The warmer weather seems to be sticking around, which means it’s time to bare our pale winter legs and enjoy the beautiful East Texas outdoors! One of the most family-friendly outdoor activities is to go on a hike together, with the added benefits that it gets your blood flowing and instantly charms the “Good Mood” fairy in children from the endorphin release. Admission is typically only a few bucks for the adults and older kids in your group. Pack a picnic lunch (or stop by your favorite sandwich eatery for a to-go bag), grab the dog’s leash, and head to check out one of these East Texas hikes this weekend!
Tyler State Park
Tyler State Park is the most popular park in East Texas because of its convenient location off I-20. TSP offers several hiking trails, but two are very kid-friendly. Right upon entrance to the park, Whispering Pines Trail will greet you. It is an easy .75 mi hike that slowly meanders through the Pineywoods, but is quickly over even for the shortest of toddler legs. Tell your kids to keep their eyes out for the small waterfall and the wading pool built by the Civilian Conversation Corp (CCC) over 70 years ago. For a variety of sights, visit the Lakeshore Trail. It is very flat and has many spots for picnics (pack a blanket!) and fishing (TSP loans out fishing poles and gear.) to make your hike full of nature activities.
Ratcliff at Davy Crockett National Forest
Deeper in East Texas near the towns of Alto and Kennard, Ratcliff Recreation Area is off-the-beaten path for most but is worth the drive. The 2019 Alto tornado damage is devastatingly breathtaking as you drive through the forest to the park. within Davy Crockett National Forest provides access to two kid-friendly hikes: the 1.5-mile Tall Pines trail and the shorter .75-mile Trail Tamers trail. Kids of all ages can tackle both trails. While in the park, visit the sawmill ruins, a playground of historic proportions, and have lunch lakeside.
Atlanta State Park
Almost to the border with Arkansas (about 2.5 hours from Tyler), sits Wright Patman Lake and Atlanta State Park. All five of the park’s hiking trails are kid friendly, ranging from .5 miles to 1.25 miles. Trails can be combined end-to-end to reach your desired destination. Fishing poles and gear can be checked out at the ranger station and hike to your perfect fishing spot. As the weather continues to warm, pack your swimsuits and take the Bobo’s Ferry Trail to the swimming beach.
Martin Creek Lake State Park
Centrally located in East Texas, this small park packs a big punch with fisherman as the lake is heated year-round by the power plant. Four miles of hiking trails lie within this park’s borders. The Old Henderson Road Loop traces a former trade route for travelers between Henderson and Shreveport. On the completely flat 1.5-mile Harmony Hill Loop, look for remnants of the community of Harmony Hill and walk through an old pine plantation. Jump on the Island Trails, which offer access to the lake in many spots for rock skipping and toe dipping.
Caddo Lake State Park
Families can spend a whole day exploring Caddo Lake State Park and its trails. Rent a canoe at the park and venture out to explore the more than 50 miles of paddling trails. Start your trail among the bald Cypress tress covered in Spanish moss in the swamp and meander uphill through different types of forests to the towering pine curtain. The Caddo Forest hiking trail leads to the CCC-built pavilion where family and friends would gather in the 1930s. Sets of stairs are incorporated into many of the hilly trails, providing launching pads for kids to jump down.
Parks offer different amenities and activities for families and kids. Most East Texas State Parks have Kids Explorer Packs that can be checked out at the park’s Ranger Station. Binoculars, sketch pads, games, wildlife ID charts, and more fill these bags and can keep your kids engaged along your hikes. Parks also offer programs on their nature and history, as well as lead hikes and paddles. Be sure to check out the events calendar for the park before you go in case you can catch a ranger program. If you’re looking for a longer getaway, all of these parks offer great campsites for families!