Texas Traveler has written a bit about The Sam Houston National Forest (SHNF) but not yet has she devoted an entire trip to exploring the 160,000 acres of cool shady woodlands 50 miles north of Houston.
SHNF is so large that you can get to it pretty much by heading north on any of the three major north-south highways that go through Houston. Interstate 59 marks the eastern boundary of the forest and I-45 goes right through the middle of it (between New Waverly and Huntsville). If you take 290, be sure to exit Highway 6 I Hempstead going east, then take either 105 towards Montgomery (south of the forest) or Hwy 90 into the western arm of the park. Texas Traveler only suggests this route because it is much more scenic that straight-n-flat 45, and also to point out the forest's size, spanning three counties.
Texas Traveler found herself in Sam Houston in order to partake in a training run for the Houston Marathon along roughly 12 miles of the 128-mile Lone Star Hiking Trail. She can tell you this: 12 miles on flat ground feel like 12 long miles. Twelve miles on root-covered hilly primitive forest trails feel like 1200 miles. Happily, our trail ended on the shores of Lake Conroe, where we were able to take a cooling swim in surprisingly clean water.
One of the best ways for a newbie to explore the forest is with the help of the Lone Star Hiking Club, an organization formed 14 years ago for the express purpose of enjoying and preserving the Lone Star Hiking Trail. The group sets out every other Saturday for hikes than can be as long as 8 miles. Membership in the group is $15 a year which goes towards trail maintenance, surveying and group events like campouts.
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A 27-mile section of the trail, winding from FM 945 to Winters Bayou, is recognized as a National Recreation Trail. The LSHT is footpath only, meaning no bikes or motorized vehicles are allowed.
Don't get lost or you'll end up like Bambi here...
Along some parts of the trail, primitive camping is allowed (unless it's hunting season). But there are plenty of dedicated campgrounds, some fancy, some free. Texas Traveler stayed at Kelly's Pond, which though it's described as primitive has toilets, picnic tables and very close access to one of the Lone Star trail heads. The Stubblefield Lake Campground has more accommodations, including running water and a sheltered pavilion. Cost there is $10 per night.
Early fall is possibly the best time to visit the forest. The weather has cooled and the trails are less muggy. Rifle hunting season begins November 7, after which the trails and campsites become more crowded.