Mountain Biking in the Angelina National Forest

I decided to take a drive today to check out some trails east of Zavalla that I’d been told about. I was told that bikes were permitted by the USFS, so I wanted to see if they were worth it.

I packed up my bike gear plus a bit of a larger first aid kit than I’d otherwise take biking to appease my wife. I made sure to include my camera and my Edge 705 to record my path. Not only did I want to check these out, but I wanted some GPS data, so other riders could know that they can ride there.

Here is my ride.

It took me a whole hour to get there from Nacogdoches. That alone had me thinking that these trails better be good, because it doesn’t take much longer than that to get to Tyler State Park from my house, which has outstanding trails.

My first bummer of the day occurred just outside Zavalla. I had loaded some waypoints for trailheads (or so I thought) before I left the house so I’d have a relatively easy time finding out where to start. Sigh…those waypoints were not in my GPS. So I had to sit on the side of the highway for a few minutes looking at the topos on my GPS (thankfully those DID transfer over) trying to figure out where the trails were supposed to be. Thankfully I have a good memory, and I was able to figure it out. I don’t remember the recreation area they are near, but it’s just east of Boykin Springs and north of Route 63. It’s on County Road 352.

My second bummer of the day happened when I chose which way to go from the trailhead. It appeared that the trail crossed the road where I chose to park. I set off to explore points northwest. It didn’t take me long to discover massive amounts of downfall. The trail gets used, but not heavily…so while go-arounds were often flagged, sometimes the trail was still not obvious. I did a lot of hike-a-bike here. I kept going, though…hoping things might open up. Nada. The trail forked, and each fork disappeared completely after awhile. It was so bad that I ended up taking a bushwack excursion from my route for a bit. I did see a small pack of coyotes through the trees here. This forest was pretty open compared to what’s typically around here, so you could see awhile. I’m not sure if they saw me or not, since I just caught a quick glimpse as they trotted along a downed tree. It looked like there were 2-3 coyotes. Unfortunately, even if I’d brought my DSLR with 300mm lense, I’d not have managed a shot because they disappeared so quickly.

Once I realized that my options here went nowhere, I returned to my car and headed east. Here the trail was more obvious and it became clear that I should have come this way from the beginning. Intersections didn’t peter out into nothing. They’d actually go somewhere. I took one to the right that looked like singletrack. It was just a short section, and dumped me out onto a dirt road next to an oil well. I rode up and down this street a bit to see if there were any trail crossings nearby, but I saw nothing. I backtracked and took the other fork.

DSCN1467
typical trail (where there were no downed trees), wide and sandy

This one went awhile and I eventually managed to make a whole loop out of it. Parts of this trail were nice. The lowest part of the trail had tons of mud. It was slow, difficult going. Once the trail got back on top of the hills, I encountered more downfall. All these downed trees are probably left over from Hurricane Ike. It wrecked Boykin Springs nearby, so it wouldn’t surprise me if all these downed trees were from that storm, too.

DSCN1468
some open forest. too bad the whole place didn’t look like this

Again, there was some flagging indicating alternate routes…but few of them were terribly obvious. At best, it looks like some of them were “ridden in” with a horse or ATV. So these paths were quite grown up and with the open forest, were difficult to distinguish. More hike-a-bike.

DSCN1469
taking a break on an inviting fallen tree in the midst of the quagmire

I eventually made it through the quagmire onto some open trail. I was thankful…for a little while. But I was so tired that the loose sand was even more of a problem. It made the going VERY slow to return to the car. I need some wider tires I can run at lower pressure. But I’m not sure even that would have helped that much. Some spots were nice and solid and I could go back to my middle chainring. But that loose sand was impossible for me to ride in anything but my granny ring, and even then not that much.

When I got back to my car I was exhausted. And hungry. I was probably close to bonking. I had a couple energy bars left (those mini Clif Bars), so I could have managed that. But I was close enough to the car that I wanted some greasy food. Cheese tots and a root beer float at Sonic awaited.

My overall impression is that it’s good to have more trail miles that are rideable. But a couple factors make this place less than desirable. First, all the downfall makes it tough. Alternates exist already in many spots, but they’re not obvious. If they were properly cleared of brush rather than just flagged and ridden in by horses and ATV’s, it’d be easier to stay on the trail. They other problem is all the loose sand. This place is probably better shortly after a rain to help it all stick together. The final one is that a large segment of the trail just held water like a pond. One giant linear pond. It’s been dry long enough that most of them don’t have standing water, but many parts are still quite muddy. There may have been alternates, but again…not very obvious.

