20 Best Things to Do in East Texas

Cypress Trees
Karl Spencer / Getty Images

Also known as the Piney Woods region because of its towering trees, East Texas has a variety of natural attractions that draw visitors from across the country. Although East Texas' distinction is strictly cultural and environmental, and not geopolitical, it generally refers to the area located between the Louisiana border to the east and the Trinity River, or Interstate 45, to the west. The region encompasses 41 counties and includes the cities of Beaumont, Tyler, Longview, Lufkin, Marshall, Palestine, Henderson, Jacksonville, and Mount Pleasant. In addition to the area's natural beauty, East Texas is also home to the oldest town in Texas, Nacogdoches, the Texas State Railroad, and numerous historic sites as well as a number of attractions perfect for the whole family.

Read on to discover the top things to do in East Texas.

01 of 19

Hike the Big Thicket

Big Thicket National Preserve

 Courtesy of Beaumont CVB

FM 420, Kountze, TX 77625, USA
Phone +1 409-951-6700

East Texas' "Big Thicket" was the first area in the United States to be dedicated as a National Preserve. Covering more than 100,000 acres, the Big Thicket National Preserve is home to a diverse group of plants and animals and plays host to thousands of nature enthusiasts annually. Although portions of the Big Thicket National Preserve are spread across seven counties in East Texas, the visitor center is located approximately 30 miles north of Beaumont and 8 miles north of Kountze, Texas, along U.S. Route 69 / Highway 287.

Visitors to Big Thicket National Preserve have the option of enjoying several outdoor recreational activities including camping, hiking, jogging, mountain biking, birding, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. Visitors here always come away amazed at the massive cypress trees and the myriad of wildlife contained within the preserve.

02 of 19

Follow an Azalea Trail

Various Azalea Plants Growing At Park

Renate Frost / Getty Images

While East Texas is best known for its trees, it is also renowned for its flowers, and among the most celebrated flowers in the region is the azalea. Each year there are several azalea trails and festivals staged throughout East Texas. Among the most popular are the Tyler Azalea Trail, the Jasper Azalea Festival, and the Ruby M. Mize Azalea Garden in Nacogdoches.

Held from mid-March through early April, the Tyler Azalea Trail consists of two separate routes, the Lindsey Trail and the Dobbs Trail, with an official ribbon cutting and opening ceremony kicking off the three-week event. Meanwhile, the Jasper Azalea Festival is hosted by the Jasper-Lake Sam Rayburn Area Chamber of Commerce in front of the Jasper County Courthouse in March. Featuring live entertainment, vendors selling handcrafted goods, and a classic car show, this day-long event centers around a celebration of springtime and fresh flowers.

Texas' largest azalea garden, though, is found on the campus of Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches. Known as the Ruby M. Mize Azalea Garden, this expansive nature preserve is home to more than 7,000 azaleas, plus 25 miles of azalea trails through residential and historic districts of the city.

03 of 19

Take a Ride on the Texas State Railroad

Vintage train

Courtesy of the Texas State Railroad

789 Park Rd 70, Palestine, TX 75801, USA
Phone +1 855-632-7729

Running between Palestine and Rusk, the Texas State Railroad uses steam engines to run the rails just as they have since 1896. However, instead of moving timber and other cargo, these days the Texas State Railroad takes passengers on a four-hour, round-trip excursion through the Piney Woods of East Texas. During the tour, a narrator offers insight into the railroad's 200-year-history, while "vintage and current railroad tunes" play in the background.

Tours on the Texas State Railroad are particularly popular during spring when the flowers are in full bloom. In fact, the Texas State Railroad is an official (and important) part of Palestine's Dogwood Trails Celebration, when the local dogwood trees are at their peak. The combination of nostalgia, natural scenery, and historic charm makes a trip on the Texas State Railroad the highlight of any East Texas vacation.

04 of 19

Explore the Oldest Town in Texas

City of Nacogdoches

Nacogdoches, which was founded in 1779, lays claim to the title of the oldest town in Texas. Originally a Spanish settlement, Nacogdoches is a surprisingly dynamic town both for its historical importance and the wide variety of attractions you'll find there.

