East Texas is as comforting as a glass of sweet tea on a hot summer day. East Texas has always captivated us with its rich history, diverse landscapes, and Southern hospitality. Whether you’re drawn to its tall forests, pretty small towns, or vibrant cultural heritage, East Texas offers a unique blend of experiences that will leave you enchanted. Here’s a closer look at this hidden gem of the Lone Star State.
East Texas is a vast and diverse region. It covers approximately 41,000 square miles (106,000 square kilometers) and comprises 38 counties. Its defining feature is the Piney Woods, a vast forested area of towering pine trees, hardwoods, and abundant wildlife. The region is crisscrossed by numerous rivers, including the Sabine, Neches, and Trinity Rivers. These create opportunities for fishing, kayaking, and other outdoor activities.
East Texas has a decades long history, with roots dating back to Native American settlements. The Caddo Indians once called this region home, leaving behind archaeological sites like the Caddoan Mounds State Historic Site. European settlers, including Spanish explorers and French traders, also left their mark on the area.
The Texas Revolution played a significant role in East Texas history, with several pivotal battles taking place in the region. The town of Nacogdoches, for instance, is the oldest town in Texas and played a crucial role in the fight for Texas’ independence. Today, East Texas is one of the most underrated areas of the Lone Star State. Plan a trip to the Piney Woods region and you will be amazed by the landmarks and attractions located here.
Top 10 East Texas Attractions
When you take a closer look at popular East Texas tourism spots, you will find most locals as well as travelers revisiting some of these same destinations. These attractions have stood the test of time and continue to attract visitors with their natural scenery or intriguing history or sheer charm or a combination of all, like in Historic Jefferson! Here are the top 10 places to see in East Texas that you should visit at least once in your lifetime.
Kayaking on Caddo Lake
Ask any Texan and they will tell you, Caddo Lake tops the list of best things to do in East Texas region. Just where is Caddo Lake? This East Texas icon sits on the Texas Louisiana border and is a perfect day trip from Dallas and its suburbs. The lake spans about 16,000 acres and is considered one of the top natural attractions in the South.
On the shores of the lake, you will find Caddo Lake State Park – one of the most popular state parks in Texas. The park offers access to several outdoor activities including kayaking on Caddo Lake, hiking, camping, birding, as well as beautiful fall foliage – yes, the colors are spectacular here.
Bring your kayak or rent one. Put it out on the water under the shadow of the bald cypress trees draped with Spanish moss. Paddling on the only natural lake in Texas feels like a journey into a prehistoric world. Marvel at the vibrant birdlife. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a few elusive alligators sunning themselves on the banks.
Texas State Railroad Train Ride
The steam engine train ride at Texas State Railroad in Palestine is one of the premier attractions of East Texas. The railroad offers history buffs and train lovers a unique chance to step back into the era when vintage trains crisscrossed the Eastern Piney Woods region.
Riding the train from Palestine Railroad Depot to Rusk and back on the Texas State Railroad is quite a fun experience. On the ride you can enjoy views of the gorgeous landscapes, spot Texas wildlife including deer and armadillos, and just lean into rhythmic hiss of steam or the mechanical hum of the old diesel engine.
The Texas State Railroad’s Polar Express Holiday Train Ride is one of the most fun things to do in East Texas at Christmas. The Texas State Railroad also has other special trains including a Pumpkin Patch Express and Easter train for the kids. Adults can also enjoy photography excursions, fall foliage, wine train rides, or dogwood blossoms in spring on the Texas State Railroad.
Continue your East Texas adventure in Historic Jefferson. Take a stroll along brick-lined streets and admire the historic buildings. Jefferson was known for its steamboat history, and a visit to the Jefferson Historical Museums will transport you back in time. The museum showcases antique carriages, vintage clothing, prospering riverfront trade, and tales of riverboat gambling that once thrived on the Big Cypress Bayou.
Explore the historic homes that seem frozen in time. Admire the antebellum plantations. Take a nostalgic paddlewheel steamboat ride on Caddo Lake. Ride the Historic Jefferson Railway (update – currently closed). Historic Jefferson is not without its share of ghostly tales and supernatural legends. The town is renowned as one of the most haunted in Texas. Take a ghost tour through the eerie alleyways – it’s guaranteed to send shivers down your spine!
Canton’s First Monday Trade Days
If you love antiquing, you MUST head to Canton’s First Monday Trade Days. This beloved Texas tradition has been drawing visitors from near and far for over a century. First Monday Trade Days is the largest free flea market in America. It is extremely popular amongst treasure seekers and bargain hunters.
The roots of First Monday Trade Days date back to the late 19th century when traders and vendors would gather on the first Monday of each month to sell their wares. Today, about 5000 vendors participate in the event and sell items like furniture, antiques, crafts, tools, and so much more! On First Monday Trade Days, you can literally find anything under the sun.
But First Monday is not just about shopping; it’s a celebration of Texan flavors. Food vendors serve up mouthwatering Southern cuisine including savory BBQ, smoked meats, and sweet treats like funnel cakes and peach cobbler.
