Explore America's Campgrounds
From the hills of northeast Texas, to the beaches around Port Arthur, East Texas is a world of its own. It has more in common geographically and culturally with the Deep South than it does with the rest of Texas. There is still that taste of Texas everywhere, but there is also a touch of Southern charm added in East Texas. There is a lot to do for outdoor enthusiasts, making planning a weekend trip easy. From boating, camping, hiking to touring historic sites, you are only limited by your imagination in East Texas.
The Big Thicket National Preserve has 40 miles of hiking trails through thick pine and cedar forests and swamps. There are many unique ecosystems in this area, and a wide variety of wildlife to watch. The area has great bird watching April through May and in the late fall. Boating and canoeing are popular in spring and fall. Wildflowers are in bloom March through October. Marked roads offer interesting drives through the forest as well, and guides for the auto tour are available at the park headquarters.
Jefferson, Texas, is a small town of 2,200 people, but has more history than most people imagine. There are 60 bed and breakfasts in the town, as well as a few hotels, antique shops, theater, historic homes and restaurants. In the 1860s, Jefferson was a bustling river port town. Walking the historic streets is good for your body and mind. There are also parks and nature trails to see around Jefferson.
In the 1870s, a natural dam was removed from the Red River, making the Caddo River, which runs by Jefferson, no longer a navigable river for the large steamboats. That and the railroads gradually led to its decline. Still, you may visit historic streets, take a trolley or ride a horse-drawn carriage and tour historic homes in the downtown area.
Watch the calendar. People in East Texas love a party, and there is always a festival of some sort going on. Many of these festivals have races or fun walks as part of the activities planned. In early June there is the Texas Blueberry Festival in Nacogdoches, which features cobbler, ice cream, pancakes and just about anything else one could imagine made of blueberries. On Memorial Day weekend there is the Party in the Pines in Longview, a weekend-long celebration remembering our soldiers, along with music, games and food. In late June, there is the T-Bone Walker Blues Festival, which features nationally known and regional musicians.
During the third weekend in April and in October, historic U.S. Highway 80 becomes a 392-mile long yard sale through East Texas, all the way to Jackson, Mississippi. The highway itself goes across the entire nation, from Savannah, Georgia, to San Diego, California. Many towns in East Texas will be participating, and it makes for an interesting drive through the countryside. Here you may search for healthy homemade foods, and the searching itself usually burns up some calories as you walk from yard sale to yard sale.
Gladewater, Texas, 20 miles from Longview on Highway 80, calls itself the antique capital of the nation, and it may well be. The town of less than 5,000 residents has 275 dealers in antiques, around 100 crafters, and 11 antique malls.
Another option for a quick getaway is a camping trip, and there are plenty of state parks in East Texas. Campgrounds offer full-service camping, with water and electricity, and there are areas for primitive camping where you can pitch your tent at any spot you like. The state parks are a gateway to trails and waterways for boating or fishing. Lake O' The Pines is a huge lake that is more like a swamp at times with a large canopy of cypress trees. Activities include hiking, biking, swimming, canoeing as well as sports like volleyball and basketball.
James Jordan has been a writer and photographer since 1980. He has worked for newspapers in Arkansas, Tennessee, South Carolina and Kansas, winning state press association awards for writing, photography and page design. In 1995 he received his master's in Christian education and completed two years of Ancient Greek at the graduate level. Jordan holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism.