San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge [Brazoria, TX, USA]

San Bernard National Wildlife is a huge natural reserve with lots of different trails, fishing spots, and activities. Located about 1.1 hours south of Houston and along the Gulf of Mexico, it serves as a great day trip for a family adventure or some more serious trekking.

Address:

Website: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/San_Bernard

Admission: Free

Keep driving along the gravel road past the headquarters. Look for the entrance and you can’t miss it!

The True Entrance
The true entrance to the park, slightly past where Google Maps takes you.

The whole road throughout the refuge is this gravel but I ran into an intimidating challenge within the first 5 minutes…. water crossings in my car.

Water Crossing
Water crossing that was about 6 inches deep towards the end.
Water Crossing #2
The key to a successful water crossing is to not stop accelerating… and maybe some hope and prayers too.

Scissor-tailed Trail (0.8 miles)

Scissor-tailed Entrance
The ominous entrance to the first trail of the day.

I picked this trail as it is a short one to test out the park. Unfortunately this was the buggiest path and I ended up jogging most of the 0.8 miles.

Bug City
Bug City trail, population 1 person and 1 million mosquitoes.
Beautiful Sky
Beautiful sky above the trail.

Cedar Lake Creek Fishing Pier

I wanted to visit the small fishing pier on the southernmost end of the reserve. I enjoy fishing but did not bring my poles or any bait.

Boat Launch Fishing Dock
A tiny boat launch in case you want to do a little kayaking or canoeing.
The docks
The docks at San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge.
The Fish Perspective.
The Fish Perspective.
My Trusty Steed
My trusty steed, an ’06 VW passat.

Wolfweed Wetlands Boardwalk Trail (1.5 miles?)

The next stop was the Bobcat Woods boardwalk which has the same starting point as the Wolfweed Wetlands trail. However, I was once again thwarted by mosquitoes and overzealous bees. Turned around after a quarter mile of harassment.

Wildlife Sign
A sign of great things to come.
Boardwalk
This part of the boardwalk was beautiful but plagued by large buzzing bees.
Quiet River
Quiet river.

The next part involves a lot more action and excitement, even though I didn’t do a great job with the photography.

Wolfweed Wetlands
Wolfweed Wetlands observation platform, an awesome view over the wild area.
My first Alligator
My first Alligator sighting of the day, and one of many. This guy was just enjoying floating along.
Dragonfly
Dragonflies where everywhere. They flew around me in groups of 30 at a time.
Two Gators
Two gator buddies. At this point I was lightly walking and always looking over my shoulder.
Submarine Mode
Submarine Mode. They only let you see them if they want you to see them.

Generally nature is friendly and a wonderfully safe place. But I was visiting alligator territory so it was important I kept my distance and stayed sharp. There were several alligators bathing on the shore as I walked by them, about 10 feet away. Always exercise caution during hiking and if you feel unsafe head back.

Protective mama
Protective mama alligator did not like me accidentally spooking her baby. Look at that side-eye…
Alligator dinosaurs
Yeah these things are just leftover dinosaurs.

Another note about Wolfweed Wetlands trail is the beautiful birdsongs throughout the trail. Lots of different calls and notes echoed through the marsh. Sometimes just one bird would call out, other times a chorus of different birds would all chime together.

The Wolfweed Wetlands
The Wolfweed Wetlands, one of the highlights of the day trip.

San Bernard Auto Tour (9.4 miles)

There is a vehicle tour that leads around the park passing several different observation posts and scenic views. Here are a couple pictures of the auto tour.

Mocassin Pond Overlook
Mocassin Pond Overlook from a small platform.
The Scraper
The grass and flowers in the middle of the road where scraping the splash shield of my car.
Rare Shade
A rare shade spot on the trail. It made a pretty picture so I had to stop and admire it for a minute.

Hudson Woods Scoby Lake Trail (1.4 miles)

Next I drove about thirty minutes north to another section of the wildlife refuge called “Hudson Woods.” It was my favorite part of the day and for some reason had no mosquitoes. It also held the most adrenaline-fueled moment of the day.

Start of the Boardwalk
Hop off the main road, follow the sign, and park right in front of the trailhead. The first quarter mile was this beautiful boardwalk.
Trail
Off the side of the trail I saw the cutest snake ever. A little garden snake had its head up on the side railing of the boardwalk before I accidentally scared it away.
Scoby Lake
Scoby Lake overlook. Lots of loud frogs, alligator snorts, bird calls made the southeast Texas symphony.
The trail
The trail surprisingly had no mosquitoes or pesky bugs. A great relief.
Beautiful Oak tree
Beautiful oak trees were located throughout the trail.
Signs to Anywhere
At this point in the path you have a ton of different options and directions to head. I decided to head towards the outpost first.
Willow Lake
Willow Lake.
Gathering Building
They have a really cool building where groups can meet and host events.
Great Bench
Great bench area to enjoy the shade from this huge oak tree.
Hog
This was my hog sighting of the day. She was rooting really hard and was only spooked when I shouted. It quickly ran away.
Spider
Spider playing gatekeeper. The quiet before the storm!

I stepped under the chest-height spider web and walked further into the trail. I was about ten feet from where I saw the hog while it was eating (before it ran away).

My foot lands on a crunchy twig and, in a flurry of chaos, a wild piglet dashes across the trail. No more than three feet in front of me!

I immediately yelp, turn 180 degrees, and run back through the huge spider and her web. My only thought was I did not want to meet angry hog momma so I ran all the way back to the main road in the park.

So, after being within 10 feet of huge alligators, snorkeling with a shark in the Florida Keys, and many more dangerous adventures, I had never been more frightened for my life… all it took was a squealing piglet.

Safe Road back
This was the safe road back. Just saw a raccoon and avoided any more possessed piglets.
Snake Skin
Some shedded snake skin next to the trail map in the parking lot.

Review and Recommendations

I had way more fun than I expected when visiting San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge. These national plots of land are sometimes hit or miss on what you can expect. This one was a hit for me.

There is a really great array of activities for families and hikers. Several 4+ mile trails to string together a long day trip or just take it all in during the auto tour. The wildlife diversity was some of the best I’ve seen in southeast Texas: alligators, snakes, wild hogs, raccoons, and many different types of birds.

Definitely check out the Hudson Woods area of the refuge. It is closer to Houston and in my opinion a prettier trail with an awesome boardwalk. Go check it out now!

-David

 

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