Trail Profile: How to Hike the 96-Mile Lone Star Hiking Trail
The Lone Star Hiking Trail (LSHT) is a 96.4-mile point-to-point hiking trail located in East Texas just north of Houston. It winds through the woodlands of the Sam Houston National Forest and features many distinct and ecologically diverse forests. This beginner-friendly trail is a perfect setting for anyone looking to do a gear shakedown, prep for a longer thru-hike, or just have a fun week on trail and crush some miles in the process.
How hard is it to navigate?
Getting to the Trailhead
Which direction is best to hike the LSHT?
Why Hike the LSHT?
Climate and Weather
Length: 96.4 miles
Expected Completion Time: 4 days (24.1 miles per day) to 10 days (under 10 miles per day)
Location: East Texas, 70 miles north of Houston
Trail Type: Point-to-point
Most people expect nothing more than industrial agriculture from Texas. However, the LSHT has the luxury of meandering through many diverse ecosystems, past expansive lakes and cow meadows, and even through swampy, jungle-like hubs of flora and fauna (not to mention the incredible wildflowers that start peeping through the pine needles in the early spring.)
Do you know that feeling of relief on a thru-hike where you’re finally on flat ground for a few precious minutes and then it’s back to a steep descent once again? On the LSHT, that moment of luxury can last the entirety of your hike because this trail is flat, easy, and provides plenty of tree cover from the big ol’ Texas sun. Aside from a few steep scampers up creek-carved embankments that the trail crosses over, this trail is a breeze.
How hard is it to navigate on the LSHT?
You’d have to really be trying to get lost on the LSHT. It is marked frequently with white blazes, is maintained very well, and has plenty of signage along the way. The paper guide I used to prepare for the trip was Karen Borski’s The Lone Star Hiking Trail: The Official Guide to the Longest Wilderness Footpath in Texas 2nd edition and I took screenshots of The Thru-Hiker’s Guide by Don Brewington to have with me as a guide on trail. Both I found to be accurate for conditions on trail.
Getting to the Trailhead
The LSHT is accessible from 15 trailheads that all have free parking, require no permits, and are listed on Google Maps as simply “LSHT Trailhead #(1-15).” The easiest way to thru-hike this trail is to leave your car at one terminus, hop in a 40-minute shuttle to the other and begin your hike. Easy peasy!
Which direction is best to hike the LSHT?
Choosing to hike this trail east or west-bound won’t affect your overall experience. I met a handful of west-bound thru-hikers on my journey and only one hiker heading in the same direction as me. I chose to hike eastbound because that is the way the mile-markers along the trail are set up. Ending at the eastern terminus also made my drive home a bit shorter.
Why hike The Lone Star Hiking Trail?
I’ve hiked both the Colorado Trail and the Appalachian Trail in the past and the LSHT has some major advantages that almost made me turn around at the terminus and head right back into the woods to hike it again. (Unfortunately, my stomach had other ideas, mostly focused on the closest available fast food).
If you’re struggling to choose gear for your next long-trail adventure, testing out something new, or hoping to have a relaxing week away in nature, this trail is for you. I especially recommend this trail if you’re nervous about visitor use management or crowds on trail. This is an exceptionally clean, well-loved but not overused gem that is treasured by the locals. I thru-hiked over the weekend and through the week of spring break in March and expected the worst. Happily surprised, I met only a handful of other thru-hikers, the occasional day-hiker, and the last 50 miles of the trip I spent hacking away at least 1,000 cobwebs spread out across the trail because I didn’t see a soul. Now that’s the ideal backcountry right there.
Climate and Weather
The most ideal season to hike the LSHT is January – April. The late spring/summer months in Texas can be brutal due to biting bugs and temperatures routinely climbing over 90 degrees. I don’t recommend October-December because deer-hunting spans the entirety of these months, and that presents some challenges such as camping in designated campsites (clearly marked in the guides I referred to earlier), wearing fluorescent orange, and keeping a close eye on children and pets. Prepare for thunderstorms and rain (especially if you’re waiting until late spring to hike).
Gear Suggestions for a Lone Star Hiking Trail Thru-Hike
If you hike this trail during the most ideal months (January-April) you probably don’t need to bring anything outside of your usual thru-hiking kit. I recommend treating all your clothes and hiking shoes with permethrin to keep biting bugs at bay before hitting the trail.
There’s no constant bear threat (though you should always hang your food), but there are hunters out during hunting season. Deer hunting season typically runs from late September through early January so pack a fluorescent vest or article of clothing to stay on the safe side. There are also occasionally prescribed burns in Sam Houston National Forest. It doesn’t hurt to check before you go, and if there has been one recently, carry a mask to protect yourself from smoke inhalation.
Camping on the LSHT
Though you won’t need any special permits to hike the LSHT, if you hit the trail during deer-hunting season, you must camp only in designated hunting campsites. They are all marked in the guidebooks I linked to and are typically between 5 and 10 miles apart. Dispersed camping is permitted the rest of the year with the following exception: camping is prohibited in a two-mile section near mile 70 eastbound where the trail passes through the Big Creek Scenic Area.
Water Sources on the LSHT
Water availability and quality are not ideal on the LSHT. Still, the water situation is nothing like the 30-mile water carries on the PCT or Hayduke Trail. I personally held out for once-a-day fill-ups at flowing sources, but most listed in the guides are stagnant ponds or puddled creeks. The guides operate on a D.R.O.P.S. system, rating water sources 1-5 based on quality and availability during droughts, a relatively common phenomenon in TX. I consumed about 3 L per day between cooking and drinking and never ran out between sources. Many thru-hikers cache water at trailhead parking lots in advance and that seemed to work well for everyone I encountered along the way.
Resupply Options for LSHT Thru-Hikers
There are 2 seasonal camp stores within walking distance of (but not directly on) the LSHT. The first is Huntsville State Park located 1 mile from eastbound mile 35.6. The second is Double Lake Recreation Area located at eastbound mile 75. There’s also a large gas station/convenience store one mile south of LSHT Trailhead #14 Parking Lot at eastbound mile 90.9. Hikers can also mail themselves a resupply package to the Huntsville Post Office. However, that means coordinating a shuttle, road walking six miles from Trailhead #7 Parking Lot (eastbound mile 35), or hitchhiking.
You can also set up a shuttle driver or partner to meet you at trailheads for resupplies, or you can carry all your supplies from the beginning. I opted to carry all my food to avoid worrying about logistics. Because it only took me 4.5 days, this was the best decision for my hike.
Want to get to know the trail before you embark on your thru-hike? The Lone Star Hiking Trail Club invites you to join them on their group or trail-maintenance hikes on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of every month.
As of now, there is a reroute around a demolished bridge that involves a 10-mile road walk. All information is available here through The Lone Star Hiking Trail Club.
The Lone Star Hiking Trail Facebook Group is a great place to get answers to questions you may still have about your trip and up-to-date information about conditions on trail (and you may find a trail angel or two poking around as well).
Charlotte Tomkavitz lives a 30-minute drive to any trailhead on the LSHT and offers shuttles to hikers. I used her services for the aforementioned bridge reroute and to shuttle from the eastern terminus to the western terminus.
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