The atmosphere at First Monday is electric, with live music, street performers, and a lively ambiance that keeps the energy levels high. Local musicians strumming their guitars and talented performers add to the festival-like atmosphere. The event is a fun-filled day for the whole family. You can also attend special events at First Monday Trade Days including a Truck and Tractor Show where you can admire some of the most beautiful antique trucks in Texas.
Nacogdoches – Oldest Town in Texas
With a history that predates the establishment of Texas as a republic, the charming town of Nacogdoches proudly bears the distinction of being the oldest town in the Lone Star State. Nacogdoches’ roots extend deep into the 18th century when it was founded as a Spanish mission. Over the centuries, it witnessed the rise and fall of empires, the turbulence of the Texas Revolution, and the birth of a new nation.
Today, this rich history is lovingly preserved in the town’s numerous historic sites and museums. Visit the Nacogdoches Railroad Depot, admire the sights of Ruby M. Mize Azalea Gardens, and admire the Old Stone Fort Museum, a strategic outpost from the early 1800s. The Sterne-Hoya House Museum, once home to early Texas settler Adolph Sterne, offers a fascinating glimpse into life on the frontier.
Take a stroll on the brick streets in downtown and shop local. Admire the well-preserved buildings lining downtown Nacogdoches. Dine in popular spots downtown and end your trip with a hike on the Lanana Creek Trail. Nacogdoches makes an excellent day trip from Houston, the cultural capital of Texas and is well worth a visit.
Beaumont’s Oil Discovery
On the banks of the mighty Sabine River in East Texas, you will find Beaumont. The city holds a pivotal place in the history of the oil industry. It all began in 1901 when the Lucas Gusher, a massive oil well, erupted in Spindletop Hill just south of Beaumont. This event marked the birth of the Texas oil boom.
However, Beaumont isn’t just about refineries; it’s a hub of cultural diversity and Southern charm. Its downtown area is a delightful mix of historic architecture, trendy eateries, and lively entertainment venues. Visit the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, the Texas Energy Museum, or the Fire Museum of Texas to appreciate the city’s heritage.
Lush green spaces like the Beaumont Botanical Gardens and Tyrrell Park offer respite for nature lovers. Beaumont is also home to the Rainbow Bridge over the Neches River. This is the tallest bridge in Texas and on the National Register of Historic Places. With a warm climate, a thriving arts scene, and rich heritage, Beaumont is made for exploring.
Caddo Mounds State Historic Site, Alto
Caddo Mounds State Historic Site, located in Alto, Texas, is a fascinating archaeological site that offers visitors a glimpse into the rich history of the Caddo Nation. The Caddo people were one of the indigenous peoples of Texas and the southeastern United States.
This historically significant site is home to several ancient earthen mounds, including a ceremonial mound and a burial mound, which date back over a thousand years. Historians estimate the mounds were built between 1000 and 1500 CE. These mounds serve as tangible evidence of the complex and sophisticated society that once thrived here.
Visitors to the site can explore the small on-site museum showcasing artifacts and exhibits that shed light on the Caddo culture. Take the hiking trails around the mounds to learn more about the Native American history of the region. Enjoy the natural scenery of the East Texas piney woods. Seize this wonderful opportunity to learn the cultural history of Texas.
Holiday Lights in Marshall
Plan a visit to Marshall during the holiday season to see a dazzling array of festive lights and decorations – some of the best in East Texas!
Marshall, located in Harrison County, comes alive with enchanting holiday lights each year. As the Christmas season approaches, the historic streets of Marshall resemble a winter wonderland. The majestic Harrison County Courthouse looks just gorgeous at this time of the year.
The historic downtown district, with its charming storefronts and Victorian architecture, becomes the centerpiece of the holiday display. Explore the downtown buildings in horse drawn buggy rides, shop for gifts and souvenirs, and drink hot chocolate at the Weisman. Marshall’s holiday lights create a warm and welcoming atmosphere that draws visitors from near and far.
Related Post: Christmas in Marshall
Eiffel Tower, Paris
The replica Eiffel Tower in Paris, Texas, is a charming homage to its iconic counterpart in France. Standing proudly in the heart of this Texan town, this scaled-down version of the Eiffel Tower pays homage to its French inspiration while adding a unique Texan twist: shiny red cowboy hat on top!
Built in 1993, this steel structure stands at a height of 65 feet, which, while significantly smaller than the original Eiffel Tower’s 1,083 feet, still captures the spirit and essence of the Parisian landmark. It serves as a symbol of the town’s unique character and its appreciation for art, culture, and history.
The Eiffel Tower features intricate ironwork and a striking design, mirroring the architectural elegance of the Parisian original. At night, visitors can see the Eiffel Tower all lit up in the colors of the Texas flag. Come Christmas time and the tower is decorated in holiday lights – a delightful spectacle!
Texas Country Music Hall of Fame
From the moment you step through its doors, the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in Carthage exudes a sense of reverence. It’s not just a museum; it’s a shrine dedicated to the storytellers, troubadours, legends, and trailblazers who have defined country music in Texas and beyond.
Walk in anticipation through the hallowed halls of the museum. Encounter a treasure trove of memorabilia, from vintage stage costumes to guitars of famous musicians. Listen to the stories that inspired the iconic melodies that have become the soundtrack of our lives.
The Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in Carthage is a must for anyone who has ever been moved by the power of country music. It’s a place where the legends live on, and the stories of the South are told through song. It’s where the heart of Texas two-steps to the rhythm of a country song.
Hidden Gems in East Texas
While the top attractions in East Texas are sure to captivate, don’t miss these East Texas secret spots. Explore the mysterious beauty of the Davy Crockett National Forest, stumble upon the sweetly fragrant daffodil garden, and uncover the historical significance of the Starr Family Home State Historic Site in Marshall.
Piney Woods Wine Trail
The Piney Woods Wine Trail encompasses a collection of wineries and vineyards scattered across East Texas, each offering its own distinct character and wines. Stretching through small towns like Athens, Tyler, and Jacksonville, this trail is a testament to the resilience and passion of the local winemakers who have transformed the East Texas landscape into a vinicultural paradise.
Some of the popular wineries along the trail include:
- Kiepersol Vineyards, Winery & Distillery – Kiepersol, located in the city of Tyler, is known for its estate-grown grapes, award-winning wines, and even spirit all in one idyllic location.
- Los Pinos Ranch Vineyards – Los Pinos, located in North East Texas, makes exceptional wines from grapes grown in East Texas as well as in High Plains AVA of West Texas.
- Enoch’s Stomp Winery – This winery has multiple locations in East Texas but our favorite is their Wine & Coffee House in Jefferson, Texas.
- Tara Vineyard & Winery – Tara is famous for its stunning vineyard views, housed in a historic, 1860s replica of an antebellum-style mansion, where you can savor their signature wines while basking in the elegance of the Old South.
Throughout the year, the Piney Woods Wine Trail hosts a variety of events and festivals that celebrate the joys of wine and the region’s culture. From grape stomping parties to live music evenings and food and wine pairings, these gatherings are amongst our favorite things to do in East TX.
Tyler Rose Garden
Tyler, a charming small town in East Texas, is famous for its rose cultivation and is known as the Rose Capital of Texas. The Tyler Rose Garden is a horticultural gem that captivates visitors with its stunning beauty and fragrant blooms. It is spread over an area of 14 acres and is the largest rose garden in America.
You will find several other attractions for rose lovers in Tyler. Visit the Tyler Rose Museum. Tyler also hosts the annual rose festival called, the Texas Rose Festival. This fun festival occurs in October and has a Rose Parade featuring a Rose Queen, afternoon tea in the rose garden, and other cool events.
Helen Lee’s Daffodil Garden, Gladewater
Helen Lee’s Daffodil Garden is one of the best hidden gems in East Texas! This enchanting garden, named after its passionate caretaker, Helen Lee, bursts into a sea of vibrant yellow and white daffodils as far as the eye can see every spring.
Situated amidst the East Texas piney woods, the garden covers several acres and boasts a captivating display of over 20 varieties of daffodils. Visitors are welcomed with a breathtaking carpet of flowers, creating a dreamlike atmosphere in April and May.
Helen Lee’s Daffodil Garden has become an annual pilgrimage for those in the know, providing a serene escape and a profound appreciation for the beauty of the natural world.
Love’s Lookout, Jacksonville
Love’s Lookout Scenic Park, located near Jacksonville, East Texas, is famous for its beautiful panoramic views of the Piney Woods. This beloved lookout point is perched on top of a heavily forested hill. It provides visitors with a great vantage point to view the natural beauty of East Texas.
The park is located at an elevation of over 700 feet and overlooks the beautiful Neches Bottom Wilderness Area and Lake Palestine Reservoir. The views from here are magnificent. Towering pine trees stretch as far as the eye can see. As the sun dips below the horizon, the lookout takes on a romantic vibe, making it a popular spot for couples. The entire area comes alive with vibrant colors in the fall.
Love’s Lookout is also a well known bird watching spot in East Texas. The scenic lookout has picnic tables, restrooms, and many other amenities. For anyone road tripping East Texas, Love’s Lookout in Jacksonville is a must-visit destination that captures the essence of East Texas’s scenic charm.
Starr Family Home State Historic Site
The Starr Family Home State Historic Site in Marshall is a significant landmark that tells the story of one of Texas’s most influential families. The site comprises four historic homes including the restored 1871 Greek Revival mansion and the 1857 Porter-Redford House.
Visitors can tour the estate and get a glimpse into the daily lives of these early settlers who played a significant role in shaping Texas’s history. The sprawling grounds are also home to beautiful gardens, a carriage house, and several outbuildings.
Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center, Athens
One of our favorite hidden gems in East Texas is the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens. The center offers a unique blend of education and outdoor entertainment. On a tour, visitors can learn about freshwater habitats in Texas and the importance of conservation while seeing marine life.
The center serves as an interactive museum and features a sprawling complex of aquariums and exhibits. You can also take a tram to see the hatchery, where you can see different species of fish being raised before being released into East Texas lakes and rivers. Visitors can also try their hand at fishing in one of the stocked ponds or take a stroll around the grounds and nature trails.
Update – The center is currently closed for renovations.
