Wildlife Watching & Nature Trails

Prothonotary warbler / Tucker ©

Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge has approximately 37 miles of primitive trails scattered over ten refuge day use areas.


Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge is situated in the floodplain of the Trinity River in Liberty County. It is composed of 30,000 acres in multiple tracts of land spread north and south along the Trinity River. Within the boundaries of the refuge, the forest is composed of river cane, various oaks, elms, ash, water hickory, American sycamore, eastern cottonwood, and baldcypress trees. The refuge has approximately 37 miles of primitive trails scattered over 10 refuge day use areas. Most of the refuge floods or has standing water at various times of the year so be prepared to get your shoes muddy during the wet times. Also be prepared to enjoy the wildlife that call this amazing landscape home for all or part of the year, including wood duck, white-tailed deer and colorful migratory birds. Be sure to bring your binoculars for the best viewing opportunities.

The refuge is open fee-free throughout the year, sunrise to sunset, including holidays. The Knobby Knees Day Use Area, Great Egret’s Ridge Day Use Area, and Champion Lake Day Use Area are open for hiking year around. Other day use areas are seasonally-closed to hiking during the fall and winter due to hunting. A hiking permit is not required to hike on Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge. All hiking trails are primitive and maintained in a natural manner. Camping on the Refuge is prohibited. 

Flooding Advisory: When planning a hike, please call the Refuge Office for closures. High water and flooding events in the floodplain forest can create hazardous conditions. If the water at the Trinity River gage at HWY 90 in Liberty is over 18 feet (Flood Gage at Trinity River), hiking becomes limited due to rising water conditions. If the gage is at 23 feet, all trails close to hiking due to flooding with the exception of Silver Lake and Butler Day Use Areas. At 27 feet, the entire refuge closes to all uses, including hiking, boating, fishing, photography, and wildlife observation.

Knobby Knees Day Use Area (approx. 2,040 acres) 

Knobby Knees Trailhead, Trails, and Parking Area (30.0861716, -94.783881). This trailhead is the gateway to a network of 9 miles of hiking trails which span from the edge of the floodplain to the banks of the Trinity River. This bottomland hardwood forest is filled with various oaks, elms, ash, water hickory, American sycamore, eastern cottonwood, and baldcypress trees. The trails visit 5 scenic areas that showcase Palmer Bayou, two oxbow lakes, and the Trinity River. The Knobby Knees Trailhead is located at the northern end of the Liberty Municipal Park, 300 feet east of the maintenance office, along the tree line. If bicycling to the trailhead, please park your bike in the bike rack situated next to the kiosk. If driving, park your vehicle on the grass at the edge of the park street. Please do not park at the maintenance facility or in front of the dumpster.
Knobby Knees Trail (1.0 mile) features a symphony of knobby knees that can be seen peeking out from the waters of the still wetlands. This trail is suitable for children 3 and up and has several benches for taking a break. Look above your head for waterlines in the trees. During flood events, this trail can go 8 feet underwater. This trail leads to Palmer Bayou Boardwalk and Observation Deck.
Palmer Bayou Boardwalk and Observation Deck (500ft) connect the Knobby Knees Trail to the Leapin’ Lizard Loop. This boardwalk crosses a wetland which transitions from a hardwood forest to a small eastern swamp privet swamp. The observation deck offers scenic views of Palmer Bayou. There visitors can rest under the shade of two baldcypress trees on benches and listen to birds while little ones can marvel at whirligig waterbeetles sliding over the glassy waters. If the boardwalk is flooded over, everything past it is flooded over as well.
Leapin’ Lizard Loop (1.8 mile) follows Palmer Bayou to a pipeline right-of-way. The trail transitions from an intact bottomland hardwood forest to one which was timbered approximately 25 years ago. Note the change from a variety of large trees to a monoculture of Chinese tallow trees in some areas. This trails follows an old logging road, but also winds through the trees. This trail has two shortcuts, both of which lead north, to Cottonmouth Trace.
Cottonmouth Trace (0.75 mile) is a remnant of an old logging road. This trail leads to Josie Lake Scenic View. The north and east sections of this trail are still very well defined and follow parts of Josie Lake, an oxbow lake of the Trinity River. The southern section is a foot path that winds through the woods to Bobcat Bend Loop. Note minor changes in elevation as this trail passes through ridge and swales topography.
Bobcat Bend Loop (2.6 miles) passes through various habitats because it rises in elevation as it approaches the Trinity River. The soils change from clay soils to sandy soils. Trees also vary from oaks, ashes, elms, and privet to American sycamore and eastern cottonwood as the trail approaches the river. This trail also offers a close up experience of river cane, a staple of the Big Thicket of Texas habitat.
Bobcat Tail Trail (100 yards) is a short spur off of Bobcat Bend loop which brings people to Bobcat Tail Trail Scenic Overlook. It crosses through American sycamore trees to gain a hidden view of the river. One may cross the sandy point bar to enjoy the waters and view of the Trinity River. It is called Bobcat Trail because it is such a short trail.
Spirit Oaks Trail (0.6 miles) is a longer spur which travels through two bald cypress swamps as it makes its way to Arkokisa Oaks Scenic View. This trail also crosses through American sycamore trees to the point bar of the river where the sands of Trinity River are especially scenic.
The SCA Way (1.5 mile) is a trail which follows a high ridge of the Trinity River to an old un-named oxbow lake. This trail stays on the high ridge where the point bar has been reforesting itself over time. At Sycamore Swales Scenic View, where the forgotten point bars of the oxbow lake transition to a cut bank edge, American sycamore trees dominate the inner edge of the oxbow. Take a moment to listen to the sounds of the trees lining the oxbow as their leaves clap in the wind.
Golden Orb Weaver Trail (0.4) is a small loop trail which connects The SCA Way and Bobcat Bend Loop. The east side of this trail demonstrates a nice, gradual change in elevation. The sandy ridge gives way to the lower clay-based habitat where water does not drain as quickly and floodwaters tend to linger just a bit longer.

