Destination: The Big Slough
Distance: 128 miles
Driving time: 2 hours
First, a caveat: This week's under-100-miles destination is only technically under 100 miles if you start out from Spring. Any further south and you're adding a few dozen miles to your drive time. That said, a weekend getaway to the so-called Big Slough is worth the extra commute, since you'll quickly forget cars even exist once you're there.
A slough in and of itself isn't necessarily exciting; it's just a swamp, usually a somewhat stagnant one, but the Big Slough is interesting for a variety of reasons. At just over 3,000 acres, it's the state's smallest official Wilderness Area, but it contains a stunning amount of biodiversity thanks to the fact that much of it has never been developed whatsoever. Here, you'll find rare black oak trees and over 200 species of birds. Be quiet enough and you may even see bobcats and coyotes, though you're more likely to encounter rattlesnakes and cottonmouths in the still waters or under decaying logs.
Located inside of the Davy Crockett National Forest (more on that another time), the Big Slough is a popular destination for those seeking a more off-the-grid hiking, backpacking or camping experience. Once inside, it's easy to forget the rest of the world exists. The dense pine curtain affords an immediate, full-sensory experience of Texas as it was 1,000 years ago, when Native Americans in the area were busy making use of the many medicinal plants they encountered in the swamps and thickets—yaupon bushes, prickly pears, willow trees.
The primitive camping that the Big Slough demands isn't for everyone: There are no designated campsites, no trash cans (pack out!), no running water, no toilets, and generally no creature comforts whatsoever. Winter weekends like these are ideally suited for trips to the swamps, however, when mosquitoes and other less friendly species (i.e., alligators, snakes) are dormant, and when bundling up inside a cozy sleeping bag makes the ideal end to a long day.
If that doesn't appeal, a weekend visit for the day can give you roughly the same experience sans having to set up a pup tent or gather kindling for a fire. Instead of camping in the Slough, just book a room at the nearby Storybook Inn in Lufkin for a posh end to a primitive day—there's even an in-house masseuse, which you certainly won't find in the swamps.