Shangri La Botanical Gardens
Located in the charming town of Orange on Adams Bayou, you will find Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center. The gardens are spread over 250 acres and feature diverse ecosystems of East Texas.
The botanical gardens showcase colorful displays of plant life native to the region. It is also decorated beautifully with pumpkins for fall and with colorful holiday lights for Christmas. The Nature Center also offers fun and educational programs year-round. Best part is that the garden is free to visit.
Athens Scuba Park
Looking for a unique adventure? Look no further than the Athens Scuba Park in East Texas. This former rock quarry is now a popular spot for scuba diving and other water activities.
With clear blue waters, divers can explore sunken boats, planes, several other wrecks, as well as a variety of marine life. If you’re not certified to dive, don’t worry! They offer classes and gear rentals, so you can take the plunge and experience a whole new world under the water.
Aside from diving, visitors can also swim, kayak, paddleboard, or simply relax on the sandy beach.
Davy Crockett National Forest
Davy Crockett National Forest is our favorite hidden gem in Eastern Texas. Named after the legendary Texas frontiersman and politician, Davy Crockett, this forest covers approximately 160,000 acres.
One of the defining features of the Davy Crockett National Forest is its lush and dense pine and hardwood forests. Sky high pine trees create a charming backdrop for hiking, camping, scenic drives, and wildlife viewing. The forest is home to an incredible variety of flora and fauna.
Hiking and backpacking are popular activities within the forest, with numerous well-maintained trails to choose from. The Four C National Recreation Trail is a favorite among hikers, offering a challenging and scenic 20-mile trek through the heart of the forest.
For those who enjoy water-based activities, the Neches River, which flows through the forest, provides opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. The river’s gentle currents and tranquil surroundings make it a serene place to paddle and cast a line.
Small Towns in East Texas
One of the region’s charms lies in its small towns, each with its unique character and history. Jefferson, known for its antebellum architecture and steamboat heritage, offers a glimpse into the past. Nacogdoches, the oldest town in Texas, is home to well-preserved historic sites and lush gardens. Palestine, famous for its Texas State Railroad, offers a nostalgic journey into the days of steam locomotives. But the region has several other towns which are worth a visit when sightseeing in East Texas.
Tyler, Texas promises small-town charm and rich history. Tyler’s roots date back to the mid-19th century, when it was known for its role in the cotton industry. Today, visitors are drawn to its historic downtown district, where cobblestone streets and beautifully preserved architecture transport them back in time.
You cannot miss the enchanting Tyler Rose Garden, renowned for its stunning rose displays and annual Texas Rose Festival, which celebrates the city’s nickname, the ‘Rose Capital of America.’ Other popular Tyler attractions include Tyler State Park on the shores of Lake Tyler, downtown Tyler museums including the Goodman Museum and Museum of Fine Art, as well as the sprawling Caldwell Zoo.
Additionally, the city offers a vibrant arts and cultural scene, with street art, galleries, and outdoor festivals showcasing its heritage. Tyler is also home to two blueberry farms: Blueberry Hills Farm and Tyler Blueberry Farm. Our kids love picking the berries at the Blueberry Hills Farm in summer.
Henderson, Texas, is a charming and historically rich city in East Texas. Its history dates back to the 19th century when it was founded as a trading post. Henderson played a crucial role in the Civil War, serving as a Confederate hub and producing supplies for the war effort. Today, it boasts a unique blend of historical sites and modern attractions.
But mostly, Henderson is known as a Main Street City and we thoroughly agree with this claim to fame! The Main Street of Henderson is a darling place filled with cafes, eateries, boutiques, architectural gems, and antique stores. Visitors can explore the Depot Museum, which offers a glimpse into the city’s past. Nature lovers will appreciate Lake Forest Park, known for its recreational opportunities.
Henderson also hosts the Heritage Syrup Festival – a unique and fun event where you can see antique cane syrup machinery, marvel at classic cars, and listen to music performances.
Kilgore, Texas is a city steeped in history, with a heritage grounded in the oil industry. Established back in the 19th century, Kilgore emerged as a prominent oil boomtown in the 1930s, with the discovery of the East Texas Oil Field. The city’s history and its role in the oil industry are expertly chronicled in the East Texas Oil Museum, a prime tourist attraction.
In addition to its oil industry history, Kilgore is synonymous with the arts. The city is home to the Kilgore College Rangerettes, the world’s first precision dance team, and their performances are a must-see. The Rangerette Showcase Museum, located on the Kilgore College campus, is dedicated to preserving the memory of these iconic dancers.
Another must-see for visitors is the classic World’s Richest Acre Park. This park pays tribute to the city’s oil-rich past with an impressive collection of historic oil derricks.
Palestine, Texas carries a storied past which is evident in its beautifully preserved 19th-century architecture. The city is a home to more than 1,800 historic sites, including the sacred Redlands Historic Inn and the iconic Anderson County Courthouse.
Palestine is also the western terminus of the Texas State Railroad, a heritage railway operated as a living history museum. This railroad provides a vintage train ride through East Texas forests and offers a thrilling experience.
The local vineyards and wineries are also a major draw for visitors. The city’s annual Dogwood Blossoms Festival is a popular event, celebrating the blooming of dogwood trees in spring.
