For much of Texas, visiting state parks includes views of mountains, foothills, clear water streams, or breathtaking vistas–but in East Texas’ Huntsville State Park, the beautiful Piney Woods rule the scene.
Although you will find your typical oak, sweetgum, dogwood, and youpon bush, the Loblolly Pine of East Texas reigns supreme in this neck of the woods.
For even native Texans who haven’t explored East Texas before, exploring the Piney Woods can feel like stepping into a whole new corner of the world.
Here’s how to make the most of your trip to Huntsville State Park!
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Where to Find Huntsville State Park
Traveling north of Houston on Interstate 45, you’ll find the entrance of Huntsville State Park 69 miles from the city’s downtown.
If you’re traveling south on I-45, the entrance will be 10.1 miles from the small city of Huntsville.
In both cases, you’ll exit onto state park road 40 and follow it into the park, where a ranger station is set up along the road to check you into the park.
A Brief History of Huntsville State Park, Texas
Long before Europeans moved into the area around what is now known as Walker County and home to Huntsville State Park, the Bedias Tribe of Native Americans thrived here.
The land, forests, and creeks of the area provided abundant wildlife and rich soil to grow crops.
After a ruinous epidemic of disease swept through their land in the late 1700s, what was left of the Bedias Tribe joined other large groups of the area.
Like so many other state and national parks, Huntsville State Park as we know it today was born out of the Great Depression era.
Men and women needed work, and the land that once provided life to the Bedias Tribe became the vehicle to make that happen.
Members of the CCC, or Civilian Conservation Corp, which in Huntsville was made up mainly of African American workers, constructed what is now Huntsville State Park.
The Best Things to Do at Huntsville State Park
Explore the hiking trails at Huntsville State Park.
With more than 2,000 acres to explore via the Huntsville State Park trail system, you’ll spend plenty of time enjoying the forest.
Visitors will find the trees and the trails that meander through them with breathtaking awe.
The park includes over 20 miles of hiking and biking trails within the park and has the added benefit of being connected to the over 100 miles of national forest trails located right next door.
The trails are designed with the shorter ones located around the lake within the park and grow longer as you expand away from the camping and lake areas.
Trails range in difficulty and length, with the shortest option being the Loblolly Trail at 0.2 miles, and the longest being the Triple C Trail at 8.5 miles.
Popular mid-length options include the Dogwood Trail (1.8 miles) and the Praire Branch Loop (1.5 miles).
The Chinquapin Trail (6.8 miles) is another popular option.
Many of the hiking trails at Huntsville State Park intersect with each other, so you can also mix and match them for a full day of hiking.
Although there are no mountains in the area, many people will find the land around the Huntsville areas misleading.
Trees hide the hills well, and for this reason, you can find stretches of the trail difficult in the summer heat with their many ups and downs through the forest.
Enjoy fun activities on Lake Raven.
Lake Raven was one of the first human-made features created within Huntsville State Park.
The damming of the Big Chinquapin and the Little Chinquapin creeks where they came together along the prairie within the forest made the lake what it is today.
With the damming of the creeks, Lake Raven Reservoir was created with a total area of around 200 acres.
Here are the best things to do on Lake Raven!
The size of Lake Raven is perfect for recreational boating. While canoeing, kayaking, and paddleboats are perfect for this lake, motorboats are allowed with a restriction.
Those with motorboats are welcome as long they are used at idle speed as not to break the park’s “no-wake rule.”
So, leave the water skies at home, as you’ll not be allowed to accelerate fast enough to pull others behind your boat.
What the lake may lack in water sports, it makes up in fishing.
Not an evening or weekend goes by where the fishing pier is not full of local anglers trying their luck at catching fish.
The lake’s size makes it perfect for fishing from kayaks, as these paddling anglers can access about every area of the lake.
Largemouth bass and two different types of sunfish make up the largest of the species, but you’ll also catch a few catfish within the waters of the reservoir.
Go for a swim in Huntsville State Park.
Staying on the topic of water, swimming in Lake Raven is our next adventure option at Hunstville State Park.
A large and sandy beach area has created the perfect swimming hole in lake raven for adults and kids alike.
You’ll find the swimming area close to the park store and within walking distance of many of the campsites.
A roped area keeps you from wandering out too far into the lake, where you may run into a passing alligator.
The best part of the swimming area is the floating platform that has allowed thousands of people to jump off and perform their best cannonball entries into the water.
In the summer heat, the Lake Raven swimming area is a great place to visit to cool off.
Soak up the bird and wildlife watching opportunities.
If you love bird watching, there may not be many better places to visit.
The combination of Lake Raven and the forest around it creates a habitat perfect for our flying friends.
You’ll find plenty of different birds to see in this habitat at different times of the year.
If it’s others types of animals you want to see at the park, you’re in luck.
During the morning and evening hours, you’re almost sure to get your share of squirrel, deer, raccoon, and even some armadillo sitings.
Late-night treks may allow a glimpse of a few opossums. Be careful though, the park is well maintained, but it is also a wild area.
You are just as likely to see a snake on the trail as you walk. Give any you run across a wide birth and go on your way.
They are in their natural habitat and don’t mean any harm unless they need to protect themselves.
Try your hand at geocaching in Huntsville State Park.
Like many of the state parks in Texas, geocaching is also available in the park.
If you don’t know what that is, geocaching is a type of scavenger hunt using GPS.
There will be vessels of different types to find that will contain prizes inside of each one throughout the park.
Use your GPS-enabled device to enter the coordinates from Geocaching.com.
The coordinates will get you close, at which point you’ll need to use your best hide and seek skills to locate the objects on your own.
Usually, you’ll find a page to sign off on that you found the prize and place it back where you found it.
Geocaching is a great way for parents to get their kids involved in hiking, as it can add to the excitement of playing a game and keep them interested in the hiking activity.
Huntsville State Park Camping Options
Huntsville State Park is a wonderful place to take a day trip out from the city. There are enough activities to keep you busy for hours.
For those who want to experience a bit more of nature, you can rent a spot to pitch a tent or park your camper for the night or longer.
The park offers over one hundred and sixty campsites that include full hookups, electricity, or water only.
For those hoping to avoid bugs, for $30 a night, rent a screened shelter with amenities like a concrete floor, picnic table, outdoor grill, and 30 to 50 amp hookups.
These shelters give you a place to sit and play board games at night when not sharing ghost stories around the campfire.
The park offers several different camping areas throughout the park, with some close to the edge of Lake Raven, while others are situated away from the lake.
With Huntsville State Park being only a short distance from Houston, the campsites fill fast during the spring and fall months when the camping itch begins for families who love the outdoors.
Be sure to reserve a spot well in advance, as last-minute camping decisions will almost certainly result in no vacancies.
Don’t forget a trip into the town of Huntsville!
While visiting Huntsville State Park, take the time to run into Huntsville for a bite to eat at one of its local restaurants or visit a museum.
A giant statue of Sam Houston can’t be missed along the highway where you can take a family photo with old Sam.
The Sam Houston Memorial Museum is located in town and features the house of the first president of Texas and a museum of artifacts from the Texas Revolution.
Within those artifacts, you’ll find the museum’s most famed artifact, the saddle of El Presidente Santa Anna, confiscated during the revolution after the Battle of San Jacinto.