Free enamel pin when you buy any two Atlas Obscura products. Shop now.

Rockport, Texas

The Big Tree

The tree is thought to be the oldest oak in Texas and was once crowned state champion for its monumental size.  

Holding its own special, wooden-fence-protected spot on the furthest north leg of Goose Island State Park in Aransas County, The Big Tree is thought to be the oldest oak tree in Texas, with estimates ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 years old.

The massive trunk has a bulbous circumference of over 35 feet and a height of 44 feet. Put another way, you wouldn’t even have to zoom all the way in to see satellite imagery of its branches, which stretch slightly beyond the fence perimeter, making the nearby parked vehicles look toy-size by comparison.

Despite its impressive size, The Big Tree is actually no longer considered the biggest live oak in Texas, however—an even bigger tree in Brazoria County supplanted that title in 2003. 

The thousand-year-old Big Tree has a rich history. It has seen Karankawa Native American ceremonies, pirates, hangings, Gulf Coast hurricanes, all six flags of Texas, the bombardment of the nearby town of Lamar by the Union Navy during the Civil War, and the many generations of humans who have climbed it for the sake of tradition, especially once its notoriety as the biggest tree in Texas began to spread in the 1960s after it was crowned the State Champion Live Oak in 1966 by the Texas Forest Service. 

Given its now gargantuan stature and understandably geriatric condition, the tree has received its share of tender love and care over the years in the form of a specially built (and recently rebuilt) perimeter fence to keep humans from climbing its brace-supported, lightening-arrestor-protected branches, and trampling the soil above its massive root structure, which is regularly aerated and watered by park staff, arboreal experts, and volunteers. During the drought-parched summers of 2009 and 2011, even the Lamar Volunteer Fire Department pitched in to help, spending 12 days spraying 13,000 gallons of water on the thirsty Big Tree.

And if you ever wanted to hear a tree talk, this one has multiple first-person voices ranging from surly to surreal in poetic plaque form nearby:  ”…For most of my life I belonged only to myself. Now I belong to you, or so I’m told. Humpf! Branch breakers and root tramplers the lot of you…” 

Poetry aside, The Big Tree is a sight worth beholding—just don’t jump the fence or touch the tree. Texas State Park Police will apprehend branch breakers and root tramplers on sight.

Know Before You Go

From the Goose Island State Park entrance, follow the brown and gold park signs marked "THE BIG TREE."

Contributed by
Spencer Darr
Edited by