Endless Summer in the National Parks: Ply the Bayous

Upper Neches River, Big Thicket National Preserve, TX
Upper Neches River

Canyonlands. Photo by: JohnLloydPhoto.com

Deep in southeast Texas, worlds collide. Here, the South’s swampy bottomlands crash into the East Coast’s hardwood forests and Texas’s cactus-studded plains, forming a little pocket of biodiversity where river otters, bobcats, deer, and armadillos thrive. Head to the Upper Neches River for an up-close look at the ecological melting pot: Winter, with its milder, bug-free weather and lower water levels (read: more expansive sandbar campsites), is an excellent time to go. Put in at McQueen’s Landing for a three-night, 45-mile getaway. Paddle south through a hardwood forest to the park’s Canyonlands Unit for night one; save time for an off-trail hike to explore the fern-decked, 30-foot-deep gullies. Next morning, continue south through cypress sloughs and scout a beach campsite on one of the plentiful sandbars. On day three, you’ll paddle through a swampier thicket of sweet gum, tupelo, and pine in the Neches Bottom and Jack Gore Baygall Unit. Finish by paddling another 12 miles to your takeout at the US 96 bridge. Average January high/low 60°F/40°F Season February to April for better water conditions and mild temps. Free camping permit required