With its rolling hills, deep woods, pasture land, and Gulf beaches, East Texas has a wide range of appeal, and things to do on short road trips.
From world-class golf courses, walking trails, cultural attractions, state parks, festivals, antique shopping, fall motoring and art museums, the East Texas area has something for everyone to enjoy.
When embarking on a road trip today in East Texas, it is often useful to study the history of the main roads, trails and highways in earlier days. Combining today's attractions with a historical perspective makes the road trip that much more fun, entertaining and educational.
As you plan your East Texas road trip, keep these earlier trails and roads in mind ...
U.S. Highway 80 was an early transcontinental route, known as the Dixie Overland Highway, from Savannah, Georgia, to San Diego, California, covering a distance of 1,032 miles. It entered Texas from the East between Shreveport, Louisiana, and Waskom as a two-lane road. It then was routed through Marshall, Longview, Gladewater, Mineola, Grand Saline, Wills Point and on to Dallas.
The Bankhead Highway was a transcontinental route connecting Washington, D.C., with San Diego.
The primary 850-mile route through Texas was originally Texas Highway No.1, which became part of U.S. Route 67 and U.S. Route 80. The main route passed through Texarkana, Mount Pleasant, Mount Vernon, Sulphur Springs, Greenville and Garland before arriving at Fort Worth where it turned onto former U.S. Route 80.
In 2009, the Bankhead Highway was designated a Texas Historic Highway as part of the new state Historic Roads and Highways Program.
Bankhead Highway Visitors Center
The Center is located in the home of Col. Henry Clay Thruston, the tallest soldier in the Civil War. It is situated on the historic Bankhead Highway, an early transcontinental route from Washington, D.C. to San Diego, about 0.2 miles west of Mount Vernon on Highway 37.
Adjacent is the Dupree Park and Nature Preserve, 57 acre nature preserve with walking trails and pavilion.
The Old Spanish Trail was another transcontinental route that passed through Texas, connecting San Augustine, Florida with San Diego in California.
In south East Texas, the Old Spanish Trail can still be seen in some places. The trail runs alongside Interstate 10 through Orange and Vidor. When it reaches the Neches River, it merges with Interstate 10 crosses the Purple Heart Bridge, then detours through Downtown Beaumont. It then travels on to Houston.
One of the many granite markers designating the Kings Highway, the Old San Antonio Road, in East Texas
This historic road spanned 47 miles in Louisiana, and 540 miles in Texas. The route of the El Camino Real passed through Natchitoches and Many in Louisiana, crossed the Sabine River and into Nacogdoches. From there it went through Crockett and Caldwell before connecting with San Marcos, New Braunfels, San Antonio and Niederwald.
The State of Texas has marked some East Texas county roads as State Highway OSR. Originally, the whole route from the Sabine River to San Marcos carried this designation, but it has since been reduced to a short bypass around Bryan.
A series of granite markers were placed by the Texas Society Daughters of the American Revolution that marked the main route of the Old San Antonio Road through Texas, as surveyed in 1915 and placed in 1918.
In 2004, President Bush signed a bill designating The El Camino Real de Los Tejas, of which the Old San Antonio Road is part, a National Historic Trail.
The East Texas Highway was created in June of 1917 when the Texas Highway Commission announced the establishment of the state's first highway system. It was designated as SH 8 and was the easternmost of the three north-south highways that the Commission created at that time.
Although the northern third of the East Texas Highway generally followed a straight north-south path from the Red River at the Oklahoma border to the Harrison-Panola county line, the rest of the highway paralleled the Sabine River as it flowed to the Gulf of Mexico.
The highway linked some of the oldest and most active communities in the region at that time including Port Arthur, Beaumont, Orange, Jasper, San Augustine, Carthage, Marshall, and Linden.
Today, East Texas has large cities and an extensive system of state highways, county roads, and interstate highways. But it has many rural areas, quaint small towns and hundreds of miles of back roads and scenic trails. Get off the beaten path, and explore East Texas in several directions!
Explore Marshall, Longview, Gladewater,
Marshall - On your Highway 80 road trip, visit the "Cultural Capital of East Texas". Marshall has more than 100 historical markers and medallions, such as the T&P Depot marker, with several sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Many of Marshall's Victorian homes have been restored, and several function as B&Bs. Also fully restored is the Harrison County Courthouse.