Great Egret’s Ridge Day Use Area (approx. 1,100 acres)

Great Egret’s Ridge Trailhead, Trails, and Parking Area (30.0603904, -94.8070868).
This trailhead leads to a network of 7 miles of hiking trails. These trails help hikers explore from the edge of the floodplain to the Trinity River. This bottomland hardwood forest is filled with various oaks, elms, ash, water hickory, American sycamore, eastern cottonwood, and baldcypress trees. The trails visit 6 scenic areas that showcase Big Bayou, two oxbow lakes, and the Trinity River. The Great Egret’s Ridge Trailhead is located at the northern end of Ohio Street. If bicycling to the trailhead, please park your bike in the bike rack situated next to the kiosk. If driving, park on the east side of the street under the power pole with a sign that states “Visitor Parking”.
‘Possum Passel Pass (1.2 miles) traverses the Great Egret’s Ridge Day Use Area south to north. It follows a two-track road which is used for maintenance of a right-of-way. This road starts on an artificially high road and then drops down into the floodplain where water hickory and associated forested wetland trees dominate. The road parallels Big Bayou for the most part and leads to Twin Lakes Scenic View, a thin stretch of land between Twin Lake and Big Bayou. At this scenic view one can visit the wildlife photography blind overlooking Twin Lake or can hunker down and spy fauna catching a drink from Big Bayou. Two benches can be found along this trail for hikers who would like to sit and enjoy.
Great Egret’s Ridge Trail (2.0 miles) leaves the two track road and winds into the trees of the forest. This trail crosses shallow ephemeral wetlands created by the ridge and swale topography. Cricket’s Corner Scenic View is the first scenic view along the way to the Trinity River. This view features Big Bayou and an impressive array of baldcypress knees. Very large species of oak trees can also be found in this area. Two benches have been placed along this trail for hikers who would like to sit and enjoy.
Inchworm Trail (0.16 mile) is a shortcut to the southern tip of Twin Lakes. The trees in this area are thin and spindly. The area is recovering from being harvested approximately 25 years ago. Take a look across the drainage to see trees which were not harvested. Note the structure of the forest on both sides.
Great Egret’s Scenic View Trail (150 feet) is a short trail which leads to Great Egret’s Ridge Scenic View where a deep swale between the point bar of the Trinity River and the edge of its riverine corridor can be found. Hikers may explore the Trinity River sandbar from this point.
Sandbar Access Trail (250 ft) is a short trail which leads to Backpacker’s Point Scenic View, a transitional zone from a cut bank to a point bar of the Trinity River. It is quite a view of the sandbar from this point. Hikers may explore the Trinity River sandbar from this point. Note the amount of sunlight on this trail. As the river continues to overflow its banks, it deposits large amounts of sand, up to four feet deep sometimes, killing trees which are not adapted to survive these conditions. American sycamore and Eastern cottonwoods dominate these areas because they are adapted to such conditions.
Boggy Boots Loop (1.4 miles) traverses the floodplain from Big Bayou to the Trinity River. This trail gives a great picture of the habitat associations of trees associated with change in elevation in the floodplain. The soils change from clay soils to sandy soils. This loop can be a bit soggy in two particular sections. Trees also vary from oaks, ashes, elms, and privet to American sycamore and eastern cottonwood as the trail approaches the river. This loop leads to a cutbank view of the Trinity River, Trinity River Overlook Scenic View. This trail also visits Forgotten Bend Scenic View, a former cutbank which filled with sand and features some interesting topography. One-half of this trail is an old logging road while the other half winds through the trees and wetlands.
The SCA Way (1.7 miles) is a trail which follows a high ridge of the Trinity River to an old un-named oxbow lake. Along the way, very large majestic trees dominate the areas with their canopies.
Treefrog Trail (0.4 miles) connects Treefrog Trailhead to the Bobby Boots Loop. The trail begins on a pipeline right-of-way, but turns south into a low elevation forest after the culvert. Note the sparse vegetation, indicating this black soil is very high in clay and moisture content. Water hickory and oaks are the dominant trees in the overstory. Treefrog Trail crosses Big Bayou at Mason Bridge and then proceeds to Boggy Boots Loop. ADVISORY: This trail is adjacent to private land. Please stay on the marked tail and do not trespass into the private lands. This trail also experiences seasonal closures. The trail is open January to September, but is closed during the deer hunting season (October-December).