Rusk, Texas, carries historical significance with a unique charm of its own. The Texas State Railroad, a heritage railway museum, starts its journey in nearby Palestine and takes visitors to Rusk. Visitors can enjoy fall foliage from this train.
Additionally, the city is known for the Rusk Footbridge, a one-of-a-kind pedestrian suspension bridge that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The footbridge was built in 1861 and is about 500 feet tall. It’s great fun to walk across.
Rusk also has its share of cultural attractions, such as the Cherokee Civic Theatre, where visitors can enjoy live performances that showcase local talent. Visitors can learn more about the city’s past at the Heritage Center of Cherokee County, which features exhibits on the city’s agriculture, railroad, and Native American history.
Edom, Texas emits a charm that resonates with both its residents and visitors. This small town carries its history with grace, which is on display at the Edom Historical Society Museum. Edom’s Blueberry Hills Farm is popular for berry picking.
For art and craft admirers, Edom serves as a hub for local artisans who create and sell their unique work in various studios and shops across the town. The Edom Art Festival is a popular annual event that features local and regional artists showcasing their talent.
For food lovers, Edom is home to a couple of noteworthy eatery spots that serve delicious homemade food. The Shed Cafe is a local favorite, known for its scrumptious Southern-style dishes. For those who love nature, the Blue Moon Gardens offers an extensive collection of plants and gardening supplies.
Uncertain, Texas, is a fascinating location with a unique name to match. Located near the Louisiana border, this town thrives on the shores of Caddo Lake.
The town’s main attraction is Caddo Lake itself, a sprawling natural water body known for its diverse wildlife and iconic cypress trees. The lake is a prime spot for fishing and boating. In addition to Caddo Lake, Uncertain also offers several outdoor recreational activities, including hiking, birdwatching, and wildlife spotting.
For a truly unforgettable experience, take a guided tour of the lake and its surroundings on a traditional riverboat. Uncertain is also home to several unique lodging options, such as cabins on stilts over the lake or cozy bed and breakfasts surrounded by nature.
Lufkin is an important city in East Texas known for its unique attractions and dynamic spirit. The city’s history is preserved and conveyed through the Texas Forestry Museum, the only one of its kind in the state, which provides insights into the local forestry industry.
Ellen Trout Zoo, residents’ favorite destination, showcases hundreds of animal species, making it an educational and enjoyable visit. For those with an appreciation for art, the Museum of East Texas contains an extensive collection of visual art, and the Pines Theater stages live performances that showcase local talent.
Natural beauty surrounds Lufkin, with Angelina National Forest and Sam Rayburn Reservoir nearby, providing opportunities for fishing, camping, and boating.
Best known as the birthplace of country music star Miranda Lambert, Lindale holds a strong commitment to music and the arts. The city has a street named Miranda Way and on it, you will find The Pink Pistol. The store sells Miranda Lambert merchandise and is a popular stop for fans.
Music lovers will also enjoy the Picker’s Pavilion, which hosts regular shows featuring local musicians. For history buffs, the Old Mill Pond Museum provides an interactive look at the city’s agricultural past. The local parks, such as the Faulkner Park and Darden Harvest Park, provide green spaces for relaxation and outdoor activities.
Jasper, Texas is notable for its historic past and vibrant culture. This East Texas town is steeped in history, with landmarks such as the historic Jasper County Courthouse showcasing its heritage. The Jasper County Historical Museum archives the city’s past through a wide collection of artifacts and exhibits.
Jasper also serves as a gateway to the region’s extensive natural beauty. For those interested in the outdoors, the nearby Sam Rayburn Reservoir provides opportunities for fishing and boating. Additionally, the city’s proximity to Angelina National Forest makes it an ideal base for exploring the region’s dense woodlands and unique wildlife.
Sulphur Springs in Northeast Texas is a charming city with a rich history and thriving community. The city’s downtown area is known for its unique shopping experiences, including antiques stores, boutique shops, and local restaurants.
One of the main attractions in Sulphur Springs is the Hopkins County Courthouse, built in 1894 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can also explore the city’s past at the Heritage Park Museum, which features restored historical buildings and exhibits.
A unique attraction is the Southwest Dairy Museum and Learning Center. Visitors can learn about the dairy industry and even milk a cow at this interactive museum. For outdoor enthusiasts, Cooper Lake State Park offers camping, fishing, and hiking opportunities.
East Texas State Parks and Nature Reserves
East Texas is a peaceful refuge for nature enthusiasts. The region is renowned for its scenic landscapes, characterized by rolling hills, dense forests, twisting rivers, and serene lakes. The Piney Woods offer plenty of opportunities for hiking, birdwatching, and getting lost in the East Texas scenery.
Tyler State Park
Tyler State Park is one of our favorite East Texas vacation spots, especially in fall. The park is known for its beautiful autumn leaves, and visitors can enjoy hiking, fishing, biking, and camping amidst the colorful foliage.
The highlight of course is Tyler Lake. Boaters can take their boats out on the lake, and kayaks are available for rent if you don’t have your own. The swimming area is like a beach and great for families with small children.
The park also has a variety of trails, including a nature trail that takes you through the piney woods and along a creek. For those who prefer to relax, there are picnic areas with grills and shelters available.
Lake Livingston State Park
Lake Livingston State Park is one of the best state parks in East Texas. It is located on the shores of Lake Livingston, a large lake on the Trinity River. The park has excellent fishing opportunities and you can easily snag catfish, bass, and crappie. Boating and water sports are also popular here, with a marina and boat ramps available for visitors to launch their vessels.
Families can explore the scenic hiking and biking trails that let you get up close with the area’s diverse wildlife and beautiful flora. Seeking a nature retreat? Lake Livingston State Park offers campsites and cabins for overnight stays.
Daingerfield State Park
Daingerfield State Park is located southwest of Texarkana in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas and is known for its spectacular views, especially during fall foliage season. The park’s centerpiece is Daingerfield Lake, where visitors can enjoy swimming, boating, and fishing.
The park also offers hiking trails that lead through the woods to scenic outlooks and a nature trail with informative signs about local plants and wildlife. For a unique experience, visitors can stay in one of the park’s historic stone cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.
Toledo Bend Reservoir
Toledo Bend Reservoir is a massive man-made reservoir located on the Sabine River, straddling the border between Texas and Louisiana. It ranks among the largest reservoirs in the United States and is popular for its stunning natural beauty and excellent recreational opportunities. It is also one of the best fishing spots in East Texas.
The reservoir was created after the construction of the Toledo Bend Dam, primarily built to control flooding of the Sabine River. The reservoir has a vast shoreline and is surrounded by Louisiana on three sides. Texans can access Toledo Bend near Beaumont.
Toledo Bend is an excellent spot for bass fishing. You can catch a variety of fish species, including largemouth bass, striped bass, white bass, catfish and crappie at the reservoir. Many fishing tournaments are held here, drawing anglers from all over the country.
Apart from fishing, Toledo Bend Reservoir offers a wide range of recreational activities such as boating, kayaking, water skiing, swimming, camping, and birdwatching. The surrounding area has numerous parks, marinas, and campgrounds for visitors. One interesting fact about Toledo Bend is that it’s not just a recreational paradise; it also plays a vital role in providing water supply and flood control for the region.
Big Thicket National Preserve
Big Thicket National Preserve is your opportunity to immerse yourself in a truly unique ecological wonderland. Spanning over 112,000 acres, this preserve is home to incredible biodiversity of the region, earning it the nickname, “Biological Crossroads of North America.”
In heavily forested Big Thicket, you will find a variety of interconnected ecosystems, including dense bottomland hardwood forests, cypress swamps, longleaf pine savannas, and boggy bayous. The preserve is home to many native plant species of flowering plants, rare plants, birds, reptiles, insects, and animals like the elusive bobcat and American alligator.
A variety of hiking trails allow visitors to explore this ecological gem. The Kirby Nature Trail takes you through a cypress-tupelo swamp, offering a chance to spot wading birds and maybe even a water moccasin. The Turkey Creek Trail is a long distance trail excellent for birdwatching, while the Pitcher Plant Trail involves sightings of the famous carnivorous plants that thrive in this wetland environment.
Sam Rayburn Reservoir
Named after the longtime Speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn, this reservoir is a true gem of the Lone Star State, celebrated for its natural beauty and recreational opportunities.
Covering over 114,000 acres, Sam Rayburn Reservoir is one of the largest man-made lakes in Texas and serves multiple purposes, including flood control, water supply, and as a recreational haven. The lake is renowned for its excellent bass fishing, with largemouth and spotted bass being the most sought-after species.
Aside from fishing, the reservoir offers many other recreational activities. Boating, water skiing, and jet skiing are popular on the expansive open waters, while the lake’s many coves and inlets are good for kayaking and paddleboarding.
Wildlife enthusiasts will appreciate the diverse ecosystem surrounding the lake, with opportunities to spot white-tailed deer, eastern wild turkeys, and a variety of bird species. Birdwatchers flock to the area, particularly during the migratory seasons.
Martin Dies, Jr. State Park
Martin Dies, Jr. State Park isn’t just a destination for outdoor recreation; it’s also a place where visitors can connect with the rich history and biodiversity of East Texas. The park is named after Martin Dies, Jr., a former Texas state representative and conservationist.
One of the park’s most prominent features is the stunning B.A. Steinhagen Reservoir, also known as the “Dam B” reservoir. This 10,687-acre lake is a haven for water-based activities such as fishing, boating, and swimming. Anglers flock to the lake to catch a variety of fish species, including bass, catfish, and crappie.
The park’s Nature Center provides educational exhibits and programs, shedding light on the area’s unique flora and fauna.
Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Park
Wondering what to do in East Texas for history lovers? Visit the Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site. This significant historical site is located near the mouth of the Sabine River in Texas.
This park holds a special place in history, as it was the site of a crucial Civil War battle that took place on September 8, 1863. The battle at Sabine Pass was a remarkable Confederate victory, where a small Confederate force, led by Lieutenant Richard “Dick” Dowling, successfully defended the pass against a much larger Union fleet, thereby preventing the Union from gaining control of the vital inland waterways.
