Alligator and Trail Walking Kuhlken Photography; All other Earl Nottingham / TPWD
TAKE A HIKE
40-Acre Lake Trail
Brazos Bend State Park
Distance: 1.2 miles (loop) • Difficulty Level: Easy • Approximate time: 1.5 hours
At Brazos Bend State Park, nature steals the show. Just past the park entrance station, visitors gather to watch two baby great-horned owls perched in a large, moss-draped oak tree (with mom keeping watch nearby). Elsewhere in the park, a great egret silently stalks its prey in the shallows of a lake, while alligators haul themselves out of the water to sun themselves on muddy shores.
An amazing diversity of habitats — lake, marsh, forest and prairie — means Brazos Bend bustles with birds, reptiles and mammals. Much of the park’s natural offerings can be sampled on the 40-Acre Lake Trail, which circumnavigates one of the park’s lakes. It’s a prime place to see an American alligator. The trail is wide and mostly flat, and passes through lake and marsh areas, with a little bit of woodland at the end. Hikers and bikers share the trail. Halfway through the trail, an observation tower offers a bird’s-eye view of the park.
Along the first part of the trail, egrets and herons wade in shallow water, and common gallinules stride across the aquatic vegetation. Ducks paddle by. Families get excited when they spot the eyes and snouts of alligators poking out of the water.
An osprey dives down to grab a fish from the lake.
Halfway around the trail, hikers stop to sit on benches and to ascend the lookout tower, with 360-degree views of 40-Acre Lake and the surrounding area. For visitors up for a longer hike, trails here connect to other parts of the park.
The second part of the hike goes through a wetlands area of the lake, with more opportunities to see alligators and birds. Baby alligators submerge themselves in shallow water just off the trail. An anhinga, having speared a fish on its beak, repeatedly tries to swallow the prey down its long neck, to no avail. A swamp rabbit hops across the trail into the bushes. Birds are everywhere, wading, swimming and flying.
The trail eventually leaves the lake and travels through a short stretch of oak woodlands before returning to the parking lot. For wildlife viewing, it’s hard to beat Brazos Bend.