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 Earl Nottingham / TPWD

TAKE A DRIVE

Big Woods Loop

Great Texas Wildlife Trails, Prairies and Pineywoods West

Distance: 240 miles • Approximate time: All day or multiple days


This month’s trail involves driving, not hiking (though there can be some of that, too). In the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s collection of Great Texas Wildlife Trails, some of the best spots for seeing Texas wildlife are rounded up into regional driving trails. The trails have served as a model for other states, with dozens of them creating their own wildlife driving trails. In Texas, the maps point the way to great places to see birds, bats, butterflies and other creatures.

The Big Woods Loop straddles two ecoregions — blackland prairie and post oak savannah — and takes visitors to state wildlife management areas, state parks and other parks in the region between Dallas and Houston. Check in advance for closures and availability status.

Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area is an 11,000-acre property managed as a research and demonstration area for the post oak savannah ecoregion. If you want to see what post oak savannah is supposed to look like (grasslands with oak mottes), this is the place. The area contains bottomland hardwoods, wetlands and post oak uplands, leading to a rich variety of wildlife. A self-guided auto tour explains wildlife and habitat management techniques. Nearby is Richland Creek WMA, where extensive wetlands attract hundreds of bird species, including migrating waterfowl.

In Ennis, Kachina Prairie represents one of the last remaining remnants of blackland prairie in Texas. It contains grassland birds such as the western kingbird and scissor-tailed flycatcher and butterflies such as pipevine swallowtails and Gulf fritillaries.

At Fort Parker State Park, the lake and woodlands provide excellent wildlife viewing: bluebirds, ducks, herons, migratory waterfowl, bald eagles, owls, woodpeckers, coyotes, raccoons, bobcats and turtles. Fairfield Lake State Park resides in the transition zone between pine forests and prairie grasslands and is renowned for its winter population of bald eagles.




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