It may not have towering mountains or epic, otherworldly swimming holes, but East Texas deserves far more recognition than we give it. From the oldest town in the state to a historic railroad, zip lining to the nation’s largest rose garden, the Pineywoods have so much to offer. Here are 11 of the best things to do out east.
1. Ride the Pumpkin Patch Express (Palestine)
Every Saturday and Sunday in October at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., this festive fall train ride takes you to a pumpkin patch complete with hayrides, spooky tunes, and a bounce house + "Trick or Treat Street" for the tiny tots. As a bonus, every child gets a complimentary jack-o-lantern to take home for decorating. So come dressed in your finest Halloween attire and get ready for a scary good time! The Palestine Depot is located at 789 Park Road 70, Palestine, TX 75801.
2. Go zip lining through the fall foliage (New York)
Who knew East Texas had a zip lining course? We just discovered it and couldn't be more excited. Unlike the Hill Country that can be bone-dry depending on the season, the Pineywoods stay lush and green year-round. The tour takes about two hours, with the longest zip being nearly 1000 feet long and over 100 feet high. We highly recommend visiting in the fall so you can soar through the vibrant foliage. The address is 7290 CR 4328, LaRue, TX 75770.
3. Visit the oldest town in Texas (Nacogdoches)
It may be a college town, but Nacogdoches is still packed with Texas charm. Founded all the way back in 1779, it's almost as old as our country itself! From the East Texas Oil Museum to Millard's Crossing Historic Village, there's history around every corner - not to mention all the quaint restaurants, shops, and museums.
4. See the exact spot where the Columbia Space Shuttle crashed (Hemphill)
With a population of just over 1,000, Hemphill is about the last place anyone would expect to have a NASA Museum. Unfortunately, it was born out of an incredible tragedy that occurred 25 years ago. On February 1, 2003, the Columbia Space Shuttle disintegrated over East Texas upon re-entry into the atmosphere. The entire crew lost their lives, and the museum pays homage to them and highlights all the incredible achievements of Columbia since its first voyage in 1981. You'll find the museum at 375 Sabine St, Unit B, Hemphill, TX 75948.
5. Marvel at the nation's largest rose garden (Tyler)
Spanning 14 acres and featuring more than 38,000 rose bushes of over 500 different varieties, this park is the largest rose garden in America. The perfect time of year to visit is approaching - the flowers will be in full-bloom around mid-October. Thousands of tourists visit each year for the annual Texas Rose Festival, which will take place from October 18-21. Meet the Rose Queen, enjoy refreshments in the garden, and marvel at all the breathtaking flora. The garden is located at 420 Rose Park Drive, Tyler, Texas 75702.
6. Go bass fishing at Lake Sam Rayburn (Jasper)
Fishing is one of our favorite pastimes here in Texas, and Lake Sam Rayburn is one of your best bets for catching a big one. With over 114,000 surface-acres to cast your line from, there's ample opportunity to get a bite. The largest bass caught here so far was 16.8 lbs - think you can beat the record? Even if fishing isn't your thing, the lake is a perfect escape from reality when you just need some solitary nature time.
7. Go hiking in the Big Thicket (Kountze)
The Big Thicket National Preserve spans over 100,000 acres, but much of that is still completely covered in brush. Even still, 40+ miles of trails of varying lengths and difficulties wind through the area, providing visitors with access to one of the most ecologically diverse places in the country. You'll see carnivorous plants, pine trees, cypress sloughs, birds, mushrooms, and so much more. The address for the headquarters is 6044 FM 420, Kountze, TX 77625. If you're feeling spooky, maybe take a drive down
on the way home...if you're brave enough, that is.
8. Attend First Monday Trade Days (Canton)
It all began in the 1850s, when the circuit judge would visit Canton on the first Monday of each month to hold court proceedings. This was the day citizens of the area came to town to conduct business, which usually involved trading for goods and livestock. The tradition stuck, and First Monday Trade Days became the city's trademark (although it's actually held from Thursday-Sunday nowadays.) With hundreds of vendors selling antiques, collectibles, furniture, home decor, art, jewelry, and much more, you're bound to find a few diamonds in the rough to take home. It all goes down at 1st Monday Ln, Texas 75103.
9. Visit a beautiful scenic overlook (Jacksonville)
Love's Lookout has been a favorite destination of East Texans for over a century. It overlooks a 35-mile stretch of lush greenery, and the park provides several picnic tables for guests to enjoy a relaxing lunch with beautiful surroundings. Plus, it's located in the Tomato Capital of Texas! You'll find the lookout at 43822 US-69, Jacksonville, TX 75766.
10. Stay in a haunted hotel (Jefferson)
Considering it's the oldest hotel in East Texas, rumors of ghosts haunting the Excelsior House's halls shouldn't come as a surprise. From a headless man to a woman in black carrying a baby, ghouls of all shapes and sizes have been spotted after dark. Nobody knows for sure whether any validity exists in the claims, but there's only one way to find out! Even if it turns out to be just gossip, the classic architecture and antiquated decor are enough of a reason to spend the night.
11. Visit the site of the Spindletop Oil Gusher (Beaumont)
In 1901, the little town of Beaumont launched itself onto the world stage when the Lucas Gusher spewed at a rate of 100,000 barrels of oil per day for nine straight days. The Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum was dedicated in 1976 to preserve this incredible moment in history. It features an oil derrick as well as several reconstructed buildings and artifacts from the era. The museum is located at 5550 Jimmy Simmons Blvd, Beaumont, TX 77705.
Have you ever visited any of these places? What’s your favorite thing to do in East Texas?
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