Backcountry Camping

two people hanging out in a campsite in a sunny part of the forest
Camp with friends in the Big Thicket backcountry.

NPS Photo / Scott Sharaga

Whether you want to hike or paddle, Big Thicket National Preserve offers backcountry camping throughout much of the park's lands and waterways.

What does backcountry camping mean? There are no campgrounds in the preserve. You'll need to hike or paddle in with all of your supplies. Camping is allowed in the woods, at least 500 feet from roads, trails, and the park boundary. Paddlers may camp on sandbars along certain waterways.

Camping in a vehicle at a trailhead or roadside pullout is prohibited.


Camping Permits

A free permit is required for camping in the preserve. All permits are issued at the visitor center. No reservations needed.


Check in for your permit at the visitor center. You'll need to provide the following information about your trip:

  • Where you plan to camp, including the entry/exit trailhead
  • Dates of your trip
  • Number of people in your group (8-person maximum)
  • Method of travel (foot, kayak, canoe, etc.)
  • Vehicle description: color, make, model, license plate
  • Your contact information: name, address, phone number
  • Emergency contact information: name, phone number


To check out, call 409-951-6701 and leave a message that includes the name of the permit holder and the date.


Where to Camp

Camping is available year-round in the Big Thicket, though there are some seasonal closures to certain areas. Most of the preserve is open for camping during the spring and summer months (March 1–September 30). In fall and winter (October 1–February 28), camping is limited to areas that do not allow hunting. Check the park map to see the location of each unit.


Camping Areas


Restricted Areas—No Camping Allowed

Camping is prohibited in some areas of the preserve:

  • Within 1,000 feet of the Pitcher Plant Trail
  • The Kirby Nature Trail and all areas south of Village Creek in the Turkey Creek Unit
  • Hickory Creek Savannah Unit, Little Pine Island-Pine Island Bayou Corridor Unit, and Menard Creek Corridor Unit
  • Sites posted as day-use areas or picnic areas
  • Hunting areas during hunting season
hiker wearing large backpack filled with camping gear, standing on a trail in the woods
Are you prepared to backpack in the Big Thicket?

NPS Photo

Camping Regulations

  • Campsites must be at least 500 feet from all roads, trails, structures, and preserve boundaries. Campsites must also be at least 100 feet from water, unless the campsite is on a sandbar along a waterway. Camping in any kind of vehicle is prohibited in the preserve.
  • Camping is not allowed in hunting areas during hunting season (Oct. 1–Feb. 28). During hunting season, camping in the Big Sandy Creek Unit is limited to the Woodlands Trail area northeast of FM 1276 and camping in the Neches Bottom & Jack Gore Baygall Unit is limited to sandbars along the Neches River.
  • Campers are limited to 14 consecutive nights and 28 total nights per year. After 14 consecutive nights, campers must completely remove themselves and their property from the park for a minimum of 2 nights before returning for another backcountry camping trip.
  • Group size is limited to 8 people. Groups must camp far enough from each other to maintain visual and noise separation.
  • Campfires and camp stoves are allowed. Only wood collected in the preserve may be used; wood must be dead and down. Fires must be attended at all times and extinguished before leaving the area. Ashes should be scattered. Fires are not allowed during burn bans.
  • Trenching or leveling the ground for tents or toilet purposes is prohibited.
  • Human waste must be buried 6–8 inches deep and at least 50 feet from trails or water. Toilet paper must be carried out.
  • Pack out all trash and food waste. Burying or burning trash is prohibited.
  • Glass containers are prohibited on waterways and sandbars.
  • Motorized vehicles are prohibited on trails. Horses and bicycles are allowed only on the Big Sandy Trail.

Campfire Safety

A campfire can enhance your camping experience, but if not properly tended and fully extinguished, it can lead to catastrophic and deadly consequences. Please follow these guidelines for campfire safety.


Frequently Asked Questions

Permits are free!

No reservations are needed—you can pick up a permit on the same day as your trip. If you would prefer to get a permit before your trip, permits are available up to 14 days in advance. (Advance permits are necessary for trips beginning on these holidays when the visitor center is closed: Thanksgiving, Dec. 25, and Jan. 1.)

No. Big Thicket National Preserve does not have campsites or campgrounds. All camping in the national preserve is backcountry camping, or backpacking.

The following campgrounds are near Big Thicket National Preserve:

Additionally, many privately-owned campgrounds can be found in the Big Thicket region.

No. Sleeping in a vehicle at a trailhead or day-use area is prohibited.

You need to be at least 500 feet away from the road, trail, and park boundary before you can set up camp. In addition, you need to be at least 100 feet from any water body unless you are camping on a sandbar along a waterway.

Paddlers can camp on sandbars along Village Creek and the Neches River.

No. Permits must be picked up at the visitor center.

Yes, campfires are allowed. When gathering firewood, use only dead and downed wood (nothing that's still standing). Drench and extinguish your fire when you're done. Fires may not be allowed during county-mandated burn bans. Contact the visitor center to see if any burn bans are in effect.

Yes, you can fish while camping if you have a Texas fishing license.

Due to the potential presence of heavy metals in our waterways, we recommend that you bring all the water you'll need for your trip.

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    Last updated: October 8, 2023

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