10 Things to do in the Texas Piney Woods: Hiking, Small Towns and Hidden Gems Near Dallas
February 4, 2021
The Piney Woods is a temperate coniferous forest that spans across eastern Texas, southern Arkansas, western Louisiana, and southeastern Oklahoma. The region is home to multiple types of pine trees such as hickory and oak. In Texas, the Piney Woods are located on the eastern edge of the state. They begin in the Northeast corner bordering Oklahoma and Arkansas and continue south along the border of Louisiana until right before the Gulf Coast.
This post will cover the Northern part of the Texas Piney Woods, a region full of beautiful nature to explore, adorable small towns and unique historical destinations.
The serene forests of the Piney Woods region make for the perfect escape from Dallas, Austin or Houston!
The mysteriously beautiful Caddo Lake is a must-visit in the Upper Piney Woods. Caddo Lake is said to be one the only lakes in Texas to form naturally. A dam was added when water levels began to fall in 1912, but the lake has maintained its natural characteristics and diverse assortment of birds and fish. The lake creates a feeling of eeriness as clumps of spanish moss hang from 400 year cypress trees, and is one of the most uniquely beautiful bits of nature that I’ve found in Texas.
Be sure to see the gorgeous Mill Pond at Caddo Lake State Park. There are incredible views of the lily-pad clad pond from the dock, but rent a kayak to get the full experience. To go on a guided boat tour of the lake, head to the miniscule town of Uncertain, Texas where you’ll find multiple tour operators. A boat tour is the perfect way to learn all about the wildlife and the ins and outs of the water.
Ready to plan your trip? Check out my guide for more detail on visiting Caddo Lake.
Minutes from Caddo Lake, the Texas town of Jefferson has a history of serving as a prominent port of entry to the Republic of Texas and later the state of Texas. There are many historic sights in the city, including haunted hotels, a trestle bridge and a railcar belonging to a railroad developer. Other notable places include the Jefferson General Store, for a variety of food and gifts; the Museum of Measurement and Time, for an interesting collection of timepieces and salt and pepper shakers; and Kitt’s Kornbread Sandwich and Pie Bar, for all things cornbread. Also check out the Turn Basin Trail for great views of the historic Howe Truss Train Trestle bridge. It has a LED lightshow every night.
Learn more about visiting Jefferson in my Caddo Lake and Jefferson guide!
Tyler State Park is a popular Piney Woods destination perfect for camping, hiking and enjoying the trees. It is conveniently located an hour and a half east of Dallas. The park was built by the CCC in the 1930’s. They transformed a treeless land (cleared away from earlier logging and farming) to the tranquil place it is today. The CCC planted over 600 acres of native trees and shrubs and today there is a mature pine-hardwood forest surrounding the lake in the center.
Tyler State Park has all types of activities, with over 13 miles of trails and a lake. Some of the best trails include the Lakeshore Trail to see clumps of lily pads on the edges of the lake, the Whispering Pines Trail to walk a trail built by the CCC and the D and C loop for a forested trail that weaves past beautiful trees and streams. There are plenty of campsites in the park, and you can also rent multiple types of boats and swim at the beach. The park costs $6 per person without a Texas state park pass.
Looking for more places to hike outside of Dallas, TX? Check out this list!
The city of Tyler is the largest city in Northeast Texas and has a lot to offer. Many are drawn to the town for the annual rose festival in the fall or the Azalea trail in the spring. Year round, visit the 14-acre Tyler Rose Garden to see over 500 types of roses and other plants. Other things to do include exploring historic downtown Tyler, enjoying a cup of coffee at The Foundry, learning about trains at the Cotton Belt Depot Museum or learning about planes at the Historic Aviation Memorial Museum. After some exploring, enjoy a drink in a large patio at True Vine Brewing Company.
Kiepersol Winery and Distillery is located just south of Tyler and is a premier destination for Texas made wine. The property has 63 acres of vineyards and offers tours of the wine making process. You can have a tasting of wine or spirits, enjoy a meal at the restaurant or even stay onsite in the RV park or bed and breakfast. The winery has been open since 1998 and the distillery was added in 2014.
Daingerfield State Park is a small but charming park that is fallen in love with easily. The park has beautiful pine forests, a central lake and a beautiful CCC-built combination building to enjoy. There are two trails in the park totaling 3.6 miles. The Mountain View trail offers views of the surrounding valley and the lake, while the Rustling Leaves Trail goes around the lake with views of the water. Halfway through the Rustling Leaves Trail, there are picnic tables that allow for a scenic break. In the summer, you can swim or paddle in the lake. The park costs $4 per person without the Texas state park pass.
For a unique and very “Texas” attraction, stop by the world’s richest acre in Kilgore. The attraction is a 1.2 acre concentration of retired oil derricks representing the town’s history during the East Texas oil boom. In the 1940’s, the town had over 1000 oil derricks but few are still in operation today. The world’s richest acre is free to walk around and has plagues with more history and information. If you are interested in oil, the town is also home to the East Texas Oil Museum.
For a refreshing treat, visit Tropical Paradise Fresh Fruits and Smoothies located in the small town of Jacksonville. This spot has a multitude of delicious treats including fresh fruit smoothies, aguas frescas and monster ice cream creations with all kinds of toppings. The space is bright, colorful and is a gem in the tiny town of Jacksonville. Nearby, check out the rest stop Love’s Lookout for a 30 mile view of the area.
The Getaway House offers neighborhoods of tiny and adorable cabins outside of major cities around the US, including a property in the Piney Woods. This location is located an hour and a half east of Dallas in LaRue, Texas. The cabin includes all of the comforts you need for a romantic and rustic weekend. There is a large comfortable bed, a kitchen with plenty of supplies and a bathroom. There is also a peaceful campfire area outside of each cabin. The details are what make the cabin special; the large window where you can gaze at the forest from the bed, the lockbox for your cell phones and escapism books to read. The property also has a few easy trails for stretching your legs. You can spend the entire weekend in the cabin or use it as a starting point for exploring more of the Piney Woods.
Learn more details about visiting in my detailed review of the glamping experience!
If you like flea shopping, be sure to visit the largest flea market in the world at Canton First Mondays. Trade began happening in Canton on the first Monday of the month in the 1850’s. Today, it is no longer on Monday, but the name has remained. The market takes place one weekend a month and has a huge selection of about everything you could imagine. There are handcrafted goods, vintage furniture, car parts and more. There are also many food vendors so you can easily make a whole day out of the experience.
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