiful Cypress forest. The scenery is breathtaking, but the paddling was difficult with the water clogged with Salvinia, a water based fern that floats on the surface. The conditions are worse in hot months, and efforts to control it haven’t been successful.
A real treat at Martin Dies is the deer that casually wander through the campground. They aren’t shy of humans. Lake Steinhagen at the park is also home to alligators, but I didn’t spot any during my visit.
A smaller state park, Village Creek, is located north of Beaumont. The Mission Tejas State Park borders the Davy Crockett National Forest, west of Nacogdoches.