Treefrog Trailhead and Parking Area (30.0733589, -94.8045317)
This trailhead leads to a network of 7 miles of hiking trails. These trails help hikers explore from the edge of the floodplain to the Trinity River. This bottomland hardwood forest is filled with various oaks, elms, ash, water hickory, American sycamore, eastern cottonwood, and baldcypress trees. The trails visit 6 scenic areas that showcase Big Bayou, two oxbow lakes, and the Trinity River. This trailhead is located on the levee 75 yards south of the end of Cypress Street. It is situated outside of the city levee in the floodplain. ADVISORY: Treefrog Trailhead and Trail are open to hikers January to September, but closed due to safety from October through the end of December. This property is adjacent to private land where hunting may be in progress from October to December. However, hikers may access the network of trails year-around in the Great Egret’s Day Use Area by using the Great Egret’s Ridge Trailhead at the northern end of Ohio Street. If bicycling to either trailhead, please park your bike in the bike rack situated next to the kiosk. If driving, this Treefrog trailhead does not have a parking lot. Please park on the side of the Cypress Street before approaching the levee. Please do not park on or block the levee.

Champion Lake Day Use Area (approx. 3, 300 acres)

Champion Lake Trailhead, Trails, Pollinator Garden, Boat Ramps, Fishing Pier, and Parking Area (29.921353, -94.799573). One may enjoy hiking, wildlife observation, photography, boating, and fishing from Champion Lake Day Use Area as there is much to see. Views of black willows and baldcypress trees can be seen sitting in the waters of the lake. Dabbling ducks and wading birds, such as herons and egrets, may be seen foraging. An Osprey or Bald Eagle flying overhead is not an uncommon sight. Almost year around American alligators can be seen lurking in the murky waters below. During the migration seasons Painted buntings and Cedar Waxwings may be found bounding about in flocks. On the other side of the levee is Pickett’s Bayou. Champion Lake and Pickett’s Bayou are popular sites for kayaking, canoeing, boating, fishing, and crabbing.
Please park in the parking area at the top of the hill or at the fishing pier. An accessible public bathroom is located at the top of the hill. Fishing is allowed with a valid State of Texas Fishing license. A fishing license is not required on Free Fishing Day, the first Saturday in June. Advisory: Champion Lake experiences flooding events periodically. Please call the Refuge Office for closure information before visiting.
Pollinator Garden (accessible facility). The Pollinator Garden is located at the parking lot at the top of the hill. Visitors may feel free to enter the pollinator garden to view pollinators interacting with Texas native plant species and smell the flowers. A bench is available so you may enjoy the buzzing. This garden is also appropriate to bring children up close to the colorful world of pollinators.
Boy Scout Trail (0.15 miles). From the gate at the back of the pollinator garden, hikers may take a short, shaded hike through the woods by following Boy Scout Trail (not accessible) down the floodplain terrace to Champion Lake fishing pier (accessible). This trail is appropriate for small children but keep a watch for poison ivy.
Champion Lake Fishing Pier (accessible facility). One may enjoy wildlife observation, photography, and fishing from Champion Lake Fishing Pier as there is much to see. From the Champion Lake fishing pier, hikers can sightsee along the Levee Trail.
Levee Trail (2.3 miles). The Levee Trail is a hiking trail which follows the Champion Lake levee, crosses a spillway, and leads to the floodplain of the Trinity River. Visitors can catch close up glimpses of blue crab, alligators, and fish. This bottomland hardwood forest is filled with various oaks, elms, ash, water hickory, black willow, and baldcypress trees. The forest in this area is different from our forests in the northern part of the county. This area is a transition zone from the bottomland hardwood forest habitat to the coastal marsh. ADVISORY: The Levee Trail is occasionally closed to hiking on weekends from 6 am to noon on weekends from November-January if waterfowl hunting is in progress and closure is warranted. 

