Credit: Pedro Nash
The sun sets on Middle Fork Lake along the Lone Star Hiking Trail.
I was in the middle of the pine forest, miles from the nearest road and much further from the nearest town, and hadn't seen anyone for three days and counting. I was on one of the most amazing solitary backpacking hikes of my life: the Lone Star Hiking Trail.
Unbelievably, I was also only about 30-minutes of driving time outside of downtown Houston, Texas, the fourth-largest city in the United States.
The nearly 100-mile Lone Star Hiking Trail
, completed in 1978, winds through the gently rolling terrain and swampy bottomlands of the Sam Houston National Forest
. Though part of the path is designated as a National Scenic Recreation Trail, the trail has yet to gain any national recognition or even relevance among Texas's many outdoor enthusiasts. I hiked the trail in January 2011, solo, from end to end, also known as "thru-hiking". I discovered the LSHT by chance through an online backpacking forum (hereby admitting my level of hiking nerddom) mainly devoted to longer and more epic trails such as the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest trail, all many times longer and more well-known than the LSHT.
Here's why the Lone Star Hiking Trail is the best kept secret in Texas:
During the five days that I was on the trail, I only saw two other people hiking it! There's something about walking alone through the big thicket, with only the sound of the wind urging the pine branches into a whisper above your head, and the suddenly too-loud rhythm of your boots on the ground. It's hard to explain. A nice, long walk through the woods can clear even the most cluttered head.
Credit: Pedro Nash
Campsite under the trees and the stars on the LSHT.
Admittedly, the image of an East Texas hike isn't immediately appealing to the average outdoor adventurer. No, it doesn't have the jaw-dropping views of a Colorado peak or the beautiful starkness of an Arizona desert, but the Big Thicket has plenty to offer in its own right. Firstly, the best hiking season is essentially in the dead of winter, making it an excellent choice for year-round backpackers looking to get their winter thru-hiking fix. Secondly, the landscape truly is beautiful and unique. The tall pine forests and swamp bottomlands provide ecological diversity along the length of the hike, and a carpet of soft pine needles cushions your every step along the way. The relatively short length of this hike, at most a ten-day journey, means that the "endless green tunnel" effect that the Appalachian Trail often has on its hikers doesn't exist here. By the time you're tired of seeing endless stands of beautiful loblolly pines, you're pretty much finished.
Amazingly, this quiet sleeping giant, the Sam Houston National Forest, is located 30 minutes outside of Houston, Texas, one of the busiest metropolitan cities in the world. There's a surprisingly severe lack of backpacking and thru-hiking opportunities in Texas, and the Lone Star Hiking Trail is helping Texas make up ground in the outdoor hiking category.
Credit: Pedro Nash
The LSHT is blazed and maintained very well with mile markers along the way.
4. Trail upkeep
Despite being almost unknown, the LSHT is exquisitely maintained by the Lone Star Hiking Trail Club, with frequent blazes marking the route and even mile posts every mile to help monitor progress.
5. Karen Somers
Karen's book, The Lone Star Hiking Trail: The Official Guide to the Longest Wilderness Footpath in Texas, was absolutely indispensable to me while planning for the hike and along the hike itself! It contains accurate maps, mile markers, and a handy trail description page for each section (which can be ripped out and carried in a pocket for ease of use during the hike). This book is strongly recommended and you can find it here: