Texas is not necessarily known as a thru-hiking destination. But while the state may not have an iconic route like the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail, there is no shortage of wilderness to explore from east to west in the Lone Star State. The Sierra Club recognized this, and in 1966 its Lone Star Chapter conceived the idea for the Lone Star Hiking Trail (LSHT).
Once approved by the United States Forest Service, the trailblazing began the following year. By 1968, 30 miles of trail had been forged by the Boy Scouts of America, the Sierra Club, and countless volunteers. Today there are 128 miles of trail, 96 of which are part of a thru-trail, with the remaining 32 miles being crossover and footpath-only trails. Even with massive trail systems in Big Bend, the LSHT is the only long-distance National Recreation Trail in the entire state.
The LSHT meanders through Sam Houston National Forest, just an hour north of Houston, and provides hikers with immense opportunities to hike through East Texas terrain—including its dense pine forests, magnificent magnolia trees, and along Lake Conroe. East Texas is relatively flat compared to the western side of the state, but it offers vibrant greens and wildflower displays in the spring and fall colors during the fleeting window that is Texas autumn.
In 1995, the Lone Star Hiking Trail Club (LSHTC) was established to both educate the public about the trail and provide volunteer assistance to maintain it. On the second and fourth Saturday of every month, club members embark on an LSHT adventure, hiking different sections of the trail and inviting anyone along who would like to participate in the free guided hikes. For those trailblazers who would like to become more involved in the organization, annual membership is just $20 each year. According to Texas Lifestyle Magazine, in 2014 the Lone Star Hiking Trail Club “guided 962 hikers over 7,602 miles (an average of 7.9 miles per event) and covered the entire LSHT some 10 times.” For guided hike information, visit the organization’s 2016 schedule, which offers details for meeting locations.
When to Explore
Spring and fall are arguably the best time to visit the trail, whether you’re doing a loop, an out-and-back section, or conquering the entire thru-hike. Texas summers are very hot and last much longer than summers elsewhere—and East Texas is known for its unforgiving humidity in the peak of summer. While winters are generally mild in Texas, they are still sometimes cold, particularly paired with the aforementioned humidity. Spring and fall both bring warm temperatures and vibrant colors, in either magnolia blossoms or berry enclaves.
There are many entry points to the LSHT, allowing for access all throughout Sam Houston National Forest, between Richards and Cleveland, Texas. The LSHTC has put together a comprehensive guide to the trail, section by section, including the length of each section and simple and topography maps for each.
A favorite among those who’ve experienced different parts of the trail is the Magnolia Section—particularly in the springtime when the trees are in full bloom, creating enclaves of branches and huge white blossoms. This particular section is about 9 miles one way, with an elevation gain of only about 100 feet, though some say this section can become dense.
For those seeking to conquer the entire trail (the 96 miles versus the 128 that include crossover and footpath-only trails), avid hikers suggest taking up to 10 days to do so. Some ambitious hikers have done it in as little as four days, but you’ll have to determine your own pace, keeping in mind weather, water resources, and the trail conditions. If you’ve never done a multi-day trek, the LSHT is great for beginners, as its trails are well-marked and easy to follow. The 40-mile Lake Conroe section of trails provides a great area for a multi-day trip with camping facilities in the nearby Cagle Recreation Area along Lake Conroe.
Camping is permitted year-round at designated campsites and anywhere along the trail, except between September and January, when restrictions are in place. This is vital for backpackers to keep in mind when planning a multi-day trip.
It’s also incredibly important to pack in enough water, as Texas has very unpredictable water levels and, in hotter months, can become dangerous quickly. Karen Somers, author of the Lone Star Hiking Guide, pinpoints water locations in her guide, though many thru-hikers have written of finding limited water resources where water was expected. Seasoned hikers recommend hammock camping if planning to camp trail-side because of the forest’s density and, at times, swampy ground beneath.
Share your adventures in the comment section below. We’d love to hear about your favorite sections, seasons, and any guidance for fellow hikers you wish to share. Happy trails.