Marshall is also known for its famous Wonderland of Lights during the Christmas season.
Longview - While exploring Historic Highway 80, stop in Longview and experience historic buildings, shopping, restaurants, hot air balloon festivals, museums, Gregg County Fair and much more! For a great review of the area, visit the Gregg County Historical Museum
Gladewater - antique capitol of East Texas, located on historic US Highway 80 at U.S. Highway 271. When in the area in the spring, don't miss the Lee Daffodil Garden with its acres of beautiful floral displays, just south of Gladewater, off US Highway 271
Zip Lines, waterpark, scuba diving,
Love to shop away from big cities
A Musical Road Trip
It's only a 60-mile road trip from Linden to Carthage on U.S. 59.
Linden has strong music roots as the home of famous musicians like Rock Star Don Henley, Blues Legend Aaron T-Bone Walker, and others. Music City Texas Theater hosts music concerts throughout the year.
Carthage is home to the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, created to celebrate the contributions of Texans to the country music profession. The project highlights those individuals who are recognized nationally as outstanding in their field.
Tigers, Big Foot and More!
Those looking for a road trip in Upper East Texas might enjoy this one ... about 2.5 hours driving time (without stops), 113 miles.
Tyler State Park, accessible on a short drive north of Tyler on scenic State Highway 14, provides overnight camping venues, mountain biking, fishing, picnicking, hiking and more.
Leaving the state park, continue north on Highway 14, and visit the Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary.
After a visit with the tigers, turn west on State Highway 16 to Lindale, hometown of Miranda Lambert and The Cannery. From Lindale, travel north on U.S. 69 to the City of Mineola, the site of the Mineola Nature Preserve and Big Foot Paddling Trail. North of Mineola on Highway 37 is Lake Fork and the town of Quitman.
Continuing north from Quitman on Highway 154 is the City of Sulphur Springs and its Celebration Plaza and Southwest Dairy Museum and Learning Center. Then journey east on old US Highway 67 and see all the attractions in Mount Vernon and Mount Pleasant.
Hotels are available in Mount Pleasant, or journey on to Texarkana or back to Tyler.
Explore the Golden Triangle of South East Texas
Explore the "Golden Triangle" of South East Texas, with a wide assortment of museums, entertainment and outdoor activities. This route is about 78 miles in length, and takes two hours of driving, without stops. But you will want to stop several times!
A good starting point for road trips in this area is the The Ben J. Rogers Regional Visitors Center, which provides information and assistance to travelers throughout South East Texas. It is located at 5055 Interstate Highway 10 South. Phone 409.842.0500 for opening hours and other information.
If spending the night in the area, enjoy the sights, sounds and dining in the Crockett Street Entertainment District. Also popular with Beaumont visitors are the Babe Didrikson Zaharias Memorial Museum and the beautiful Saint Anthony Cathedral. And you are likely to see remnants of the Old Spanish Trail on Willow, Park, Pearl and College Streets downtown.
Take U.S. Highway 96 back towards Beaumont, stopping to see the Dutch Windmill Museum and the French House in Nederland.
Beaumont offers a wide array of lodging, restaurants and entertainment, a great place to start, and end, an East Texas road trip!
For more information:
Deep East Texas Road Trip from Nacogdoches
3 hours, 165 miles
Start your tour in Nacogdoches! With various lodging options in hotels and B&Bs, the city makes a great launch pad for road trips all around East Texas, like this one to Lufkin, Crockett, Palestine and Alto.
The city features many popular attractions including antique shopping, historic homes, art and athletics events at Stephen F. Austin University, boating and outdoor activities on area lakes, the Deep East Texas Fall Foliage Trail, Holiday in the Pines, and more.
Be sure to stop at the Charles Bright Visitor Center located in Plaza Principal in the historic downtown Nacogdoches district for valuable area information and trip planning ideas.
Begin the road trip out of the city by heading south on U.S. Highway 59 to Lufkin. There, downtown features numerous unique retail and antique shops, eating establishments, professional businesses, and also includes a historic walking tour describing the history of Lufkin.
The First Street Arts Center promotes East Texas artists whose work ideally captures the Piney Woods experience. And don't miss the mural in Cotton Square Heritage Park.
Also popular with tourists is the Museum of East Texas, the Ellen Trout Zoo, the Texas Forestry Museum, and the Temple Theater in the Angelina Center for the Arts on the Angelina College campus.
