The Neches River National Wildlife Refuge is a wonderland of wildlife

Be prepared for wildlife watching, photography, and hiking the trails.

The Neches River National Wildlife Refuge was established in 2010 and currently features 7,000 acres of wildlife in Cherokee County.

“What happens is the river produces for the land, and the land produces for the wildlife,” said Michael Banks, board member of the Friends of the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge and co-chairman on the Friends of the Neches River. “And so we have an excellent habitat here of bottomland hardwood forest that provides a habitat for the wildlife. Just about any wildlife that you could find in East Texas, you [could] be able to find on the 7,000 acres in the National Wildlife Refuge here.”

“I would encourage people to come out here to Neches River Refuge and, and just enjoy the outdoor experience that can be offered here in East Texas,” said Leo Gustafson, manager of the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge. “I think it’s important for people to come outside, enjoy the outdoors. They can come out here and get some sun. They can come out here and get fresh air. They can get back down to their natural roots and enjoy wildlife, enjoy the sounds of nature. It’s wonderful.”

So what is there to do on the refuge? Well…a lot!

Hiking Trails: 


Neches River National Wildlife Refuge

“The main attraction [at the wildlife refuge] is the hiking,” said Banks. “We have 20 miles of hiking trails, and you never know what you’re going to see. It is a wonderland of wildlife.”

There are a variety of trails on the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge, and they’re many of them are different lengths so they’re great for all skill-levels and ages.

“So for some people that want to come out and hike a quarter of a mile, I’ve got a quarter mile trail in which they can hike,” said Gustafson. “For some people that are a little bit more adventurous, I have trails that are 12 miles long and they can hike 12 miles if they want.”

If you don’t know which trail is right for you, you can see the list below with information, including length, difficulty level and estimated time it will take to hike.

Songbird Trail

  • Length: 1 mile
  • Time: ≤ 1 hour
  • Surface: Firm, with loose rocks

Enjoy sounds of songbirds as you hike to the river. This trail will take you to the Neches River and pass by some unique plants and habitats. The Neches River is connected to the floodplains next to them. During extended rainfall, the rivers rise to their banks and then overflow into these floodplains. The floodplains create a diverse habitat full of life.

Dead Water Trail

  • Length: 4.5 miles
  • Time: 2.5 hours
  • Surface: Firm, with loose rocks

Take a hike on the far side of the lake. The trail will take you on the east side of Dead Water Lake. As you look around, you will see the overflow from the river into the floodplains. The floodplain reduces high flows in the river, so that less flooding occurs downstream. Watch for otters that live here.

River Trail

  • Length: 4.5 miles
  • Time: 2.5 hours
  • Surface: Firm, with loose rocks

Enjoy a stroll down to the river. This trail will take you to the Neches River and its associated wetlands Buzzard Slough and Twin Lakes. These wetlands improve the water quality of the Neches River by acting as natural filters to remove sediment and nutrients from the water.

Rocky Point Trail

  • Length: 7.2 miles
  • Time: 3.5 hours
  • Surface: Firm, loose rocks, occasional flooding

Prepare for our longest trail on the refuge. This trail will take you through forested savannah and pass through wetlands on the east side. Here you will see areas where fish spawn in the backwater habitats and serve as nurseries for fish which are caught in the main river by fishermen and women.

Pine Tree Trail

  • Length: 3 miles
  • Time: 2.5 hours
  • Surface: Firm, Steep Incline 430 ft

Enjoy the sounds of songbirds as you hike under the shade of pine trees. This trail takes you up to 430 feet through the piney woods of east Texas. Large trees are extremely important in removing carbon dioxide from the air and storing it for the long term in these pine forests.

Crayfish Trail

  • Length: 1/4 miles
  • Time: ≥30 minutes
  • Surface:Firm, with loose rocks

This trail will take you through floodplains of improved wildlife habitat. Because nutrients were deposited in the surrounding floodplains, small organisms like crayfish, eat the detritus and can reach incredible numbers in their population. These crayfish are then eaten by predators such as fish, snakes, birds, and mammals that live here.

Wood Duck Trail

  • Length: 1/4 miles
  • Time: ≥30 minutes
  • Surface: Firm, with loose rocks

This trail will take you beside floodplain areas that are very popular for waterfowl. Wood ducks spend most of their lives in or near forested areas. They often perch in trees during the spring and summer; females use tree cavities as nesting sites; during winter all wood ducks feed heavily on the mast of bottomland hardwood trees.

