Texas' cities are always worth a visit, but truly special experiences await further off the trail. Smaller towns also mean smaller crowds and a more relaxed pace. If that's the kind of trip you’re looking for, here’s where to head in East Texas.Less
The only place you’ll get lost in Tyler is in its gardens. You'll see why this is the Rose Capital of America while strolling through Tyler Municipal Rose Garden and LeGrand Rose Garden. And don’t miss the 10-mile Azalea Trail's two marked routes in town. Beyond Tyler’s flowers, make time for its history - the Half Mile of History, Camp Ford, the Cotton Belt Depot Museum, the Goodman Museum and the McClendon House. Or simply stroll through the town’s architecturally diverse historic districts.
Nacogdoches may be the oldest town in Texas, but its best era is now. With an arts and culture scene buoyed by the local university, brick-lined streets, historic trails, lakes and nature walks, Nacogdoches has no issue keeping visitors busy. Here are a few ideas for your trip: Visit the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site in nearby Alto, fish or swim in Lake Nacogdoches, wander through the Ruby M. Mize Azalea Garden (a centerpiece of town) and go antiquing at the many shops in historic downtown.
Not too far from the Louisiana line, Jefferson has a unique Old South feel mixed with a healthy dose of Texas tradition. It’s famous for its B&Bs, riverboat rides, horse-drawn carriages, gorgeous Greek Revival homes and iconic cornbread sandwiches. Sitting perfectly between two lakes, Jefferson abounds with outdoor opportunities, too. Paddling underneath the bald cypress trees—draped in Spanish moss—of Caddo Lake State Park is a hard-to-beat experience just a 20-minute drive away.
Venturing to small-town Texas for the food? Absolutely. In Palestine, you can expect to sample foie gras, order wine bottles at your B&B and grab a breakfast treat at the oldest continually operating bakery in Texas—that’s Eilenberger’s and, yes, their fruitcakes ship nationally. Fill up heartily, and then book a trip on the Texas State Railroad, which makes a stop right in town. The complete journey will show you the best of the Piney Woods region.
If any town on this list can tout itself as the most family-friendly, it’s Longview. Air U Trampoline Park will have kids jumping in foam pits and playing airborne dodgeball, while Balloon Adventures USA will get the whole family flying high above Lake Cherokee. And the free Jack Mann Splash Pad? It’s the place to be on balmy summer days. Museums, vineyards, gardens, trails and plenty of golf courses round out the rest of this 80,000-person town, aptly nicknamed “The Balloon Capital of Texas.
The 1901 Harrison County Courthouse in downtown is a beloved local spot. Take a picnic on the lawn and take your vacation at Marshall speed. In fact, all of downtown is reminiscent of a Hallmark movie, especially during the holidays and its hard-to-beat Wonderland of Lights Festival. But anytime of year, you’ll find plenty to do: Camp among the cypress at nearby Caddo Lake State Park, tour the Michelson Museum of Art and make sure to stop by Bear Creek Smokehouse for a true taste of East Texas.