Today, the Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Park stands as a tribute to this remarkable moment in history. Visitors can explore the park’s well-preserved grounds, including the historic earthworks and the Dick Dowling statue, which honors the Confederate hero’s leadership during the battle. The park also features informative signage and exhibits that provide insights into the significance of the battle and its impact on the Civil War.
Sea Rim State Park
Sea Rim State Park is a coastal gem along the Texas Gulf Coast. One of the park’s most popular features is its undeveloped beach. Stretching for miles, the sandy shoreline is our favorite spot for beachcombing, sunbathing, and birdwatching.
Sea Rim State Park is renowned for its birdlife. You can spot everything from majestic herons to colorful warblers. The park’s coastal marshes and wetlands are teeming with wildlife. You can explore these areas via the Gambusia Nature Trail. Our kids love seeing the alligators, turtles, and a variety of bird species up close.
Canoeing and kayaking are popular activities here, allowing visitors to paddle through the tranquil waters of the marshes and witness the wonders of the coastal ecosystem. Fishing is another highlight at Sea Rim State Park, with opportunities for both freshwater and saltwater angling. You might reel in speckled trout, redfish, or even flounder.
Mineola Nature Preserve
The Mineola Nature Preserve has a diverse range of habitats. Visitors can explore pristine pine forests, wetlands, hardwood bottomlands, and lakes. This variety of environments provides a home to a wide range of wildlife, including white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and numerous bird species. Birdwatchers can catch glimpses of egrets, herons, and even bald eagles.
A network of well-maintained hiking trails and boardwalks winds its way through the preserve. The Azalea Trail, in particular, is a favorite during the spring when vibrant azalea blooms create a colorful spectacle. Fishing enthusiasts can cast their lines into the lakes, which are well-stocked with a variety of fish species. Kayaking and canoeing are also popular.
The Preserve’s Nature Center has interpretive exhibits and displays that inform visitors about the diverse ecosystems and wildlife found within its boundaries.
Sabine National Forest
Sabine National Forest, established in 1936, derives its name from the Sabine River that meanders through the area, forming a natural border between Texas and Louisiana. This river, along with numerous creeks and bayous, is a lifeline for the rich biodiversity that thrives within the forest.
Hiking trails offer opportunities to explore the forest’s beauty on foot. The trail winds through towering pine forests and offers breathtaking views of the Sabine River. Birdwatchers will be delighted by sightings of the striking red-cockaded woodpecker.
For those who prefer to experience the forest from the water, the Sabine River and area lakes provide excellent opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. Cast your line and you may reel in catfish, bass, or sunfish. Sabine National Forest stands as a testament to the natural beauty and ecological diversity of East Texas.
Ratcliff Lake Recreation Area
Ratcliff Lake Recreation Area is a hidden gem located in the Davy Crockett National Forest. At the heart of Ratcliff Lake is, unsurprisingly, a beautiful lake. The 45-acre lake provides numerous opportunities for water-based activities. Visitors can enjoy swimming, fishing, and non-motorized boating in the clear, spring-fed waters.
For those who prefer to stay on dry land, Ratcliff Lake offers a network of well-maintained hiking trails that wind through the lush forest. Camping is also popular at Ratcliff Lake, and the recreation area provides both RV and tent camping facilities.
Ratcliff Lake Recreation Area also has a spacious picnic area, complete with grills and tables, for day use visitors. It makes an ideal spot for a family gathering or a quiet lakeside picnic.
Amusement Parks and Zoos
When it comes to family-friendly fun, you will find several East Texas things to do. These attractions promise thrilling rides and a chance to get up close to exotic animals. Here are the top places to go in East Texas with kids.
Cherokee Trace Drive-Thru Safari
The Cherokee Trace Drive-Thru Safari is located in Jacksonville, Texas. This drive-through safari is a hit with animal lovers as well as families with kids. The safari is home to over two dozen species of animals, including zebras, graceful giraffes, kangaroos, emus, deer, and llamas.
Visitors can also feed many of the animals from the safety of your own vehicle. Purchase a bucket of animal feed at the entrance, and you’ll have the chance to hand-feed friendly animals like zebras and llamas, creating unforgettable memories.
In addition to the drive-through experience, the safari also offers a Walk-A-Bout area, where you can explore an array of smaller animals and engage in educational activities. This area provides an opportunity to observe reptiles, birds, and other fascinating creatures up close while learning about their behaviors and natural habitats.
Ziplining in New York, Texas
Looking for unique things to do in East Texas? Ziplining in New York, Texas, offers adventure seekers a thrilling and scenic experience.
The ziplining adventure takes place in lush, densely wooded areas, providing a stunning backdrop for your aerial journey. As you soar through the treetops, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of towering pine trees, lakes, and the vibrant colors of the East Texas landscape.
One of the key attractions of ziplining in this area is the variety of zip lines available. From high-speed lines that give you an adrenaline rush to longer, more leisurely ones that allow you to savor the scenery, there’s a perfect line for all zipliners.
The experience is safe, you’ll receive thorough instructions and be fitted with a harness and helmet before take off.
Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary
Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary, located in Tyler, Texas, works with rescued big cats and other exotic animals. It rehabilitates them and provides a lifelong home for big cats, including tigers, lions, leopards, cougars, and other exotic species that have been mistreated, abandoned, or neglected.
The sanctuary offers informative guided tours where visitors can learn about the individual stories and backgrounds of the resident animals, as well as the conservation efforts aimed at protecting these majestic creatures in the wild. It’s an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges facing big cats and other endangered species.
Spread over 81 acres, Grapeland Safari is a great place to visit. The park has a drive-through safari, where you can drive your car amongst the animals. You can spot zebras, donkeys, llamas, yaks, buffalo, camels, and even antelopes.
After the drive-through portion, visitors can take walks through a petting zoo area and see baby goats, pigs, and turkeys up close. Grapeland Safari is a great place to visit on the East Texas road trip.
Kaleidoscope Ranch in Big Sandy is the ultimate retreat for families. You can book a cabin to stay on the sprawling property and share your vacation with over 80 different types of animals! During your stay you can enjoy a breakfast with giraffes, brush horses and donkeys, or enjoy quality time with an alpaca. It’s also the perfect place for birthday parties and special occasions.
Events and Festivals in East Texas
East Texas knows how to celebrate, and its festivals are a testament to its lively spirit. Throughout the year, the region hosts a variety of amazing events that honor its culture and heritage. Plan a trip to East Texas at this time and participate in the revelry.
Great Texas Balloon Race, Longview
The Great Texas Balloon Race is a thrilling annual event held in Longview, the Balloon Capital of Texas. The event takes place at the East Texas Regional Airport. It typically spans a weekend and features a colorful spectacle of hot air balloons taking to the skies. This is the longest running hot air balloon festival in Texas.
Get on a hot air balloon and experience the thrill of floating above the treetops and taking in the stunning East Texas scenery from a bird’s-eye view. Visitors to the event can also enjoy a wide range of family-friendly activities and entertainment. From live music and food vendors offering local flavors to carnival rides and games for the kids, the festival features several enjoyable activities.
Tyler Azalea Trail
The Tyler Azalea Trail is known for its impressive azalea displays. The Azalea Trail typically runs through the month of March when the azaleas are in full bloom, transforming the city into a botanical wonderland. The trail winds its way through residential neighborhoods, municipal parks, and public gardens. The azalea blooms in shades of pink, white, as well as purple creating a striking contrast with the pine forests.
One of the highlights of the Tyler Azalea Trail is the historic Goodman-LeGrand House and Museum, an elegant antebellum home surrounded by lush gardens. Here, visitors can immerse themselves in the history and charm of the Old South while enjoying the brilliant azalea displays around the property. The Tyler Azalea Trail is one of our favorite experiences in East Texas. The sweet scent of the azaleas fills the air as you stroll along the well-maintained paths.
Texas Dogwood Trails Festival, Palestine
The Texas Dogwood Trails Festival in Palestine, Texas, is an amazing springtime celebration. Each year, usually in March and April, the charming town of Palestine comes alive with the delicate and graceful dogwood blossoms. These iconic flowers, with their distinctive four-petaled blooms can be seen in a riot of colors from pure white to soft pink and even shades of creamy yellow.
The festival is a beloved tradition for over 80 years. It showcases the scenic Dogwood Trails that wind through the town and surrounding areas. A great spot to see the blooms is the Davey Dogwood Park. The festival also features an Arts and Crafts Fair, where local artisans and vendors sell their handmade crafts, jewelry, artwork, and more. It’s the perfect opportunity to find unique souvenirs and gifts while supporting the local creative community.
Heritage Syrup festival, Henderson
The Heritage Syrup Festival in Henderson, Texas celebrates the rich agricultural heritage of East Texas. Held annually, usually in November, this festival is a cherished tradition that honors the art of syrup making and the region’s history.
At the heart of the Heritage Syrup Festival is the traditional syrup-making process, which is a fascinating and aromatic experience. Visitors can watch as sugarcane is pressed, boiled, and then transformed into delicious syrup, using antique equipment and techniques. The sweet aroma fills the air, transporting visitors to a simpler time.
The festival offers a wide range of family-friendly activities and entertainment for all ages. From live music performances to arts and crafts vendors as well as a classic car show, there’s something to captivate every visitor.
Tomato fest, Jacksonville
The Tomato Fest in Jacksonville, Texas, is a vibrant and flavorful celebration of one of summer’s most beloved fruits – the tomato. It is held annually in June.
For those looking to savor the flavor of the festival, the Tomato Fest offers a mouthwatering array of tomato-centric dishes and treats. From classic tomato sandwiches and savory salsas to tomato ice cream and also tomato wine, there’s no shortage of ways to indulge in the tomato’s deliciousness.
Live music, arts and crafts vendors, and a vibrant downtown atmosphere create a festive backdrop to the Tomato Fest. It’s a family-friendly event with activities for all ages.
As you plan your road trip to East Texas, prepare to marvel at its natural wonders and be inspired by its legendary history. From outdoor adventures to cultural experiences and everything in between, East Texas invites you to explore its treasures and create memories that will last a lifetime.
What are your favorite places to see in East Texas? Did we forget any attractions in East Texas? Let us know below.