The city of Jefferson is a small town located in the Piney Woods of East Texas and is one of Texas's most historical tourist destinations. Jefferson is known for having over 135 recognized historic structures, including historic bed and breakfast accommodations, charming restaurants, and its quaint historic downtown. Whether you're interested in history, attractions, food, or shopping, the city of Jefferson has something unique to offer everyone who visits.
There's no shortage of things to do in and near Jefferson, and depending on your preferences, you'll find many things to do indoors and out to keep you busy and entertained. I spent two nights, and I made sure I took in as much of what Jefferson has to offer outdoors as possible. I even met a lovely couple who stayed at the same bed and breakfast as I did (more on that below!), and we ended up doing a few things together. Here are nine fun outdoor things to do while visiting Jefferson.
1. Historic Tours Of Jefferson
Discover the history and charm of Jefferson in a one-hour narrated scenic tour in a covered shuttle that seats up to 12 people. You'll get a look at some of Jefferson's most adorned historic homes, bed and breakfasts, historical structures, and the downtown shopping area while learning about the history of Jefferson. The owner told me weekends are busy, and it's best to purchase tickets in advance on their website, tourjefferson.com. But during the week, he is not as busy, so be sure to call before you purchase your tickets. They also offer bicycle rentals.
2. Rent A Golf Cart
As I was walking around the downtown area, I saw people on golf carts, and on the side of the cart was a sign that said, Rent me. Renting a golf cart is a great option to tour the city on your own, and also great for people who can not be on their feet all day or for anyone who would rather ride than walk. You can grab a map and brochures at the visitor center and tool around town at your leisure.
While you're out and about, be sure to stop in at the Jefferson General Store to grab a coffee for only 5 cents or an old fashioned shake -- or both. Don't forget to get a photo of the iconic old blue truck out front. You can't miss it. The phone number for renting a golf cart is (903) 665-0359.
3. Historic Jefferson Railway
Climb aboard a gas-powered locomotive steam train for an eight-mile narrated ride through the historic Piney Woods along the scenic Big Cypress Bayou. The ride includes a stop at the Diamond Don Gator Pit for alligator feeding (weather permitting). Saturday tours are at 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. This excursion is great for the whole family. Visit the Historic Jefferson Railway site for more information.
4. Rent A Kayak Or Canoe
Not only is Made in the Shade a cool place to shop for vintage-inspired fashions and accessories, but they also offer kayak and canoe rentals. You can rent one and take it with you to launch where you want, or they will take you down to the bayou and drop you off. Each rental comes with life jackets, oars, plastic phone cases, and an ice chest full of water -- all for $25 a person for two hours. The owner mentioned that there had been several sightings of a small “gator” down on the bayou.
5. Historic Jefferson Ghost Walk Tour
The Historic Jefferson Ghost Walk Tour is a one-hour and 50-minute night walking tour through Jefferson’s dark alleyways and courtyards that involves listening to vivid accounts of historical tragedies, murder, and ghostly encounters. If this is your thing, I highly recommend checking it out. The Ghost Walk Tour is the most requested tour in town. Keep this in mind and know that their weekend tours can fill up quickly. Tours are offered during the week if enough people are interested.
6. Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge
From sunrise to sunset, enjoy the scenery of mature bald cypress trees that are nearly 400 years old and approximately 216 bird, 47 mammal, and 90 reptile and amphibian species in this refuge about 20 minutes outside of town. For hike and bike enthusiasts, this is a great place to experience the great outdoors while catching sights of the numerous resident and migratory bird species. Outdoor enthusiasts will love the hiking trail along the nine-mile-long Wildlife Observation Trail. There is also a specified auto tour route, which is one of the best ways to experience the beauty of Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Through light rain, thunder, and some lightning, we enjoyed our car ride and seeing deer run across our path. If time permits, take a drive through Caddo Lake State Park, which is in the same vicinity.
7. Caddo Lake Bayou Tours
Caddo Lake is recognized by many as the only natural lake in Texas and is home to the world's largest bald cypress forest. There's something so mysterious about Spanish moss hanging off tall 400-year-old cypress trees. I felt as though I was in a scary movie as we were meandering around swamps and bayous while listening to Rick, the owner of Caddo Lake Bayou Tours, telling us about how many people have said that they saw Big Foot out there.
If you like early morning activities, you're in luck -- so does Rick. At sunrise, he will take you out on his pontoon boat and tell you all about the riverport history of Jefferson, the big cypress trees, lotus flowers, why Don Henley still has ties to the lake, and much more. Don't be surprised if you see the eyes of an alligator (we didn't, but you could). Tours run throughout the day and year-round. Weekends are busy, but during the week, it is not. Plan ahead for this wonderful excursion on the bayou.
Pro Tip: The lotus flowers come out at 7 a.m. and close up at 1 p.m.
8. Enoch’s Stomp Vineyard And Winery
Fewer than 25 minutes from downtown Jefferson, you'll find yourself in the rolling hills of Harleton, Texas, and on 89 acres surrounded by vibrant green meadows and 12 acres of grapevines at Enoch's Stomp Vineyard and Winery. You can enjoy a wide variety of premium wines, wine tastings, and fine dining in the winery’s log home restaurant. Throughout the year, they offer special events such as Valentine's Dinner, Mother's Day Brunch, Pumpkin Stomp, and more.
9. Karma Farms Horseback Riding
Every time I take a trip somewhere, I always check to see if there's horseback riding available nearby. If you like to ride horses, I found this place, which is a short drive on Highway 59 from Jefferson. They offer trail riding by the hour on Colonial Spanish horses by reservation only. I spoke with Vicki, the owner, and she told me they have trail rides starting at 1:30 p.m., but her 6 p.m. sunset trail ride is her favorite and the most popular. So, I booked my ride for that time. Well, the rain canceled that appointment, but I rescheduled for the next day. My trail ride was just Vicki and me, and she was so full of information and knowledge that I now know all about Colonial Spanish horses, butterflies, and elderberries. This trail ride, by far, was the best I've ever experienced. I even got to trot my horse a couple of times. Karma Farms received excellent reviews on TripAdvisor and in several newspapers. Next time I'm in this area, I will look them up. From the reviews I read, it seems like it's "a once in a lifetime ride" and "a ride like no other." Check out Karma Farms on Facebook or call (903) 407-0298.
If you're looking for a place to unwind, grab a bite to eat, and perhaps a shot of whiskey, McGarity's Restaurant and Saloon offers a full bar, lunch and dinner menus, weekend entertainment, and Sunday brunch. They are open every day of the week until midnight (and 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday), and outdoor seating is available on the patio as well as inside. You'll find this place off the beaten path at 208 W Dallas Street. It’s another great Jefferson place that offers excellent customer service.
During my short time in Jefferson, I learned that most excursions do not operate during the week as they do on weekends. Weekends are their busiest days, and during the week they are hit or miss. Some places are closed on Mondays, and some excursions are only offered on weekends. But if there are enough people interested in a particular tour during the week, most operators will make arrangements for it to happen. So keep this in mind when planning your trip.
With over 25 bed and breakfasts, five hotels, cabin rentals, and several RV parks nearby, there's no doubt you'll find the perfect place to stay. When I planned my getaway to Jefferson, staying at a quaint bed and breakfast was high on my list. After several clicks and review readings, I decided on the White Oak Manor Bed and Breakfast. There's nothing better than a home-cooked breakfast and the feeling of comfort and warmth in somebody else's home. This bed and breakfast will not disappoint!