The Pineywoods region of East Texas is more than just beautiful in scenery. This is a great area for busy families of all kinds to get away and go have some fun. Area attractions by cities within the region include:
Alto: The small town of Alto located on the El Camino Real (or Old San Antonio Road) holds appeal for those interested in Texas history. Local notable historic structures include the Williams Chapel, the Methodist Episcopal Church, and the F.B. Guinn residence. Just outside of Alto, Caddo Mounds Historic Site offers a look into the lives and customs of early native peoples of Texas. Nearby Mission Tejas State Park also houses a reconstructed version of the Mission Tejas. For those less enthused by the rich history involved, the state park also provides a place to get out and enjoy some of the natural beauty of the region. Towering pines, oaks, and other hardwoods dominate the many peaceful trails within the park. Going through all of the historical information associated with the sites in this small radius that span several centuries of the heritage of Texas could easily take the majority of a day. For history buffs or those looking to enrich their children’s education in Texas history, this area is well worth the drive out to visit.
Canton: Splash Kingdom – A great water park for all ages, Splash Kingdom features six water slide rides for swimmers 42 inches and above, one for younger children under 52 inches, a wave pool, and a lazy river. Especially in the middle of the Texas summer heat, Splash Kingdom is a winner for the whole family.
East Texas Gators and Wildlife Park – Located in Grand Saline just 15 minutes east of Canton, this is a great place to see alligators from hatchlings to fully grown adults, the largest being over 14 feet in length. Also on site is a duck pond complete with various waterfowl and aquariums full of snakes, turtles, spiders, lizards, finches, parrots, and, of course, fish. They do wildlife rehab as well, so be sure to ask if they have any rescues on hand. You might get a brief lesson on rehabbing native wildlife while being able to interact with a young raccoon or opossum.
Canton Trade Days – Canton Trade Days are an experience unique to East Texas. Like a massive flea market (with much more new merchandise than used), the goods sold range from home furnishings and antiques to automotive accessories and ATVs. Trade days are held Thursday through Sunday before the first Monday of the month, at which time the small town becomes packed with visitors. While there is plenty of lodging available in the area to handle the monthly influx of tourists, it sometimes pays off to wait until the “off season”. The busiest times are spring and fall, and bargains tend to abound during summer and winter as vendors become more flexible with fewer customers and new stock to rotate through. However, a trip at any time of year to this market of over 100 acres provides a fun, unique shopping experience for just about any type of buyer.
Carthage: The city motto is “Country at its best!” True to its roots, Carthage sports the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, the Tex Ritter museum (in the Hall), and the Jim Reeves Memorial. The Esquire Theater has live country music and even hayrides every Saturday night.
Marshall: – Marshall, Texas, dubbed “the birthplace of boogie woogie,” offers live music which dominates the local culture. On second Saturdays from March through November, sidewalk shows line the streets filled with classic cars. Closer to nightfall, the free street concerts begin. Nearly every other night of the week, venues from family restaurants to pubs and open air areas host both regional and national performers. With a wide range of musical genres represented, the one commonality you’ll find among all of the performances is that the dance floor is never empty.
October’s FireAnt Festival in Marshall is also a must for music lovers. This family friendly event features a parade kicking off a full day of musical and dance performances with other fun activities such as the Fireant 5k and the Tour de Fireant cycling event.
If you happen to be in town during the month of December, Marshall’s annual Wonderland of Lights is something you’ll want to see. Downtown Marshall and the Historic Harrison County Courthouse offer illuminated displays rivalling many larger cities’ Christmas light events nationwide. While there, visitors can take a carriage ride, visit Mrs. Claus’ kitchen and Santa’s workshop, and as long as it hasn’t been too unseasonably warm, ice skate on an outdoor rink. Other family activities are offered, and on New Year’s Eve, you can kick off the New Year with the live entertainment downtown.
Nacogdoches: – Nacogdoches ‘ Millard’s Crossing Historic Village makes a great field trip for the kids, inviting visitors to take a step back in time as they meander through the reconstructed historic village. The village offers award winning tours of reconstructed structures illustrating the nineteenth century architecture of East Texas stocked with antiques specific to the period. With lots of hands-on activities for kids, the village provides a fun and educational experience for families.
Zip Nac -For the more adventurous at heart, Zip Nac of Nacogdoches is a great destination. With 60 acres of beautiful pine forest to hike and zip line through, the beauty and exhilaration of the two hour tour are beyond breathtaking. Open to visitors by reservation only, you’ll want to plan ahead to ensure availability. While making reservations, consider including a stay in the Zip Inn. Vacationers can rent one room or the entire three bedroom inn. The inn has all the amenities of a hotel in addition to an indoor game room and areas outside for volleyball, croquet, and basketball. For the less active party members, the hammock outside in the peaceful, forested environment provides the perfect escape. An overnight trip in this lovely, scenic setting could easily turn a zip lining tour into a weekend retreat.
Stephen F. Austin Planetarium – Astronomy lovers will have to plan a trip to the Stephen F. Austin Planetarium. Operated by the physics department of its namesake university, the planetarium offers an accurate depiction of the night sky for any date in the past or future. Also shown are short, educational and seasonal films, projected by lasers, slide projectors, and RGB special effects lighting system. With shows offered for ages 3 through high school, this is a fascinating experience that families and science enthusiasts alike will find worthwhile.
Jacksonville: Jacksonville is home to Cherokee Trace Safari, a 300-acre open preserve caring for several dozen exotic and endangered species. Animals from nearly every continent are featured here from capybaras to zebu along with native Texan species in this drive-through safari. Kids will especially enjoy the opportunity to feed (on the ground only) these magnificent animals while getting an up-close, but safe vantage point from the car.
Tyler: Home to the Texas Rose Festival and nicknamed the “Rose Capital of the World,” Tyler definitely lives up to its reputation with the Tyler Municipal Rose Garden. More than 500 varieties of roses span fourteen lush acres of rose garden. The premises and landscape are immaculate and the open layout and tranquil, aesthetic atmosphere would appear to rose enthusiasts and casual guests alike. No admission is charged to visit the garden, which is open daily from dawn to dusk. If in the Tyler area, the Rose Garden is something you won’t want to pass up.
- The Caldwell Zoo – Tyler’ Caldwell Zoo features North American, South American, and African habitats along with a few aquariums, North American Herpetarium, and Wild Bird Walkabout. With over 3,400 animals to observe, it’s respectable in size and variety and also offers a petting zoo and play area for younger kids.
- Discovery Science Place – This science museum is a great place for younger kids to play, learn, and explore. The museum has lots of hands-on activities, dramatic play areas, and various physics and earth-based exhibits to keep kids busy. Parents will want to bring a camera to capture all of the memorable moments their children create while learning through play.