My final word is that since this place took me an hour to get to…I would rather drive to Tyler State Park if I was up for an hour-long drive to get to the trail.

I gotta embed via Garmin Connect. The plugin my site uses doesn’t like large files. This one is over 2mb and my site plugin won’t parse it due to memory issues. So I’ve gotta embed it a different way.

8 comments to Mountain Biking in the Angelina National Forest

  • Nice report; guess the Rita / Ike damage will linger for years… I’m a hiker -err ‘trail walker’ trying to train my girl into a backpacker and haven’t biked in years.

    i appreciate that you ‘two-wheelers’ are engaged enough to document your trips.

    Anyway, thought i’d write to tell you that your blog is cool – good work friend.

    i went to Wild Azalea Canyon ne of Newton on sat; nice spot with about 200′ of elevation change, fair azaleas, abundant dogwoods and sufficiently clear to explore and make trax off trail. I saw no “no biking” postings and one could definitely have a decent ride on a number of the 4wheeler trails that i saw…

    Get well dude, and keep posting. peace, casey.

  • Nate

    Yep, there’s a fair community of “two-wheelers” as you call us ;-) who document our trips. I think most just do so for fitness purposes. I do keep track of my fitness goals (I primarily want to know how much distance I’ve covered, but I also keep an eye on my heart rate as a measure of overall fitness), but my biggest preference is to simply keep track of where I’ve been.

    I used to use a handheld AA powered GPS for years. It’s fairly big and frequent use lends to either burning through alkalines or the more expensive lithium batteries, or suffering through using rechargeables that lose life over the years. Plus, its bulkiness was not conducive to using while biking. This new Edge that I’m using uses rechargeable lithium onboard battery that doesn’t need replacing so it saves a lot of money and hassle that way. It’s also small enough to be convenient to bring along more frequently. It helps motivate me towards my fitness goals.

    I really don’t find myself attracted to mountain biking on ATV trails in sandy environments. I first encountered it in Michigan and got really frustrated with all the loose sand. Now here in Texas it frustrates me again. It’s not as bad to walk the stuff, but it’s nearly impossible to ride a bike in. It’s not my first preference, and had I known beforehand that these trails were originally ATV trails, I probably would not have made the trip.

    But, all that said it still wasn’t a BAD day in the woods. It was better than sitting at home (or in the office) all day adding more padding to the sit surface. Just that with more intel on the area, I’d have chosen somewhere else.

    I haven’t heard of Wild Azalea Canyon yet. I’ll have to look it up.

  • True, always better to be out exploring — someone’s gotta do the site investigations and now someone else can check some other trail.

    the Garmin Connect rendering of your data is gr8, though i guess you’d prefer to keep it on your site.

    sure seems like yalls’ mountain biking community has provided the most sophisticated GIS info on the net.

    i think i discovered your blog while reading TopoFusion posts ~ gr8 robust software.

    originally, my outdoor play was directed by compass and paper topos or nautical charts. i postponed GPSr acquisition due to ‘old-school’ cockiness and my disappointment that some of my hard earned fishing spots were being populated by rookies with no bay knowledge other than some waypoints.

    when i got a Magellan sport trac pro and started downloading all my adventures i couldn’t believe i’d postponed the purchase. Then i started using Trimble’s and Garmin’s for work and decided Mapsource was better than Mapsend. Our GIS guys used ESRI to map all the field data i collected and taught me a lot about ArcMap.

    i switched jobs and got out of the GIS loop; having enough knowledge of Mapsource, TNRIS, ArcExplorer and GE to handle my needs (so, i thought.)

    Last summer i did a few searches and was astonished to discover GPSFileDepot, TopoFusion and an entire community of map-nuts…blah, blah blah

    Wild Azalea Canyon was a cool hike location, though it’s a pretty good drive for you. i did see some two-wheelers leaving as i arrived and based on their bikes, there must be some good trails. i think Temple-Inland controls all the land and it is crisscrossed with logging roads. i ran out of time due to a planned Dam B supper grilling session and only covered about half of what i would have liked to…

    shoot me an email and i’ll send the gpx. if you scope out the aerials, i bet you’ll find a wkend to go chekkit.

    looking through your site a little more, i learned of the USGS_US TOPO project ~ wow, that’s gonna keep me up late some night. great informative article; yeah, i’d agree, ur definitely a ‘gippis’ geek.

    i’m overwhelmed by the explosion of GIS data tools that have become available in the last 3yrs.

    enuff for now, but one question –have you ever paddled the Neches up there downstream of st hwy 21 ???

