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The Great Outdoors in East Texas – An Itinerary for Explorers

East Texas is a beautiful region filled with lakes, bayous, rivers, and pine forests. Towards the east, visitors can expect to find an impressive and breathtaking pine forests that extends to Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. West of the pine forests are the ranchlands and remnant oak forests of the East Central Texas forests ecoregion. Venturing south, visitors will be welcomed by expansive savannahs as well as the Gulf Coast where you can enjoy a day at the beach or a biological exploration into the many estuaries. 

Thanks to the humid subtropical climate unique to the area, small rivers and creeks collect into bayous that then merge seamlessly into the surrounding forest. Bald Cypresses and Spanish Moss flourish around these bayous, which flow east into Caddo Lake, a picturesque lake filled with intriguing mystique. 

Not sure where to begin? We’ve combed through various outdoor parks, preserves, and refuges in East Texas to find the most beautiful natural attractions that you should visit next time around!

1. Hiking @ Big Thicket National Preserve 

Address: FM 420, Kountze, TX 7762

https://www.nps.gov/bith/index.htm

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 Big Thicket National Preserve is part of a larger pine forest called Piney Woods that extends to Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Located in the Southwest of Piney Woods, the Big Thicket National Preserve is an area with a lot of biodiversity, and is touted as America’s Ark. It is also recognized as a biosphere reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The Big Thicket is a transition zone where southeastern swamps, eastern deciduous forests, central plains, pine savannas, and dry sandhills meet. The convergence of different habitats allows for an impressive biodiversity that cannot be found anywhere else. 

 At Big Thicket, visitors can embark on any of the hiking trails to begin their self-directed meandering through nine different ecosystems. With over 300 bird species found in the area, it is also a wonderful place for bird watchers to park and try to spot their favorite birds. Other activities available on site include paddling and camping. Big Thicket National Preserve is a bit far from the ACRV Park at over three hours away, but trust us, this is an adventure that you do not want to miss.

2. Paddling @ Caddo Lake

Address: 245 Park Road 2. Karnack, TX 75661

https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/caddo-lake

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East Texas can also offer a romantic bayou experience because of its proximity to Louisiana. Many often forget that Texas borders this southern-belle state to the East, and if you’re ever in East Texas, be sure to take the opportunity to explore the swampy bayous along the border. 

Caddo Lake is a 25,400-acre lake and wetland on the border between Texas and Louisiana. It is essentially an old, flooded cypress forest where trees could reach 400 years in age. Because of the especially dense tree growth, Caddo Lake can be a complex maze for amateur, but if you can find your way around a kayak or canoe, it is undoubtedly also a stunning journey. The state park is open to the public for fishing as well. The lake contains over 71 species of fish, and the most commonly found species are the crappie, largemouth or white bass. The best part? Caddo Lake is only an hour away from ACRV Park, making it perfect as a one-day excursion.

3. Railroad Treks @ Mineola Nature Preserve

1860 County Road 2724. Mineola, TX 75773

https://mineolanaturepreserve.com/

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The Mineola Nature Preserve on the Sabine River spans 2,911 acres and is home to 193 species of birds, numerous wildlife, buffalo, longhorn cattle. The reserve is essentially, a pristine wetland, and in addition to beautiful natural scenery and diverse wildlife, it is also home to a now obsolete railroad bed that was built in the 1880s. Though not as popular or well-known as Caddo Lake or Big Thicket, we believe that Mineola Nature Preserve is an absolute gem in the rough. If you get the chance, Mineola is absolutely stunning in the fall as leaves turn various shades of yellow, orange, and red.

Operated by the City of Mineola, the nature preserve offers a wealth of activities such as camping, canoeing, disc golf, horseback riding, mountain biking, star gazing, and hiking. It also regularly hosts various festivals to correspond with seasonal phenomena. So please check out their official website listed above and be on the lookout for any upcoming events! Less than 50 minutes from ACRV Park, make sure to stop by this quaint city and enjoy all the nature it has to offer.

4. Fishing @ Sabine National Forest

Address: 5050 TX-21, Hemphill, TX 75948

https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/texas/about-forest/districts/?cid=fswdev3_008442

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Another beautiful natural attraction located within Piney Woods, the Sabine National Forest covers over 160,656 acres and is an ecologically diverse and rich forest that has sustained nomadic hunters for over 10,000 years. The Sabine National Forest is best known for its extensive forests of American beech and other hardwood trees. 

Sabine National Forest has a total of five parks with campgrounds: Indian Mounds, Lakeview, Ragtown, Red Hills Lake, and Willow Oak. Its geography can be characterized as pine-hardwood woodlands with flat to rolling terrain. While Indian Mounds, Lakeview, Ragtown, and Willow oak are all on the Toledo Bend Reservoir, Red Hills has a seventeen-acre lake with a swimming beach. The national forest offers many different recreational activities from more relaxing events such as camping and picnicking to active, outdoor events like boating, hunting, fishing, and hiking. A two-hour drive from ACRV Park, the Sabine National Forest is a great site to explore as you move south towards the coastline or simply for a one-day excursion.

5. Birdwatching @ McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge

Address: 7950 S Gulfway Dr, Sabine Pass, TX 77655

https://www.fws.gov/refuge/mcfaddin/

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The McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge is a 58,861-acre refuge that houses the largest remaining freshwater marsh along the Texas Coast and thousands of acres of intermediate to brackish marsh. The refuge is part of the Texas Chenier Plain Refuge Complex and offers an important feeding and resting habitat for waterfowls migrating between the months of October and March. Thousands of waterfowls and other bird species will visit the Mcfaddin National Wildlife Refuge each year to feed and forage. 

It offers the public front row seats to observe these migrating birds and educates the public about our surrounding wildlife. The refuge has around 5 miles of interior roads that leads you to viewing platforms and boat ramps. At McFaddin, visitors can also participate in any of the following activities: hunting, fishing, crabbing, wildlife watching, and hiking. The best part? McFaddin National Wildlife Reserve is absolutely free to the public and is open 7 days a week. McFaddin takes you all the way down to the coastline and will take around 4 hours and 30 minutes to reach but is absolutely worth it during migratory seasons.

6. Tanning @ Galveston Island State Park

Address: 14901 FM3005, Galveston, TX 77554

https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/galveston-island

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Galveston Island State Park is, as the name indicates, located on Galveston Island off the coast of Galveston County. The park is home to dunes, estuaries, wetlands, brackish ponds, and beaches. Visitors can enjoy explore wildlife in estuaries and wetlands in the morning before jumping into swimsuits to relax on the beach. If you want to feel more in touch with nature, the Galveston Island State Park is also open to the public for camping.

There are numerous trails that visitors can explore on the park’s 2,013 acres of land. With both a beach side and bay side, the park truly caters to all coast lovers. At the Galveston Island State Park, you can swim, fish, birdwatch, hike, paddle, geocache or simply relax. If you’re bringing kids, have them join the junior ranger program to turn a family outing into a day of fun and learning. Only interested in beach activities? We’d recommend you skip the state park and go to one of the many beautiful beaches on Galveston Island. Another destination along the coast, Galveston Island State Park is also 4 hours from the landlocked ACRV Park but will make for a great next-stop destination!

If you’re interested in seeing any of the places above, consider coming by and staying with us, we’d love to see you and help you explore the beauty of East Texas!

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