Visiting state parks is a great way to explore the majestic beauty of the eastern part of the Lone Star State, and the drive to get to them is equally impressive, especially in the cooler months. My favorite season is spring until fall rolls around, then I’m wondering how I could love spring flowers more than warm fall colors. It’s so hard to choose! With an average rainfall of 43 inches per year, this part of Texas gets covered in blankets of beautiful wildflowers in springtime that is worth coming to see. But when autumn arrives, you can’t beat the fall foliage in this area.
Much of east Texas is composed of evergreen forests, hilly terrain, tall pine trees, and bayous and black water swamps the closer you get to the Louisiana border. All this coupled with freshwater lakes, wildlife galore, and good fishing make this area an outdoor playground that keeps visitors coming back year after year.
These state parks listed here boast outdoor activities for the hiker, camper, fisherman, and nature lover. If you and your family are overdue for an outdoor escape, head to one of these 10 beautiful state parks that I’ve been to or have known about all my life. Spring or fall, summer or winter, east Texas parks show off all four seasons.
1. Tyler State Park, Tyler
One of the most visited state parks in East Texas is Tyler State Park, with impressive fishing, renting cabins, and hiking trails. Anything you can think of doing outdoors, you can do it here. Fishing for crappie, perch, catfish, and bass is a popular pastime, and there’s plenty to go around. Bring a pole or ask for a loaner rod and cast out from one of the piers. You don’t need a fishing license to fish from the piers. With plenty of cabins, screened-in shelters, tent spaces, this state park would make a great camping weekend for the whole family. Swimming in the lake, hiking, biking, geocaching, and birdwatching are more available outdoor activities. Whether you visit for an afternoon or a weekend, you will find plenty to do. If you want to visit the town, check out things to do in Tyler, Texas.
Pro Tip: You’re in for a treat if you visit Tyler when they host their Texas Rose Festival each year in October.
2. Purtis Creek State Park, Eustace
Purtis Creek State Park is a huge outdoor retreat for beginners and pros to fish for largemouth bass in the 355-acre lake. But, if fishing is not your thing, there’s room to hike, bike, swim, explore nature, and more. Located southeast of Dallas, its shady campsites offer the camper a weekend of relaxed camping.
Pro Tip: If you want to explore a nice town close by, Athens has plenty to do, including attractions such as Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center, museums, and the beautiful east Texas Arboretum.
3. Caddo Lake State Park, Karnack
To look at the beautiful scenery of the ancient bald cypress trees and to explore the bayous, head to Caddo Lake State Park. This state park has one of the most impressive landscapes of all state parks in East Texas. You can rent a pine-log cabin or opt for a quaint bed and breakfast in the small town of Jefferson, Texas, which is literally down the road from the park. And, in case you’re wondering if there are alligators in the park — there are. But, I’ve never seen one!
Pro Tip: A few outfitters do private lake tours out on Caddo Lake and are worth checking into.
4. Fairfield State Park, Fairfield
Backpacking and horseback riding are just a few activities you can do at Fairfield State Park, but so are birdwatching and fishing. With all the oak, hickory, cedar, elm, dogwood, and redbud trees in this park, you can only imagine why the birds love it so much here. Anglers come here to fish for catfish, bass, carp, and freshwater redfish. If you’re lucky and go at the right time, there’s a chance you may see a bald eagle, white-tailed deer, foxes, and beavers. Watch for armadillos crossing the road!
Pro Tip: The park is about 80 miles southeast of Dallas and 150 miles north of Houston.
5. Martin Creek Lake State Park, Tatum
Martin Creek Lake State Park is a pretty park with a long footbridge extending to a small island with available campsites and picnic tables. The swimming area is clean, so bring your bathing suit, and this part of the park has picnic tables under a pavilion. Canoe rentals are an option as well. The park is directly east of Dallas on I-20, heading towards Longview, then just 20 miles southeast, you’ll be in a great spot among the East Texas woods. You can’t beat the fishing here — that is if you like bass and catfish. I also hear the hiking is good. Fish, hike, relax — repeat. And, if you’re up for it, enter a fishing tournament in the winter months, but be sure to check the website for specific dates.
Pro Tip: Around late October through the first two weeks of November, you’ll have a private showing of colorful fall foliage. To me, this is the best time to go.
6. Mission Tejas State Park, Grapeland
Enjoy the serenity and calmness of the tall pine trees and explore the history in this area, such as remnants of Spanish influence and a log home built in the early 1800s at Mission Tejas State Park. Smack dab in the middle of Dallas and Houston, by way of either the back roads or I-45, the park is located at the north end of the Davy Crockett National Forest. The hiking trails are reportedly spectacular. Plan to spend a few moments studying a couple of historical markers you will encounter along the way.
Pro Tip: If planning for a spring visit, the dogwood trees will be in bloom. And, if fall is your favorite time to explore parks, fall colors cover the ground in late October to early November.
7. Daingerfield State Park, Daingerfield
The very best time to visit Daingerfield State Park is in the fall if you enjoy the myriad colors. Whenever someone asks me where to go camping in the fall, this is where I lead them. The shades are incredible and heavy patches of cypress, sweetgum, and oak leaves sprawling out all over the entire park are a sight to see… and the weather ain’t bad either!
Pro Tip: If you love fall weather, fall foliage, fall everything, the best time to visit is in late October through November. East Texas is showing off this time of year.
8. Lake Bob Sandlin State Park, Pittsburg
In northeast Texas, about 110 miles from Dallas, lies Lake Bob Sandlin State Park, known as an excellent day park to visit for all things outdoors related. Swimming, boating, fishing, mountain biking, and the like — this park is suitable for all of them. And, if you’re up for primitive camping, there’s plenty of spots among the massive trees and tall grasses to choose a site. I’m not the primitive type of camper, but it’s definitely worth a day trip, especially in the fall when the weather cools down and the beauty of autumn peeks through. It’s also a great place for kids to earn a Junior Ranger badge.
Pro Tip: There are several small towns nearby with great restaurants and shopping.
9. Lake Livingston State Park, Livingston
Lake Livingston State Park sits on the edge of Lake Livingston, one of the state’s largest reservoirs, making it an ideal lake for boaters and fishermen. Campers will enjoy this area as well, from tent sites with water to campsites with full hookups and several screened-in cabins. Kids will love the free ranger programs offered at the park, and you might like to learn a new skill such as kayaking, fishing, or photography.
Pro Tip: Its location is only an hour north of the city of Houston and would make a great day destination for boating and swimming.
10. Martin Dies, Jr. State Park, Jasper
Hike or bike the forest trails along the edge of the Big Thicket. Afterward, nab a camping spot next to the lake where swimming, fishing, and paddling abound. If you brought the grandkids along, Martin Dies, Jr. State Park holds arts and crafts workshops several times a year for young kids to learn about the outdoors. It’s never too early to start the youngsters learning about bugs and dirt!
Pro Tip: You’re in forest country here, so be sure to check out Big Thicket National Preserve.
Camping At East Texas State Parks
State parks have some wonderful campsites, and if you’re considering camping in any of these Texas state parks, fees vary between $10-$25 per night. However, if you’re looking for other camp options, here are some of the best campgrounds in east Texas to pitch a tent or rent a cabin.
The state of Texas is a vast territory and state parks are just one vacation option: