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Hike the Sweetleaf Nature Trail

Conroe, Texas

4.0/5
based on 1 reviews

Details

Distance

3.4 miles

Elevation Gain

95 ft

Route Type

Loop

Description

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Hike highlights: Little creek, trees upon trees, and a rainbow suspension bridge. 

The trailhead is off of 1488 (see map). This trail is accessible year-found and is great for kids. 

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Features

Hiking
Family Friendly
Forest
River

Reviews

The Sweetleaf Nature Trail in the Jones State Forest on the outskirts of Conroe, TX, opened in (about) 1971. I was there; my parents read about the opening in the paper and drove up to let us walk it. At the time 1488 was a sleepy little two-lane road and the woods extended as far as the eye could see. No more! Now the state forest is surrounded by commercial and residential development; its owner the Texas A&M University system even tried to open some of the forest acreage itself up for "educational and research development" a few years back. Fortunately, they were unsuccessful and so the Sweetleaf Nature Trail still survives. The only outward sign of the trail is a brown road sign reading "Natural Trails" with an arrow pointing towards a locked gate; it's at the very perimeter of the forest hard by a strip shopping center. There's a parking lot across the highway but I advise you not to park there unless you want to take some of the walking paths on that side of the road; DO NOT cross 1488 on foot! Just stop in at the forest service office on the north side of 1488 about 3/4 mile back towards the freeway. They'll be happy to give you the code to the combination padlock securing the gate; use the toilet while you're there also (see below). The gate opens readily enough with the combination, and then you can drive about a quarter mile up a one-lane dirt road to where there is a small grass clearing where you can park. Head up the service road on foot; to your right you'll see a trail marker topped with green reflective tape. Keep to the service road; that's the trail exit. You'll cross a bridge made of an old railroad car and then shortly you'll see a small clearing with a wooden map/sign and another trail marker. That's the trail head. The trail is about 1-1/4 miles all together, although the sign says 0.92 miles. The sign dates from 1971; there have been some changes made. Note on the sign the "Tenderfoot Bridge"; that's a small bridge at about the halfway point which lets you cut back towards the exit. There is also an old legend on the map which says "Rest Area"; when the trail was new there was a stopping area with pit toilets and a hand pump for water. Due to health codes or simple lack of hospitality that's all gone now; if you didn't "go" back at the office your only choice now is to make like a bear in the woods. The trail is fairly clear and is marked with blue and chrome markers nailed to trees at points where confusion might exist. There are wooden walkways and bridges over minor obstacles but some of them could be better maintained; expect some missing or rotted slats. There are also numerous tree roots which create trip hazards. Still and all it's an easy trail; our traveling party included two seniors (79 and 88) and they made the full circuit with no real difficulty. There are a few places to stop and rest, most of which are at interpretive displays and look as if they are intended for use by school groups. Some of the more interesting flora is marked with 4X6 white signs; these are fading but still readable. Unfortunately, though, I could find no trace of the champion sweetleaf tree for which the trail was originally named; I can only suppose that some time in the past fifty years the tree succumbed to disease or some other hazard of age. The swinging bridge over the creek marks the halfway point of the trek; the kids with us found it amusing. They seemed to really enjoy this walk through the woods; city dwellers all this was one of their few real chances to connect with nature. I should mention that there is a small picnic table on the south side of the "Tenderfoot Bridge", so if you pack in a lunch there is a place to eat it. Just keep in mind the lack of, um, facilities. Our little group ranged in age from 10 to 88, and everyone enjoyed it thoroughly. It's by no means a challenging trail and you never get far enough from the highway to be completely free of the road noise; still, in the back half we could hear birds tweet and crickets chirp and fancy ourselves in the wilderness. At least as long as we didn't get too close to the fence line!

Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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