What is the Big Thicket?

Mysterious looking cypress knees and their reflections in still water, with green grasses in the distance.
Cypress knees

NPS Photo / Scott Sharaga


Deep in the Heart of Southeast Texas

At first glance, the Big Thicket may seem like any other forest. Take a closer look, however, and you'll discover its many wonders, big and small. Venture into a Big Thicket bog to see thousands of carnivorous plants waiting to feast on insects. Listen for the distant tap-tap-tap of a woodpecker as you stroll through a longleaf pine forest. Search for colorful mushrooms that spring up after summer rains. Paddle along a shaded bayou, beneath hauntingly beautiful bald cypress trees.

These are but a few of the wonders awaiting you in Big Thicket National Preserve.

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16 minutes, 28 seconds

Established in 1974, Big Thicket National Preserve protects a biologically significant portion of the Piney Woods of southeast Texas. Explore the unique natural and human history of the Big Thicket in this short film that captures the region's rich story. (Video is open captioned.)

beech trees growing on the slope of a small gulch
The American beech (Fagus grandifolia) reaches the southwestern limit of its range in the Big Thicket.

NPS Photo / Scott Sharaga

A Biological Crossroads

The Big Thicket is a place where many plant species from the East Coast and Midwest reach the western and southern limits of their ranges. Here, you'll find a mix of different habitats for plants and animals, influenced by subtle changes in soil and elevation.

Wildlife abounds in the thicket, but spotting them can be a challenge! Move slowly, keep your eyes and ears alert, and you may get a glimpse. Some animals prefer the Big Thicket's swamps, like the venomous water moccasin, while others prefer its sunny, open forests, like the roadrunner. Migratory birds pass through the Big Thicket on their spring and fall journeys along the Central and Mississippi flyways. Insects are abuzz in the thicket's bogs, much to the delight of insect-eating carnivorous plants.

Read more about the plant communities found in the Big Thicket »

historic log cabin beneath a sprawling oak tree canopy on the edge of the forest
Staley Cabin is a good example of a homestead log cabin.

NPS Photo / Scott Sharaga

People of the Big Thicket

While some archeological studies have been conducted in the Big Thicket, little is known about the region's earliest peoples. Other tribes lived along the edges of the thicket, including the Caddo, who lived in the hilly regions to the north, and the Atakapa-Ishak along the coastal plain to the south. The Alabama and Coushatta tribes settled in the Big Thicket in the 1780s, having moved west from what is now Alabama. Sharing a common history, the two tribes merged, forming the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas; their reservation is adjacent to the preserve.

European Americans moving west generally went around the Big Thicket, avoiding its dense woods and swamps. However, some of them did settle in the thicket, and lived off the land in isolated homesteads, raising hogs and hunting with dogs. Local lore tells of outlaws and Civil War deserters hiding in the woods, legendary hunters, and the discovery of oil in the thicket.

Read more about Big Thicket history, including how industry affected the region.


What is a National Preserve?

National preserves, like national parks, protect important natural and cultural resources. They differ, however, in that national preserves may allow hunting, mining, and fuel extraction, whereas national parks do not. Big Thicket National Preserve permits hunting and oil and gas extraction. NPS staff manage those activities to ensure that they don’t affect the natural values for which the preserve was established.

A relatively new concept for the National Park System, the first national preserves were established on October 11, 1974: Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas and Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida. (Due to their establishment on the same day, both preserves claim to be the first!) Today there are 19 national preserves in the National Park System.

Read more about the creation of Big Thicket National Preserve »

2 people in a canoe following a person in a kayak on a forested waterway
Paddle through a cypress slough on the Cooks Lake loop.

NPS Photo / Scott Sharaga

An Outdoor Recreation Destination

Big Thicket National Preserve has over 113,000 acres of public land for you to explore. With many miles of trails on land and water, hiking and paddling are the best ways to see the park. You can even make it an overnight trip and camp in the backcountry.

Fishing is a popular pastime in the Big Thicket’s waterways. In fall and winter, you can pursue deer, hogs, and other animals during hunting season. Other ways to enjoy the park include birdwatching, picnicking, biking, horseback riding, and more!

Plan your Big Thicket adventure—read more about the things to do in the preserve.

Last updated: January 31, 2024

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Mailing Address:

6044 FM 420
Kountze, TX 77625



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