  • Yeah, I’d rather keep my GPS data hosted on my own site because a lot of third party sites have significant downtime. Garmin Connect has been pretty bad. It was formerly Motionbased until Garmin bought it and decided to rebuild it. That whole process has been YEARS in the making. I embedded that one on my site here partly to see how it worked out. I use a nice custom Google Maps API plugin on my site, except it chokes on larger files. With this one having more than 11,000 points, it certainly makes my website choke. I may end up getting a new plugin if that one causes problems too often.

    I’ve been into GIS for quite some time, actually. I started learning about it around 2000 as an undergraduate. Arcview 3.1 was the platform I started on. Even simple procedures required overnight processing. That was fun. We quickly upgraded to Arcview 8.0 which was light years better. I started learning Trimbles and all that fun. After my bachelors degree, I did a couple stints with the USFS where I used GIS variously, depending on how much the districts where I worked used it. Michigan was pretty progressive at the time. Utah was way behind. Now I’m working on my master’s degree with a minor in spatial science. It feeds my geekiness just enough.

    I am also impressed with all the GIS tools that are accessible to the general public. To feed your inner geek, you may want to look into QGIS (open source GIS software) and Manifold GIS (much more affordable as compared to Arc). I have to say that Topofusion has just enough GIS to keep me busy for most tasks, but I still find myself resorting to full GIS software when I’m coming up with maps for volunteer trail projects.

  • Oh, and no…I haven’t paddled the Neches immediately south of 21. I have only done the Neches Wilderness Canoe Race segment, and then south from Anderson’s Crossing to Route 94 (in two segments).

    I do want to do that section, though. The Big Slough Wilderness loop looks like it would be a great trip for the spring when the water is high and you’re not having to climb so many downfalls.

    The USFS doesn’t really talk up that loop segment, there’s very little info on the web about it. It’s quite rugged from what I understand, though. Heading down the Neches isn’t really the issue. I’m sure paddling that stretch is much like paddling down other stretches of the river. The harder part is paddling upstream on the Big Slough itself, then rejoining the Neches and paddling back up to 21.

    I had looked at doing the loop counter-clockwise, too, but it looks to be tougher, having to fight the Neches for a much longer distance. At least the Big Slough is so slow it’s practically flat water.

  • wet feet

    Nate, I wanted to address your reply referencing the Big Slough Wilderness loop segment sooner, but have had a lot going on.

    It seems my colloquialism and lack of punctuation gave you the impression that I knew more about that region than, in fact, I do. I should have simply typed, “have you ever paddled the Neches downstream of st hwy 21?” The “up there” was a slang geographical reference from a Houstonian. And, my curiosity stemmed from a rudimentary map review without any knowledge of the Neches Wilderness Canoe Race.

    Thanx to your response, I’m now privy to the NWCR and have investigated the aerials of the Big Slough Wilderness. Wow, that certainly looks like it would be an adventure; on land or in the water. I appreciate your thoughtful response.

    I’ve never paddled the Neches upstream or downstream of Dam B, but hope to do the lower reach whenever the east Texas drought ends; most of my paddle experience is SOT kayaking to survey seagrass on the coast and bona fide canoe trips out of state.

    Thank you for the open source GIS info as well. My renewed GIS interest (that your site has surely been a catalyst for) had me reading ArcNews and ArcUser recently. I found the article by Michael Goodchild about volunteered geographic information (VGI) informative.

    Glad your recovery is progressing & hope the Vidaza is easier on you this time. Good luck with that strict ‘backyard criteria’. Peace, casey.

  • Nate

    I haven’t been downstream of Dam B yet, either.

    But, I suspect that it wouldn’t be that bad to paddle. The Neches race is far upstream from there and It’s doable even late in the summer. If you want to avoid downfalls entirely, late winter and early spring (in flood condition) is the easiest. Flow is still pretty wimpy. There may be lots of water in the river channel, but it’s still not moving very quickly.

    Once the semester ends, I intend to get my canoe out. I know someone who lives nearby and has offered to serve as a shuttle on the Angelina River (I’d like to paddle the stretch south of Rte 7, as it passes by some property currently owned by Nac county that they intend to donate to SFASU soon and the Stephen F Austin Experimental Forest). I have a crazy idea in my head to place a geocache in the floodplain there that will either require tree climbing or a boat while the bottoms are flooded and I need to scout the territory.

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