It's home to Stephen F. Austin University (named in honor of the "Father of Texas"), the Fortney Home furniture store, and the Charles Bright Visitor Center, which features historic artifacts, exhibits, and maps. Other worthwhile, nearby attractions include Lake Nacogdoches, the Ellen Trout Zoo in Lufkin, and the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site, where three earthen mounds remain from what used to be the Mound Builder culture's southwestern-most ceremonial center.

Continue to 5 of 19 below.
05 of 19

Go Bass Fishing

Bass fishing

Wray Sinclair / Getty Images

Outdoor recreation is big in East Texas, and no outdoor activity is bigger than bass fishing. The East Texas Region is home to no fewer than three of the top bass lakes in the nation and has countless smaller and lesser-known lakes scattered across its landscape:

  • Sam Rayburn Reservoir: Located in Angelina County about 70 miles north of Beaumont, this 114,500-square-mile lake is known for its huge population of largemouth bass and popular fishing tournaments throughout the year.
  • Lakes Fork Reservoir: Located in Wood, Rains, and Hopkins counties, this 43-square-mile lake is located 5 miles northwest of Quitman and is well-stocked with largemouth bass, white and black crappie, channel catfish, white bass, and sunfish.
  • Toledo Bend Reservoir: This 289-square-mile reservoir is the largest manmade lake in the southern United States. It's located on the border of Texas and Louisiana, approximately 24 miles northeast of Jasper, Texas.
  • Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center (TFFC): Combining visitation and outdoor education, this fish hatchery in Athens, Texas, provides entertaining visitor experiences for guests of all ages.
06 of 19

Tour the Rose Capital of the United States

Downtown Tyler

 Courtesy of Visit Tyler

The East Texas town of Tyler claims the title of Rose Capital of America. It is estimated that one-half of the rose bushes found in the United States are packaged and shipped from this area. Tyler's amazing rose garden, which blooms from March until the first frost each year, boasts more than 32,000 rose bushes representing 600 varieties of roses. The town hosts the Texas Rose Festival each October, which features events like the Queen's Coronation, the Queen's Tea, and the Rose Parade; if you miss out, you can see the costumes and other festival memorabilia on display at the Tyler Rose Museum, which includes items dating back to 1933.

In addition to being the Rose City, Tyler offers a wide variety of attractions for visitors young and old. It's home to the Tyler Museum of Art, the Caldwell Zoo, the Historic Aviation Memorial Museum, the Hudnall Planetarium at Tyler Junior College, Lakes Tyler and Palestine, the Discovery Science Place children's museum, and the East Texas Symphony. In September, Tyler plays host to the East Texas State Fair, which has dozens of carnival-style rides, vendors, and attractions.

07 of 19

Visit Historic Sites in Beaumont

Fire Museum of Texas

DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

The site of the first oil discovery in Texas, the city of Beaumont is home to a number of historic attractions and museums related to the oil boom, including the Texas Energy Museum and the McFaddin-Ward House. Other popular visitor attractions in the city include the Beaumont Botanical Gardens, the Fire Museum of Texas, and the Saint Anthony Cathedral Basilica. While you're there, be sure to explore the rich food culture of Beaumont, which blends Louisiana seafood specialties like crawfish with Texas staples such as brisket and country-fried steak. And, for nature enthusiasts, you'll find plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, from hunting to fishing, camping, and interacting with live alligators at Gator County theme park.

08 of 19

Go Flea Shopping at First Monday Trade Days in Canton

First Monday Trade Days Main Gate

Courtesy of First Monday Trade Days

800 First Monday Ln, Canton, TX 75103, USA
Phone +1 903-567-6556

Held before the first Monday of every month, from Thursday to Sunday, the First Monday Trade Days is considered the country's largest continually operating outdoor flea market. Located in Canton, which is approximately 60 miles southeast of Dallas on Interstate 20, this popular flea market attracts some 100,000 shoppers from Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma over the four-day weekend. With roughly 700,000 square feet of covered shopping areas, Canton invites more than 5,000 vendors to set up shop and sell everything from furniture and home décor to antiques, jewelry, and clothes. When you get hungry, there are funnel cakes, corn dogs, hand-cut fries, and homemade ice cream for sale; just don't forget to bring cash.

