TRAILHEAD. Ratcliff Lake Recreational Area is located off Hwy 7 between Crockett and Lufkin and just south of Kennard. There is a self-serve pay station at Ratcliff Lake Recreational Area ($3/day). Non-electrical camp sites at Ratcliff Lake RA are $10 / day. There is water available and very nice restrooms at the concession area. There is no fee station at the northern trailhead at Neches Bluff Overlook and there is a large camping area and nice pit toilet. Take Hwy 21 to FS 511 (at sign for Neches Bluff Overlook and Big Slough Wilderness Area) and then left at FS 511a.
PERMITS AND CAMPING . There is no permit required to hike the 4C Trail. There are two established primitive camp sites; Walnut Creek and Pond Camp. Camping is not allowed in the Big Slough Wilderness Area. Most backpackers stage a vehicle at either end of the trail or have someone shuttle them to one end or the other. To my knowledge, there is no local shuttle service available. It is always a good idea to leave your itinerary with a friend or family member.
WHEN TO GO. The best time of year to hike the 4C Trail is late Winter or early Spring. Specifically, January through May. Personally, my favorite time is when the Dogwood trees are in bloom, which is typically around the middle of April. The weather is still cool, there aren't any mosquitoes, and the snakes haven't quite made themselves known. National Forest are open to deer hunting from October (bow and youth hunts) through the end of December so it's not a good idea to be on the trail during those months. However, if you do decide to backpack during deer season always wear brightly displayed hunter's orange. Backpacking season in East Texas is pretty much over starting in June due to the heat and humidity; although, you may still consider day hikes during the summer.
WHAT TO BRING . Your normal packing gear based on the forecasted weather. Caching water is almost a must unless you want to carry enough water for a 20 mile hike. Given this terrain and climate, the average hiker can travel 2 miles per hour and drinks approximately 2 liters of water during a 10 mile hike (unless it's during the summer). So, you should make it to Walnut Creek Camp (11 miles from Ratcliff Lake) in around 6-7 hours factoring in time for lunch and breaks. I usually cook dehydrated meals so I need 1.5 liters for dinner (Mountain House) and breakfast (oatmeal and coffee) and this water comes from the cache.
I believe the lighter the better! I usually keep it pretty simple and go for a pack weight between 20-28 lbs. (including water). Details of My Gear. This year I even left my tent behind and slept in the shelter at Walnut Creek Camp, which gave me a 19 lb pack w/ 2.5 liters of water.
MOSQUITOES AND TICKS. Late Spring you will need to bring some insect repellant. I strongly suggest treating your cloths against ticks and mosquitoes with a spray containing Permethrin. The two brands I use are Sawyers and Repel Permanone, which you should be able to find at any outdoor retailer. I spray just about everything (I'm allergic to ticks); pants, socks, boots, shirt, hat, backpack, and I've even sprayed my tent fly. I have called Big Agnes and they said it would not affect the life of the tent. The most common tick is the Lone Star Tick, which is has a small white spot on the back (see photo). Although you may be tempted to hike the trail in shorts, there are several areas that pass through high brush and grasses and long pants will help prevent chiggers and weeds that may irritate your legs. I prefer to wear lightweight hiking pants (zip off type).