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By way of two Wheels

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Main Photo Wheels

Story, photos, and illustrations by Emily Kubisch-Sabrsula

With no shortage of ways to explore to piney-nooks of East Texas, from rides down shaded forest roads to secluded hikes, sometimes a more middle-of-the-road approach is needed to enjoy the woods properly. Motors are great from getting to point A to Point B quickly, but for those looking for a slower pace with a bit of excitement, grab a pair of handlebars and air up your tires for a bike ride through East Texas.

CountyMapBelow the tall pines, red clay roads give way to smaller human-sized trails for human-powered wheels to ride through sandy bottoms and over tree roots. But before biking through East Texas, beginners and experts alike should take note of the unique terrain the pineywoods poses. East Texas’ soils range from silty sands to hard clays that get slippery with the coastal rainfalls, and with so many creeks running through the region, riders should be mindful of wet bottomlands that can quickly house flash floodwaters.

Hefty roots sent off by pines and hardwoods seek to trip bikers who stand on their pedals, while rocks sometimes get kicked up by fast-moving tires. Riders should always take care to wear a properly fitting helmet and take a first aid kit for themselves and their wheels with them. 

Don’t be timid when it comes to letting others know you’re in the area- indicate things like your upcoming direction or that you’re approaching when in thick areas of vegetation through visual and audible cues- do both if possible to be mindful of those with impairments.

 Bighead Creek Trail- Kilgore, TX

Running alongside and crossing over several local creeks, including Bighead Creek, this trail features 3.5 miles of volunteer-built bike courses that sit right outside the city, making it easy to forget there’s any concrete even around. Manmade dirt mounds dot the trails between trees and switchbacks exist for more experienced riders. The trail maintainers are constantly adding new features, so while short, it’s sure to challenge anyone any time of year. Riders can access the bike trail by hopping on the 4.8 mile paved Creekside Trail at one of several trailheads in the area.

FEE: Free, Day Use Only

Things to know: Popular with dog walkers

A portion of the Nacogdoches trails system that runs through Stephen F. Austion State University's Native Plant Center.A portion of the Nacogdoches trails system that runs through Stephen F. Austion State University's Native Plant Center.

SFA Recreational Trail- Nacogdoches, TX

Walk through the Gayla Mize Gardens and over a wooden bridge crossing Lanna Creek into the pine-lined SFA Recreational Bike Trails. Stretching around seven miles, the connected trails that make up the system takes advantage of the town’s elevation changes and has something for everything level of difficulty- including some wooden ramps hidden around the trails. Like all of East Texas, bikers should be extra cautious about pine trees big and small while taking fast speeds, especially while biking alongside the creeks. Keep a close eye on the trails for the occasional protected Timber Rattlesnake or sunbathing box turtle, as well as runners and hikers who also make use of the trails. Bikers who want to explore more of the town’s historic streets can access the 6 mile Lanana Creek Trails by taking a quick detour across University Street and through the Ruby Mize Azalea Garden.

FEE: Free, Day Use Only

Things to know: Port-a-potties are occasionally present at the trailhead but this is not always the case. The town's bike shop, Mile’s Bike Shop, is located less than a mile from the gardens.

DogwoodflowerDavey Dogwood Park- Palestine, TX

Named as much for the park’s benefactor as it is for the flower popular within the boundaries, this city park sits outside of old town Palestine and caters to outdoor seekers of all types. Bikers can expect to find 5 miles of paved and 8 miles of dirt surfaces to cruise around the 250-acre park in. Small wooden bridges connect land over streams, while tree roots and rocks help hold more steeper trails together.

Since this is a city park, pedestrians and dogs can be found sharing the trails, but park benches for post-ride picnics are also abundant.

FEE: Free, Day Use Only

Things to know: There are no bathrooms

The dam at Mission Tejas State Park leads into elevated switchbacks that take riders by most of the park's features.The dam at Mission Tejas State Park leads into elevated switchbacks that take riders by most of the park's features.

