Explore the Piney Woods and Rose Capital of America in East Texas

Updated: Oct. 08, 2020

Originally Published In

For your next getaway head to East Texas' scenic Piney Woods, where you'll find fall beauty in unexpected places.

piney woods in TexasWestend61/Getty Images
Caddo Lake State Park is a must-see in the Piney Woods.

All around our little house in the woods, an East Texas autumn engulfs us with pure life and the vibrant colors of auburn maple trees, rich brown oak leaves, and resilient, green, ever-present pines. From the rolling pastures where the longhorns graze, the chilling wind brushes past our cheeks. When fall settles herself in this special part of the world, there’s nowhere more beautiful than the Piney Woods.

Covering 23,000 square miles, this patch of northeast Texas is home to abundant natural beauty nestled between the pines’ whispering green needles. Summer is hot; winter is a week long, if we’re lucky; and autumn is just about perfect.

The Piney Woods is a must-see for your next fall vacation. The natural beauty of our soft hills, blanketed by thick forests of evergreen and oak, surpasses expectations. In little towns tucked under the changing trees, there are secrets, stories and hidden adventures waiting to charm, amaze and inspire whoever happens upon them.

Rose Capital of America

I grew up in Tyler, the region’s largest town, which means roses have filled my life for as long as I can remember. Pink petals and bristling thorns surrounded my house and most buildings in the area.

Tyler’s nickname, the Rose Capital of America, came from its booming rose industry, which today exports $50 million worth of blooms a year. America’s largest rose garden, the 14-acre Tyler Municipal Rose Garden, provides the perfect place for a picnic, with beautiful rows of rosebushes blooming in October and May, and ponds, fountains and archways giving structure to the blooms.

The sweet scent of the flowers floats through the Texas humidity, enchanting visitors and locals alike. Inside the Visitor’s Center, you can find a museum displaying dresses, historical facts, and memorabilia from the Texas Rose Festival, a pageant showcasing the Texas Rose Parade. During the parade, the Texas Rose Queen and her court greet the waiting onlookers with dignified waves and fantastic dresses. If you’re visiting Tyler in 2021, make sure to catch our town’s 87th annual Texas Rose Festival to see a celebration of elegance in the streets.

Fishing and Camping

Although Tyler roses are stunning, the Piney Woods isn’t all delicate petals and pageant shows. The people who live in the depths of East Texas enjoy a life spent outdoors, connected to the nature that surrounds the area—both domesticated and a little more unpredictable. Along with many other exceptional parks and gardens, Lake Palestine, a reservoir in the Tyler area, engages the wilder side of visitors and Tylerites alike.

If catching a record bass is your idea of a perfect vacation, look no further than Lake Fork. This slice of watery paradise is a fisher’s dream come true. Lake Fork holds the record for 34 of the 50 largest bass caught in the state. Everything’s bigger in Texas! Another with good fishing and even better camping is Lake o’ the Pines. Surrounded by campgrounds and parks, this reservoir in Marion County is known as the best in Texas for canoeing, camping and experiencing the beauty of the Piney Woods. Adorning its shoreline and the many islets are herons, scissor-tailed flycatchers and occasional bald eagles. Bring the RV or a tent and bask in the balmy weather and bird-watching on a fall weekend by the lake.

Caddo Lake State Park also belongs on your must-see list. Caddo Lake lies under a gentle spread of cypress trees. Spanish moss and a constant mist create a feeling of mystical awe as visitors fish, canoe, kayak, or simply enjoy the sights around the giant reservoir.

The park has 70 species of fish. Be sure to watch for alligators and snakes. You can find many camping sites, historic cabins or RV parks in the area. Visiting Caddo Lake immerses you in a pocket of the world filled with dreamy beauty and endless possibilities.

piney woods arboretumCourtesy Roberta Smith / Country magazine
Mast Arboretum

Hiking and Birding

Campers and hikers will find their paradise in Daingerfield State Park. From roughing it in sleeping bags to reserving historic cabins with showers and kitchens, Daingerfield offers plenty of resources for visitors interested in hiking the multitude of trails throughout the park. If you want to stick around the area after your camping adventure, the popcorn at the Daingerfield movie theater is the best in Texas.

Whether you’re looking to fish, bird-watch or just have a fun day at the lake, East Texas’ mild winters and beautiful lakes provide a place for you to experience a wild and untamed natural heritage guarded under evergreen pines.

Fortney Home in Piney WoodsCourtesy Ashley Morgan / Country magazine
Fortney Home antique shop

Charming Small Towns

In this natural setting, the towns of the Piney Woods fascinate visitors with their unique cultures. From Jacksonville, known as “the tomato capital of the world” in the 1930s, to Canton, home of First Monday Trade Days, these areas have a lot to offer. The small city of Nacogdoches might have the most interesting culture of all. When visiting Nac, be sure to stop in the antique stores or one of the many coffee shops, like Nine Flags Coffee Roasters, and ask a BIN (Born in Nac) about some of the hidden treasures that tourists might miss.

For example, BINs know to visit the Mast Arboretum, a garden designed by college students, in the mornings when the mists linger between sculptures created by generations of artists; they know that of the many parks in Nac, Pecan Acres Park provides a special trail along the edge of burbling Lanana Creek; and they know to visit Fortney Home, an antique shop to end all antique shops. All these places and more showcase the unique culture of the oldest town in the state of Texas.

These are only a few of the towns that give the Piney Woods its indescribable charm, which you can experience for yourself if you happen to wander our way when the leaves start to change. You won’t be disappointed if you do. All my life I’ve found sanctuary, adventure and history underneath these whispering pines, where nature enchants like nowhere else.

Here, rolling hills along the riversides and lakefronts burn with the colors of fall. Roses are blooming again. The Piney Woods await.

Originally Published in Country