A WORLD apart
EXPLORE THE ENCHANTED EAST TEXAS PINEY WOODS
BY CHRISTINA GARCIA
The forests of the East Texas Piney Woods area are a world apart, unusual to residents from the rest of the state because of the area’s dense trees. Loblolly pines give way to bald cypress on lakes and bayous, and you can paddle along using draped Spanish moss as your guide. Get lost in the relatively easy and quiet thru-hike at the Lone Star Hiking Trail, the state’s longest continuous footpath, or spend a day in the Big Thicket Preserve admiring bogs of pitcher plants.
Be on the lookout for the red-cockaded woodpecker. Keep your eyes open for the flying squirrels, too. The latter are nocturnal, but both animals are among a host residing on the edge of our state.
In the small towns, find the Bed and Breakfast Capital of Texas, the Rose Capital of America, and the vintage trains shunting from Palestine to Rusk.
BIG TREES, LITTLE TOWNS
Rest & Relaxation
Officially designated the Bed and Breakfast Capital of Texas in 1997, Jefferson, Texas, invites visitors to get cozy. Bed and breakfasts per capita led to the designation, and this historic town relishes its getaway status. Enjoy garden views at White Oak Manor. Try out a relaxed happy hour on a wraparound porch or cooking smores at the fire at The Carriage House. Stroll the pre-Civil War buildings and browse through the antique stores, take a history tour, or enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride for a quiet weekend.
Relish the Roses
Stop and smell the roses in Tyler, Texas. Nicknamed the Rose Capital of America, a significant number of the country’s roses are grown for distribution here. Be sure to visit the colorful Tyler Municipal Rose Garden, America’s largest municipal rose garden, which blooms in the spring and fall with hundreds of varieties of roses on thousands of bushes across 14 acres. Visit the Texas Rose Festival in late October, and don’t forget to come back for the Azalea Trail in March and April, too.
Forest in East Texas. The trip should take about a week, and fans of the trail mention the trees, which change from hardwood oak and softwood pine to towering bald cypress as the path progresses. Relatively flat, the hike begins near Richards, Texas, and ends near Cleveland, Texas. The trail is free to use year-round, though spring and fall are recommended.
SUNGLASSES & SUNSCREEN
The Big Thicket National Preserve’s diverse area of national forest spreads out like a child’s squiggly line drawing on a map between the Neches River in the north and Beaumont in the south, with a long arm reaching over to Big Creek in the West and another curling toward Saratoga and Little Pine Island Bayou. It’s referred to as “units,” representing the region’s diversity. Each unit offers hiking and picnic areas, with some offering fishing, hunting, and backcountry camping. Explore the pitcher plant bog and other hidden gems in the Turkey Creek unit.
Hit the Trail
Not everyone feels called to backpacking, but for those ready to venture even further into the backcountry, the Lone Star Hiking Trail meanders across 96 miles — or longer if you take the extra loops — of the Sam Houston National Forest in East Texas. The trip should take about a week, and fans of the trail mention the trees, which change from hardwood oak and softwood pine to towering bald cypress as the path progresses. Relatively flat, the hike begins near Richards, Texas, and ends near Cleveland, Texas. The trail is free to use year-round, though spring and fall are recommended.
Draped in Spanish moss, the cypress trees in Caddo Lake have been said to grow in patterns perfect for boating through as if on a trail. Luckily, Karnak’s Caddo Lake State Park canoes are available to rent. Paddle through Big Cypress Bayou or Saw Mill Pond, the latter of which you can use to reach Caddo Lake if you’re ready for a long trip. Otherwise, use the Texas Parks and Wildlife map to explore the lake. For less work, book a boat tour and let an experienced guide offer their take on the area’s wetland history and culture.
MORE PLACES TO VISIT
Caddo Mounds State Historic Site - Visit the still-standing mounds of the Hasinai Caddo and learn more about the culture of the Mound Builders in Alto, Texas.
Texas Country Music Hall of Fame - Country music lovers should budget a few hours for this Carthage, Texas, attraction.
Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary - Longleaf pine is an important keystone species in the region, once cut down in great swaths and returning only with careful conservation.