Mission Tejas State Park- Grapeland, TX

Just as the creeks in the park continue to carve out steep ridges, Mission Tejas State Park is quietly carving out a reputation for some quick and exciting rides through the pines. With several of its trails serving hike and bike traffic, riders are sure to get a good view of the northern half of the Davy Crockett National Forest with just under 10 miles of flat and inclined trails. The historic buildings throughout the park provide perfect places to rest, with maps and more available inside the visitors' center. Bathrooms, water bottle refill stations, and day-use areas can also be easily found, and camping is available for those looking to make a week out of hitting the East Texas trails.

FEE: $3 daily or free with a Texas State Parks Pass

THINGS TO KNOW: With any trails that may encounter vehicle traffic, keeping lights, especially blinking lights, on bikes can help increase rider visibility for themselves, but also approaching traffic.

Kit McConico Park- Lufkin, TX

Moving further south into Lufkin is Kit McConico city park, which humbly hides a 5.5 mile trail system right outside of the loop. The trail, made up of its own loops and segments, is maintained by the local bike club and is designed to be easy enough for anyone in the community to enjoy. it’s a quick way to explore the fungus, flora, and fauna that call the pineywoods home while en route to other parts of the region.

FEE: Free, Day Use Only

THINGS TO KNOW: Restrooms are available at the trailhead.

Double Lake Recreation Area Bike Trails,-Coldspring TX

Running through the Sam Houston National Forest, Double Lake Recreation Area (DLRA) Bike Trails start at the appropriately named Double Lake Recreation Area and connect some 21 miles of the National Forest’s best bike-only trails that are a favorite among local Houston area bike clubs and solo-riders alike. The trails do get hit hard by coastal rains, especially during hurricane season, but public showers by the swimming hole at DLRA offer a cool-off and clean-down for muddy bikers. With the coastal weather, bikers can expect to hear plenty of birds above and see patches of colorful fungus and flowers in the warmer months, and views of post-prescribed burns in the spring. Trailheads can be found along Forest Service Road 210A near the Double Lake Lodge.

FEE: $7 day use

Things to know: Bikers should be mindful of the $400 fee for bringing bikes on the Lonestar Hiking Trail.

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Huntsville State Park- Huntsville, TX

Huntsville State Park offers almost 15 miles of bike trails in the park, with all trails serving both bikers and hikers, so be wary of slower foot traffic while riding down the sand and clay dips that define some of the trails. Expect a long ride wherever you go, with the largest loop circling the entire permitter of the park. Large shady pines help keep riders cool, even in the Texas sun, and benches are scattered about the trails to help remind adventure seekers that even they need a break.

The park borders the national forest boundaries, as some trails feed into the national forest so riders should take care to have the appropriate passes. Both the park and national forest participate in hunting season to varying degrees so recreationists should take extra caution in the fall especially to avoid hunting areas and wear brightly colored clothing.

FEE: $5 daily or free with a Texas State Parks Pass

Things to know: There are also several trails adjacent to the park in the national forest, including the Lonestar Hiking Trail, which prohibits bike use.

George Mitchell Nature Preserve 

Just down I-45 in Montgomery County, the George Mitchell Nature Preserve in The Woodlands makes for a challenge closer to the city. The bi-directional loop, which will put you at a cool three miles from start to finish, is a good excuse to visit the more populated neck of the woods. Since the park aims to include native species, riders should keep an eye out for migrating birds and small mammals that frequent the area, as well as swarms of mosquitos that call the coastal humidity their home.

FEE: Free, Day Use Only

Things to know: This trail is popular with dog walkers

Armed with tips and starter locations for a ride around the woods, those ready to become stewards of the trails just need to pick up a map and a water bottle (stickers from your favorite ride spot optional), and lay down fresh track in the sand and clay. Remember to always observe individual park rules (to avoid having future rules named after yourself), and always follow universal means of respect, from Right of Way to Leave No Trace.

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