Boar’s Den Day Use Area (approx. 2,000 acres)

Boar’s Den Trailhead, Trails, and Parking Area (30.277359, -94.795578). This day use area has 5.6 miles of unnamed hiking trails. These trails help hikers explore from the edge of the floodplain to the Trinity River. This bottomland hardwood forest is filled with various oaks, elms, ash, water hickory, American sycamore, eastern cottonwood, and baldcypress trees. This area also has nice stands of river cane where Swainson’s warblers may be heard. Take the turn off on the immediately before the northeast side of the Trinity River bridge, proceed down, and park near the underside of the overpass. Please do not park on or in front of the wooden bridge. ADVISORY: This trailhead is closed seasonally to hiking during hunt season. Each year hunt season dates vary from late September to mid-January. For safety reasons, please call the Refuge Office during this season to ensure the area is open to hikers before visiting.

Brierwood Day Use Area (approx. 3,000 acres)

Brierwood Trailhead, Trails, and Parking Area (30.264619, -94.837469).This day use area has 6.6 miles of unnamed hiking trails. There is a short loop (0.6 miles) and a long loop (6.0 miles). This bottomland hardwood forest is filled with various oaks, elms, ash, water hickory, American sycamore, eastern cottonwood, and baldcypress trees. Please park in the parking lot and take care not to block the gate. ADVISORY: This trailhead is closed seasonally to hiking during hunt season. Each year hunt season dates vary from late September to mid-January. For safety reasons, please call the Refuge Office during this season to ensure the area is open to hikers before visiting. 

Butler Day Use Area (approx. 4,400 acres)

Butler Trailhead, Trails, and Parking Area (30.346991, -94.895746 ). This day use area has 0.45 miles of unnamed hiking trails. The north fork (0.1 miles) goes to a small pond and the south fork (0.15 miles) proceeds to a piney area. To explore the floodplain forest, hikers may follow the north or south fenceline to visit’s Ander’s Pond, an 80 acre tupelo pond. From this point it is bottomland hardwood forest all the way to the Trinity River. This bottomland hardwood forest is filled with various oaks, elms, ash, water hickory, American sycamore, eastern cottonwood, and baldcypress trees. Please park in the parking lot and take care not to block the gate. ADVISORY: This trailhead is closed seasonally to hiking during hunt season. Each year hunt season dates vary from late September to mid-January. For safety reasons, please call the Refuge Office during this season to ensure the area is open to hikers before visiting.

Hirsch Day Use Area (approx. 900 acres)

Hirsch Trailhead, Trails, and Parking Area (30.219785, -94.793946) This day use area has 3.65 miles of unnamed hiking trails which explore the mature bottomland hardwood forest of the Trinity River. After 0.24 miles of hiking from the trailhead, you have the option to hike northwest towards the Trinity River for 1.75 miles or east going deeper into the forest for 1.66 miles. This bottomland hardwood is forest is filled with various oaks, elms, ash, water hickory, American sycamore, eastern cottonwood, and baldcypress trees. This area also has nice stands of river cane where Swainson’s warblers may be heard. Please park in the parking lot and take care not to block the gate. ADVISORY: This trailhead is closed seasonally to hiking during hunt season. Each year hunt season dates vary from late September to mid-January. For safety reasons, please call the Refuge Office during this season to ensure the area is open to hikers before visiting.

