Nestled in the heart of East Texas, Tyler is the perfect city for your next Texas getaway. Known as “the Rose Capital of America,” Tyler lives up to its nickname, featuring a stunning rose garden, its famous Rose Parade, and plenty of opportunities to see flowers citywide.
And in a time when outdoor exploration and local travel is increasingly popular, there are plenty of activities to do in and around Tyler. I’ve visited Tyler three times now and have learned that it’s the perfect Texas city for getting your nature fix and quenching your wanderlust! I’ve organized this itinerary into three different days, but you can mix and match activities based on your interests. After the itinerary, I put a recommendation on where to stay (in fact, it’s my favorite place to stay in East Texas!) and my favorite food spots in Tyler.
Since you’re going to be outside a lot, be sure to grab your sunscreen and bring plenty of water. Also, you’ll want to have a mask on hand, as different locations have different rules. Even though these are almost entirely outdoor activities, masks are required in areas where social distancing is not possible, like at entrances or in stores/gift shops.
Before visiting these fun places, make sure to check ahead for individual restrictions and the travel safely across Texas page for health tips and resources.
Tyler Rose Garden
The Tyler Rose Garden is a must if you’re visiting Tyler. With over 500 rose varieties and 35,000 bushes on 14 acres, you can see just how much this city loves its roses!
In sections of the garden, you’ll find different things: bridges, benches, fountains, and ponds to name a few. Though peak bloom occurs in October and mid- to late-May, there are roses in the garden year-round.
Whether you want to spend an hour in the Meditation Garden among the koi or wander through rows of AARS (All American Rose Selection) winning roses along the yellow archway, there is plenty to explore at the Tyler Rose Garden. It’s also free to enter!
View the Rose Garden Center hours.
After exploring the Rose Garden, head over to Caldwell Zoo, Tyler’s 85-acre zoo with over 3,400 animals. Modified to allow for social distancing, Caldwell Zoo now requires reservations ahead of time, one-way foot traffic, and has a separate entrance and exit. My favorite thing to do at Caldwell Zoo is feeding the giraffes, which you can still do! It is $5 for 3 pieces of lettuce, which you can pay by credit card. See the Caldwell Zoo for admission rates, hours, and to reserve your time slot!
If you’re looking for some outdoor sports, head over to Faulkner Park. You can bring your bicycle and ride around Faulkner Park’s over eight miles of trails or you can bring your tennis rackets and play on one of the park's eight tennis courts. The courts are open for public use, and you can reserve a court in person or by phone up to four days in advance (see the City of Tyler website for hours and current opening status).
For the little ones, Faulkner Park has an awesome splash park that is open! The Faulkner Spraygrounds conserve water by operating on a timer. Running through cold water on a hot day is a huge yes in my book!
Blackhawk Creek Hike and Bike Trail
For more hiking and biking, check out Blackhawk Creek Hike and Bike Trail next. The almost-three-mile trail is dual-use, designed for mountain biking going one way and hiking going the opposite way.
The Boulders at Lake Tyler
Whether you want to stay overnight or simply visit for the day, The Boulders is the perfect place to enjoy Lake Tyler. Lake Tyler is divided into two parts: Lake Tyler and Lake Tyler East. The Boulders sits on the northwestern shore of Lake Tyler. With a fishing pier, pontoon boats for rent, and plenty of places to dock, it’s a great place for anyone looking to get out on the water. The store at the Boulders sells snacks, fishing gear, live bait, and pretty much anything you could need for a day on the lake.
Interested in camping? They have lakefront sites for camping or RVs and four cabins available for rent. While it’s generally easy to reserve your day use spot on weekdays, you’ll want to reserve ahead of time here on weekends.
Go Blueberry Picking
Day 2 starts with a fun U-Pick activity: blueberry picking! Blueberry picking is a seasonal activity, and a fun one if you’re visiting Tyler in June and July. (If the blueberries are out of season, skip to the next activity, Tyler State Park, to start your Day 2 plans.)
There are actually two blueberry farms in the area; Tyler Blueberry Farm in Tyler, and Blueberry Hill Farms in nearby Edom, Texas. Check their websites beforehand to see their crop picking level. Wear closed-toed shoes and sunscreen, and bring plenty of water with you. Blueberry Hill Farm also serves up the most delicious blueberry donuts Fridays – Sundays! Another great seasonal activity is driving through the Azalea Trails, which is usually in March and early April. It’s one of the notable things to do in Tyler, so mark your calendar!
Tyler State Park
When visiting Tyler State Park, be sure to make a reservation at the Texas Parks & Wildlife website ahead of time since the park is operating on an online-only reservation system.
