Many people think of deserts and cowboys when they picture Texas; however, only about 10% of the state is desert. Also, that’s West Texas. East Texas has piney wood forests and sun and surf. This road trip covers everything from the gulf coast up to Jefferson, a nostalgic town of Jefferson, a pre-war city that boasts more than one hundred landmarks. The starting point of this road trip is in Galveston, which is about one hour south of Houston.
Here’s your trail from Galveston to Jefferson. I would highly recommend making this trip in the spring or fall as the summer humidity can make the road trip uncomfortable. Also? You’re more likely to be stuck in traffic with everyone else who is going down to the Gulf Coast.
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Galveston is a historic island town on the Gulf of Mexico. The nearby state park is a 2,000-acre public habitat that protects dunes, wetlands, beaches, estuaries, and brackish ponds. It has many trails for hikers, and you can also swim, picnic, or camp at the park. This park is a wildlife refuge, so if you prefer a more urban beach with a pier, try the nearby Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier.
Built in 1872, the historic Bolivar Point Lighthouse has served the port as both a lighthouse and as an emergency hurricane shelter. The cast iron lighthouse has rusted through the years and is now primarily black. As you head up to Anahuac, this lighthouse makes for a great stop to view a structure that has saved lives both in the ocean and on the shore.
The Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge protects 34,000 acres of coastal marsh and prairies. This site gives you an excellent opportunity to get out and walk, enjoy the salt air, and view the wildlife. You might also want to drive around Anahuac to the Shoveler Pond Trail and stop at the Shoveler Pond Overlook. The refuge trails are free of charge and are open from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset seven days a week. The visitor’s center is only open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Established in 1974, the Big Thicket Nature Preserve covers 112,501 acres and consists of nine separate land units as well as six water corridors. The preserve is a heavily forested area that can be used for beautiful, easy hiking and nature walk. I say easy because the terrain is mostly flat, so it’s not like hiking through the Ozarks. One word of caution is that the Turkey Creek Trail is still mostly closed due to flood damage from Hurricane Harvey, but there are other areas to explore. If you are wanting to stop (versus driving through for the scenery), the visitors center is a must-stop place for such a massive area of land.
The Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation is Texas’ oldest Indian reservation. The tribe has protected over 4,600-acres of woodlands since the mid-1800s. Explore the museum or visit Lake Tombigbee. At the reservation, you can watch demonstrations on basketry and beadwork, attend a powwow and watch authentic tribal dancing, and view a guided tour.
Sam Rayburn Reservoir winds through the piney woods in Angelina National Forest. There are several recreational areas along the shore. Ebenezer Park is of this area and is near the Sam Rayburn Dam. The park is also near the Sabine National Forest and the 20,700-acre Banister Wildlife Management Area.
Saint Augustine, Texas, was the site of one of the first European settlements in the area in 1717. Mission Dolores State Historic Site was established in 1721 and lasted until 1773 and is now preserved. The town of Saint Augustine began in 1832 and still maintains its rural, historic southern charm.
One of the first cities established in Texas was Marshall in 1841. Many of its older buildings still exist, such as the 1870 Maplecroft home and the 1986 Ginocchio Hotel. Marshall was a major railroad center until the mid-20th century, and its history can be found in this hotel which operated as a restaurant and hotel for railroad passengers.
Caddo Lake State Park is a 26,820-acre park with an 8,253-acre lake surrounded by bald cypress trees and wispy strands of Spanish moss. The lake, named for the Caddo Indians, is one of the few natural lakes in Texas.
Jefferson, Texas is a charming historic town deep in the piney woods that is known for its bed and breakfasts, antique shops, and historical landmarks. You can find a variety of restored buildings, museums, churches, and well-preserved homes, many that operate as bed and breakfasts. The Excelsior House itself has been in operation since the late 1950s and is still available to visitors today.
This road trip is 371 miles or around 8 hours with limited stops. If you plan to get out and view the sites, I would recommend making this a two-day trip and staying overnight somewhere along the route.