McGuire Day Use Area (approx. 520 acres)

McGuire Trailhead, Trails, and Parking Area (30.176212, -94.788238). This day use area has 3.36 miles of unnamed hiking trails in 3 overlapping loops. Hikers can explore the mature bottomland hardwood forest of the Trinity River using these trails. This bottomland hardwood forest is filled with various oaks, elms, ash, water hickory, American sycamore, eastern cottonwood, and baldcypress trees. Use the metal boardwalk to cross over Green’s Bayou to explore further. Please park in the parking lot and take care not to block the gate. ADVISORY: This trailhead is closed seasonally to hiking during hunt season. Each year hunt season dates vary from late September to mid-January. For safety reasons, please call the Refuge Office during this season to ensure the area is open to hikers before visiting.

Page Day Use Area (approx. 870 acres) 

Page Trailhead, Trails, and Parking Area (30.27293, -94.801737). This day use area has 4.6 miles of unnamed hiking trails in 1 long loop (3.6 miles) and a spur (1.0 mile) which approaches the point bar of the Trinity River. This bottomland hardwood forest is filled with various oaks, elms, ash, water hickory, American sycamore, eastern cottonwood, and baldcypress trees. Four inholdings of private property are located in this area, beware of trespassing accidentally. Please park in the parking lot and take care not to block the gate. ADVISORY: This trailhead is closed seasonally to hiking during hunt season. Each year hunt season dates vary from late September to mid-January. For safety reasons, please call the Refuge Office during this season to ensure the area is open to hikers before visiting.

Silver Lake Day Use Area (approx. 275 acres)

Silver Lake Trailhead, Boardwalk, wildlife-observation Blind, and Parking Area (30.351361, -94.760091). This day use area features a 0.1 mile accessible boardwalk which leads to a wildlife observation blind overlooking a right-of-way. This boardwalk leads hikers through a mixed hardwood forest of the Trinity River. If hikers choose to hike the county road in the direction of the Trinity River, they will find impressive baldcypress swamps with knees 5 feet tall as the forest transitions from a mixed hardwood forest to a bottomland hardwood forest. The mixed hardwood and bottomland hardwood forests are filled with loblolly pine, various oaks, elms, ash, water hickory, American sycamore, eastern cottonwood, and baldcypress trees. Please park in the parking lot, not on the road. ADVISORY: This trailhead is closed seasonally to hiking during hunt season when the wildlife observation blind provides accessible hunting opportunities. Each year hunt season dates vary from late September to mid-January. For safety reasons, please call the Refuge Office during this season to ensure the area is open to hikers before visiting.

Safety:

Visiting Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge means experiencing the floodplain forest habitat on its terms. Here are some tips for exploring the natural wonders on foot:
• Stop by or call the Refuge Headquarters for information and updates on trail conditions and area closures.
• Tell someone about your plans, including your destination, route, and estimated time of return.
• Try to exit the forest 1 hour before sundown. Trail marks become more difficult to see near sunset because it becomes darker within the forest canopy as sundown nears.
• At a minimum, carry a cell phone, water, snacks, a raincoat or poncho, a warm hat, an insulating (non cotton) layer of clothing, insect repellent, sunscreen, and a first aid kit.
• Consider taking a flashlight, a cell phone does not take the place of a traditional flashlight and can run out of battery.
• Use insect repellent to guard against mosquitoes, chiggers, and ticks.
• Stay on trails: taking shortcuts can cause you to become disoriented or get lost. Consider taking a compass and GPS unit to help you find your way.
• Beware of your footing, animals rooting and burrowing may cause uneven footing on the trail so please watch your step.
• Never drink the water from ponds or bayous
• Stay out of the forest during a wind storm as branches and trees may fall.
• When crossing a downed log, step on top of it and hop over. Snakes could be resting under the log.
• Beware of feral hogs, venomous snakes, poison ivy, wasps, and bees.