Continue to 9 of 19 below.
09 of 19

Visit the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame

Texas Country Music Hall of Fame

Courtesy of Texas State Historical Association

310 W Panola St, Carthage, TX 75633-2535, USA
Phone +1 903-694-9561

Located in the city of Carthage, the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame celebrates the contributions of Texans to country music, with big names like Kenny Rogers, Kris Kristofferson, Gene Autry, Willie Nelson, Jim Reeves, and Tex Ritter having been inducted since its inception in 1998. Spread across 13,000 square feet, this unique museum and performance space has become a popular destination for fans of the genre. Throughout the year, the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame and the nearby Tex Ritter Museum host a variety of festivals and events, including the Classic Country Music Festival and the John Ritter Tribute Showcase, both of which take place every August.

10 of 19

Enjoy the Music and Art Scene in Edom

Edom Art Festival in Texas.

marvod / Getty Images

The small town of Edom is located a short drive west of Tyler. It's home to a number of great art galleries and boutique shops, including Zeke & Marty for jewelry and Edom Art Emporium for handmade soaps, ceramics, and artwork. Additionally, Edom hosts a variety of music and arts events, including the annual Edom Arts Festival, which takes place every October and features live music, a wine garden, and local food vendors. Throughout the year, you can also stop by the weekly Two-Step Tuesday event for some local entertainment at the Edom City Limits.

11 of 19

Shop and Explore the Outdoors in Henderson


Sword Fern / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0  

Located halfway between Tyler and Carthage, the city of Henderson is full of history, art, and outdoor adventures. The active Henderson Main Street Program has introduced a variety of antique stores and historic markers in the Downtown Historic Square, as well as a number of upscale shopping, dining, and arts destinations around the area. Throughout the year, you'll also find great events in Henderson, including the Heritage Syrup Festival on the second Saturday in November, the Antique Tractor Show, an annual Fourth of July Parade, and the Henderson Christmas Parade in December.

12 of 19

Go on Safari in Jacksonville

Cherokee Trace Drive-Thru Safari

Courtesy of The East Texas Weekend


1200 Co Rd 4405, Jacksonville, TX 75766, USA
Phone +1 903-683-3322

Often called the "Tomato Capital of the World," the town of Jacksonville, Texas, is home to the Cherokee Trace Drive-Thru Safari. At this 300-acre nature reserve, you can take a self-guided drive through the park and see all sorts of wildlife, including zebras, the African longhorn cow, and blackbucks (Indian antelope).

Afterward, make sure you stop by the "World's Largest Bowl of Salsa" if you're visiting during Tomato Fest, which takes place in June each year. Nearby, you can also find plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation at Lake Jacksonville, which covers 1,320 acres just 3 miles southwest of the city.

Continue to 13 of 19 below.
13 of 19

Learn About Texas Oil History in Kilgore

Kilgore, Texas

Lothar1976 / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain


Located east of Tyler and southwest of Longview, the city of Kilgore originally started as an oil boomtown that consisted of just one downtown city block and the highest density of oil derricks in the United States. For a chance to learn more about the history of oil in the region, stop by the East Texas Oil Museum on the campus of Kilgore College, which depicts the people and towns of the oil boom. Also on the Kilgore College campus, the world-famous Kilgore Rangerettes dance and drill team performs throughout the year. Visit the Rangerette Showcase and Museum to see displays of props, costumes, and thousands of photographs and newspaper clippings from the team's illustrious history.

14 of 19

Sip Wine, Enjoy Classical Music, and Ride a Hot Air Balloon in Longview

Longview Texas rock sign

Courtesy of Visit Longview 

The city of Longview, located just 45 miles from the border of Louisiana in northeast Texas, is packed with entertainment for all ages. You can learn about local history at the Gregg County Historical Museum, visit the Longview Museum of Fine Arts, and drink wine at Los Pinos Ranch Vineyards. Or, enjoy some classical music by attending a performance put on by either the Longview Symphony or the Longview Ballet Theatre. If you're visiting in June, be sure to check out the Great Texas Balloon Race, which earned Longview the title of the "Balloon Capital of Texas" and runs daily balloon flights over Longview, Kilgore, the East Texas Regional Airport, and the surrounding area throughout the event.