Woodpecker Trail

  • Length: 1/4 miles
  • Time: ≥30 minutes
  • Surface: Firm, with loose rocks

Keep looking up as you hike. This trail will take you through forested floodplains in which life abounds in the trees above you. Look for dead trees, known as ‘snags.’ A snag harbors many insects that are food for wildlife. The outer surface of the bark is where birds such as brown creepers, nuthatches, and woodpeckers eat bark beetles, spiders, and ants. The inner bark is where woodpeckers eat larvae and pupae of insects.

Click here to view a map of the trails.

Click here to learn more about the hiking trails at the refuge.

Paddling Trail:


Courtesy: Texas Parks & Wildlife

“We have a state-designated paddling trail over here on the Neches River,” said Banks. “The Cherokee Neches Paddling Trail goes through part of the wildlife refuge.”

The trail puts in at FM 747 (River Run Park) and goes 6.6 miles down the Neches River and ends at Highway 79.

Here’s more info on getting to-and-from the trail, from the Texas Parks and Wildlife’s website:

Put-in:

FM 747/River Run Park: (DD) 31.94579, -95.44468 (Click here for Google Map)
From Hwy 79, 1.6 miles west of Jacksonville, Texas, take FM 747 north.
Continue 10 miles to Neches River Run Park (address is 2001 CR 3315).
Check in at the office for directions to the put-in.

Take-out: 

US Highway 79: (DD) 31.89266, -95.43121 (Click here for Google Map)
The take-out is on the North Side of Hwy 79 at the Neches River. There is an access road to the take-out off of CR 3212 at Hwy. 79.

“Everybody that loves the outdoors and needs to put this on their bucket list because there’s no telling what you’re going to see going down the river,” said Banks. “It’s just fantastic.”

Hunting: 


Neches River National Wildlife Refuge

“Good stewardship means that you manage the wildlife,” said Banks. “Part of a management program is having a hunt program to keep things in balance.”

So, can you expect hunting on the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge soon? Yes!

“There’s a process that we have to go through before we can open public hunting, and I’m going through that process right now,” said Gustafson. “In the hunt season of 2021-2022, so not this fall but next fall, [we’re planning] to have the refuge open for hunting.”

They’re currently collaborating with Texas Parks and Wildlife to open up hunting next year.

“It will be very similar to apply for a hunt on the refuge as you would apply for a hunt on Texas Parks and Wildlife lands,” said Gustafson. “So you’ll go to a website, you’ll pick the site that you want to pick, [in our case the] Neches River Refuge, you’ll send in your application for hunt permit, and then it’ll be a random draw.”

You can expect a youth hunt, archery hunting and firearm hunting.

“As far as the big game species are concerned, feral hogs and white tail deer will be the huntable species,” said Gustafson. “And then besides that, there’ll be some fur-bearing species and waterfowl hunting here on the refuge.”

Rules and Regulations: 


The refuge was established for the protection of habitat along the Neches River, the local wildlife that visits that habitat and so that the public can enjoy the areas. But in order to keep the refuge open, there are specific rules and regulations you must adhere to when visiting.

Here are the rules listed on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s website:

  • No ATV use on the Refuge.
  • All pets must be on leashes.
  • Please take only memories and photographs. Do not gather or disturb any plants, flowers, insects, wildlife, or artifacts.
  • All state and local traffic laws apply while on the refuge, and speed limits are posted along the entrance roads and tour route.
  • Use of unmanned aerial systems (drones) are prohibited.

The Neches River National Wildlife Refuge is located on Highway 79 between Jacksonville and Palestine.

The refuge is open from sunrise to sunset 7 days a week.

Directions from Jacksonville:

Travel 12 miles southwest on Highway 79, to County Road 3207.
The entrance to the refuge and visitor kiosk is on the south side of the road.
If you cross over the Neches River, you have gone too far.

Directions from Palestine: 

Travel 15 miles northeast on Highway 79, to County Road 3207.
The entrance to the refuge and visitor kiosk is on the south side of the road.
The entrance is just after the Neches River.

Stay Connected

with The East Texas Weekend

Contact us | Download our App

  

Related:

You can view and feed exotic animals at Cherokee Trace Drive-Thru Safari