Head west on Highway 103, through the Davy Crockett National Forest, which contains 160,000 acres of woodlands, streams, recreational areas, and wildlife habitat.
Crockett offers its residents and visitors a variety of festivals with family friendly activities, outdoor recreation including fishing, boating and hunting, several entertainment venues, and numerous historical homes and sites.
The Piney Woods Fine Arts Association presents a number of popular events and concerts at the Crockett Civic Center, at 1163 Edmiston Drive. Other popular area attractions include the Houston County Museum, the Downs-Aldrich House, the Monroe-Cook House, Houston County Lake, Grapeland Drive-Thru Safari and Mission Tejas State Park.
After touring Crockett, take U.S. Highway 287 north to Palestine. Over 1,800 historical sites are located in Palestine, the county seat of Anderson County.
A wide variety of attractions welcome the visitor to Palestine, including the Anderson County Courthouse, the Texas State Railroad, the Palestine Community Forest, and Elmwood Gardens. Davey Dogwood Park is home to more than 200 acres of picturesque roads meander throughout the park. The park is featured during the annual Texas Dogwood Trails Festival in March and April. Admission is free.
As we begin the final leg of this road trip, head east on Highway 294 to Alto, located on U.S. 69. It is a small town established in 1849, and near the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site, just west of town at 1649 State Highway 21.
After touring the historic site, continue east on Highway 21 through Douglass and back to Nacogdoches.
For more information on cities and attractions on this road trip:
Edom - between Canton and Tyler on quiet Texas Highway 279 ... festivals, potters, artists, garden centers, restaurants, eclectic shopping. Explore Blue Moon Gardens, and pick blueberries!
Athens - State Fish Hatchery, East Texas Arboretum, scuba park, and fall foliage tours and road trips. Located on State Highways 19 and 31, and U.S. Highway 175.
Jefferson - Take a short 17-mile road trip north from Marshall on US Highway 59 to Jefferson. This small city is full of antique shops, B&Bs, restaurants, festivals and more. While in the area, don't miss a photo op in the tiny village of Uncertain, and steamboat rides.
Caddo Lake is a 25,400 acre lake and wetland near Jefferson on the border between Texas and Louisiana.
Kilgore - This small city is centrally located in Upper East Texas, and is easily accessible on short trips from Tyler, and Longview, on State Highway 31. It features several attractions such as the East Texas Oil Museum, Kilgore College, the historic Crim Theatre, the Rangerette Museum, and the "City of Stars" holiday festival.
Jacksonville - on U.S. 69, home of the annual Tomato Fest, a good starting point for road trips to the west to Athens, and east to Reklaw, Mount Enterprise, Timpson and Tenaha. East of Jacksonville is the Cherokee Trace Drive Thru Safari, a wildlife park that is home to an amazing variety of wildlife. Near Reklaw is the popular Lake Striker.
Love's Lookout - while in Jacksonville visit this beautiful 30-mile vista to the East. It is a great picnic location and a place to pick up tourist information for area attractions and trips!
Love's Lookout, with its spectacular 30-mile vista (staff photo)
Toledo Bend Reservoir - On the Texas-Louisiana border, near Shelbyville, San Augustine, and Hemphill. This massive lake offers boating, fishing, swimming, marinas, hiking, camping, golf, resorts, and restaurants.
Rusk - ride the Texas State Railroad through deep forests to Palestine, and back. While in the Rusk area, you may want to visit the quaint Maydelle Country Wines. Nearby is Moore Farms, a fun place to visit for all ages of the family year round.
Bullard - Located 15 miles south of Tyler on U.S. 69, Bullard features quiet country roads in every direction! A few miles east on FM 344 is Kiepersol Enterprises. On the grounds are a complete range of activities, facilities and services including Kiepersol Bed & Breakfast, Kiepersol Vineyard and Winery, KE Bushman's Camp/RV Park, and the KE Bushman's Celebration Center.
Plus, don't miss the American Freedom Museum near downtown Bullard, and nearby Dewberry Plantation, dating to 1854. This historic home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and registered as a Texas State Historical Landmark.
Lake Palestine - 25,000 acres of boating, fishing, swimming, marinas, waterfront restaurants ... minutes southwest of Tyler on Texas Highway 155 near Coffee City, Chandler and Frankston