15 of 19

Go Zip Lining in New York, Texas

New York Texas Zipline Adventure

Courtesy of Go Zip Texas

7290 Co Rd 4328, Larue, TX 75770-4318, USA
Phone +1 903-681-3791

Located just southeast of the town of Athens in the unincorporated area known as New York, the New York Texas Zipline Adventures is a perfect way to explore the Piney Woods region of the state. You can choose between a 1.5-hour excursion along six zip line tracks or a two-hour tour with nine. If you're feeling brave, opt for the latter: It features a 1,500-foot line with two cable sky bridges that lead up to a 40-foot zip tower.

16 of 19

Visit the Cultural Capital of East Texas

Marshall, Texas

Billy Hathorn /Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 

Located just east of Longview and just west of the Louisiana border, the city of Marshall is also known as the Cultural Capital of East Texas thanks to its large support of the arts community and historical preservation of its many landmarks and buildings. Founded in 1841, Marshall is home to the Michelson Museum of Art, whose three exhibit galleries display works of art by created early-20th century immigrants as well as antique Chinese puppets and African masks and artifacts dating back to the mid-1800s. Meanwhile, at the 110-year-old Marshall Texas Depot, you'll find the Texas & Pacific Railway Museum, which features railroad artifacts and a model train.

Attractions in the town include horse-drawn buggy rides, touring buses, and more than 100 historical markers and medallions. During Christmastime, the city is also home to the largest light festival in the country, Wonderland of Lights, which is the original and largest Christmas festival in Texas.

Continue to 17 of 19 below.
17 of 19

Go to the Rodeo

Rodeo in Texas

Courtesy of Texas Standard 

Although found across the state of Texas throughout the year, rodeos are especially popular in East Texas from February through May. You'll have no shortage of these exciting events to attend across the region. The PBR Global Cup takes place in Arlington every February, while in March, Nacogdoches hosts the Pro Rodeo and Steer Show. Later in April, you can stop by the Longview PRCA Rodeo, the Angelina County Benefit Rodeo in Lufkin, or the 1836 Chuckwagon Race in Palestine. When May rolls around, head to Vernon to see the annual Santa Rosa Roundup.

18 of 19

Ignite Your Imagination at the Curious Museum

1301 S Royall St, Palestine, TX 75801, USA
Phone +1 903-727-0204

Home to the Texas State Railroad, the city of Palestine offers even more great family fun off the tracks. Inspired by San Francisco's famous Exploratorium, the Curious Museum was "designed with schools and grade-level TEKS in mind" and features hands-on exhibits that focus on forces and motion, magnetism, electricity, geometry, light, color, and life. It's open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m; admission is $5 for visitors ages 3 and up, while kids 2 and under are free.

19 of 19

Explore Lake Caddo and Uncertain, Texas

Uncertain, Texas

Courtesy of City of Uncertain

Located in Harrison County along the shores of Lake Caddo, the city of Uncertain is often referred to as the "Best Kept Secret in Texas" thanks to the variety of attractions you'll find in this remote town. Here, you can spend your time fishing on the lake, hunting from the duck blinds, or boating through the cypress trees. There are even rustic log cabins and several bed and breakfasts you can stay in. Nearby, you can explore Caddo Lake State Park and Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge as well as the cities of Jefferson, Marshall, Texas, and Shreveport, Louisiana.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What is the oldest city in Texas?

    Founded in 1779, Nacogdoches is the oldest town in Texas.

  • Why is Tyler, Texas famous?

    Tyler, Texas is often called the Rose Capital of America, as about half of the country's rose bushes come from here. Every October, Tyler hosts the Texas Rose Festival, which celebrates the city's beloved flower with ceremonial events such as the Queen's Coronation and the Rose Parade.

  • What is East Texas famous for?

    East Texas is known for a number of big attractions, including the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in Carthage and Canton's First Monday Trade Days, the largest continually operating outdoor flea market in the U.S. The region is also home to the Texas State Railroad, which takes passengers on a four-hour trip through the Piney Woods. The city of Beaumont, too, is famous as it is where oil was first discovered in Texas; today, visitors can learn all about the city's prominent role in the oil boom at the Texas Energy Museum and the McFaddin-Ward House.

Article Sources
TripSavvy uses only high-quality, trusted sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Tour Texas. "Visit Tyler." Accessed September 14, 2022.

Back to List

20 Best Things to Do in East Texas