We got there without a reservation, so looped around and made a reservation on our phones, then got back in line. Save yourself the extra time and reserve your stay before heading over — that way, you’ll also be able to confirm that there is room for your group.
Once you’re in the park, there is one main loop that goes around Tyler State Park Lake. It branches out into different areas of the park so you can choose an area based on what you want to do.
Gorgeous trees, trails, and scenery cover the 985 acres at Tyler State Park. Though the park store and boat rentals are temporarily closed, you can still do so many other activities like camping, swimming, biking, hiking, fishing, and other great lake activities.
Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary
Next, head to Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary: a wonderful refuge for over 40 big cats, small cats, and other species.
With large enclosures and a focus on the animals that call this place home, it is truly a sanctuary for rescued animals.
Our tour guide, Jonathan, explained to us how they are a hands-off facility where they don’t physically touch the animals, which distinguishes them from many other places. In fact, they also specifically don’t breed their animals because they want to ensure that they have enough space to welcome any big cat or other endangered species in need.
Fun fact: one of their female tigers is 25-years old, which is just slightly over a year shy of beating the record for the oldest known tiger!
They are open seven days a week, and you can choose to do a self-guided tour, reading the signs on the enclosures to learn about the animals, or do a guided tour (view tour options and hours on their website).
Cherokee Trace Drive-Thru Safari
By now you may have noticed that I’ve included quite a few animal activities on this itinerary. Interestingly enough, Tyler and its surrounding areas just happen to have three great animal experiences! You’ve seen tigers at Tiger Creek, fed giraffes at Caldwell Zoo, and today you’ll head southeast past Jacksonville, Texas for a drive-through safari!
At Cherokee Trace Drive-Thru Safari, you can see animals while blasting some cold AC- making it a very easy and enjoyable way to be out in nature. They’ve got all sorts of neat animals like zebras, antelopes, camels, and more. Their animals roam across 300 acres, so as you do a self-guided drive you get to see them thriving in an open habitat.
You can find pricing and hours on their website, and they recommend calling beforehand to make sure that weather or other factors aren’t causing any closures.
On your way back north toward Tyler, stop by Jacksonville to check out Love’s Lookout. This is a great picnic area with a spectacular view overlooking East Texas. Some even say you can see Louisiana from Love’s Lookout on a clear day!
Continuing north, Kiepersol Winery is worth a visit. This is a gorgeous place for a wine tasting or wine tour. With an open patio that has spaced out seating and overlooks, Kiepersol’s stunning vineyards, it’s the ideal place to try some wine. You can no longer wander in the vineyards during this time, but at least you can still social distance while taking in the views!
Kiepersol was created by two sisters and is one of the few Texas vineyards that only hand-picks their grapes, instead of using machinery. It’s a labor of love, and you can taste it in their wines. Depending on regulations/rules, Kiepersol may be drive-through only, so I recommend calling before visiting, as well as checking the website for their hours.
Let’s talk about where to stay on your trip to Tyler and the surrounding East Texas country. Like I said earlier, we’ve visited Tyler three years in a row now, and my favorite place I’ve stayed at is High Hill Farm. Simply put, it combines a love for the outdoors with the comfort of your bungalow.
High Hill Farm hosted my husband and me for a night and we loved staying at this laid-back luxury resort with its private guesthouses and countryside setting.
Their bed and breakfast sits on 75 acres, which means there is plenty of East Texas hillside to explore here (if you haven’t gotten your fill of the outdoors from the other activities on this itinerary!).
And don’t even get me started on their food! Their chef is a culinary genius and serves up tasty dishes full of locally sourced ingredients. To help with social distancing, meals are scheduled in advance and breakfast is brought straight to your bungalow.
Here are a few fantastic places to eat, ranging from upscale dining to take-out barbecue. Check each place if you want to dine-in to make sure they’re offering that option.
- Brookshires – Did you know that this grocery chain started in Tyler? Brookshires is a great place to grab snacks and food if you plan on doing a lot of picnicking or camping.
- The Foundry – This is my favorite coffee shop in town. They serve locally sourced, organic products with carefully crafted coffee and other drinks.
- Stanley’s BBQ – This famous barbecue pit has been serving up mouthwatering barbecue with live music for over 50 years!
- The Grove Kitchen & Gardens – The Grove gives me Alice in Wonderland vibes with its fun, eclectic decor. It serves up farm-to-table meals from its chef-crafted menu.
- Lago del Pino – For an upscale dinner in the gorgeous Texas countryside with a lake view, head to Lago del Pino.
And there you have it: my ultimate Tyler itinerary! I've included all of my favorites, from what to do, where to stay, and what to eat. East Texas has so much to offer, I hope you get a chance to experience it all!