Take a look at any satellite image of the US, and you’ll see some of the country’s deepest shades of green in East Texas. A far cry from the desert stereotype, the Piney Woods region is, well, just that: Verdant hills of pine, oak, elm and ash—with splashes and ribbons of scenic wetlands, lakes and rivers. Here are just a few beautiful drives for your itinerary.
Texas Forest Trail, Pineland to Livingston
The Texas Forest Trail runs for a total of 835 miles, uniting not just green, wooded landscapes but once-booming railroad and oil towns, Indigenous historical sites and Texas-meets-the-bayou cuisine. It’s best experienced in sections, like the 90-mile stretch from Pineland to Livingston, a trek from scenic watering hole to scenic watering hole.
From Pineland—sitting on the edge of Sabine National Forest and between the Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend reservoirs—cruise down to Woodville via Colmesneil. Make a quick jaunt south to Big Thicket National Preserve, and then head back north to Livingston, on the banks of the lake of the same name. Break from the drive at Lake Livingston State Park, where lucky campers can set up right on the water’s edge.
Texas Forest Trail, Daingerfield to Palestine
The 125-mile Texas Forest Trail section from Daingerfield to Palestine is all about the outdoors, both in the car and on foot. In Daingerfield, stop for a stroll at the tree-lined Daingerfield State Park (don’t miss the barbecue at Fran’s if you’re visiting during mealtime), and then head south toward Lake O’ the Pines. You’ll skirt its northwestern edge before turning onto Highway 155, where big skies and tiny towns follow you all the way to Tyler. This East Texas outpost is the Rose Capital of America, where it’s practically a necessity to stretch your legs in one of the immaculate gardens.
Once you’ve “smelled the roses,” get back on Highway 155, cross the bridge over Lake Palestine and continue to the town of the same name. Stop for a pint on the oversized deck at Pint and Barrel Drafthouse to end your trip on a high note.
El Camino Real de los Tejas
You may have heard of California’s El Camino Real, but Texas has one, too: a Spanish thoroughfare dating back to the 18th century, roughly following much older trails established by the Indigenous Caddo. Today, El Camino Real de los Tejas is a national historic trail, starting around Natchitoches, Louisiana, and heading southwest toward Laredo, Texas, passing through Austin and San Antonio. Granite markers along much of the route let you know you’re traversing history.
Of note here is the stretch through the Piney Woods—from Mission Tejas State Park to Nacogdoches, then east on Highway 21—where Texas’ quiet, historic side truly shines. Be sure to check out Caddo Mounds State Historic Site, Lobanillo Swales (where you can see deep trail ruts in the forest) and vestiges of Texas’ multi-flag past, as at Mission Delores State Historic Site.
Pineywoods Autumn Trail
You might not think of Texas as a hotspot for autumn foliage, but that’s where this drive comes in. It’s a 145-mile loop between Athens and Palestine, and the landscape here comes to a new kind of life in fall, filling your rearview mirror with shades of gold, tangerine and crimson. Be sure to stop for walks at The East Texas Arboretum, Davey Dogwood Park and Palestine Community Forest. Lake Athens, the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center and Tara Vineyard & Winery also make for worthwhile breaks from the road.
Bonus: Fly above the foliage at New York, Texas ZipLine Adventures—you’ll get 30-mile views from the 100-foot-high platforms.
Sabine National Forest
By now, you’re probably coming to associate the word “forest” with this part of Texas. And Sabine National Forest, some 160,000 acres of pine, beech and maple near the Texas-Louisiana border, is one of the prettiest. It sits next to Toledo Bend Reservoir, the fifth largest manmade reservoir in the country. There is so much to see and do here—and drive through.
You could spend days exploring the Forest Service roads that wind through the national forest and along the water. Here’s just one example: Start in Milam and meander north up the back roads paralleling Highway 87. Detour east when you can, and you’ll run into one of several harbors and marinas. If an overnight is in order, Cliffside Lodge or Bean’s VIP Campground are both right on the water. Get back on the road and head through Goober Hill and Dreka, then depart the national forest via Shelbyville or sit a spell at Robinson’s Lodge, just across from Huxley Bay Marina.
Piney Woods Wine Trail
Some 20+ wineries have set up shop in the Piney Woods, a testament to the area’s rich soils, rolling, open hills, and verdant landscapes. Armed with a corkscrew or two, start your journey in Athens, with your first stop being Tara Vineyard & Winery—from the patio, you’ll see little but fields of Blanc du Bois vines. (They have an inn, too.)
Next, head east to Tyler and the 61-acre Kiepersol Vineyards & Winery, where you might be fooled into thinking you’ve been transported to somewhere nearer Napa. Ninety miles or so northwest at the charming Los Pinos Ranch Vineyards, take it easy on the tasting deck, settle into one of the cottages and enjoy the sunset until it matches your wine’s shade of blush.
Last but not least, continue southeast to Harleton for Enoch’s Stomp Vineyard & Winery, a place with a purposeful South African veneer. You might not stomp on your own grapes a la Lucy, but you will get your fill of fine wines, cheeses and views across the 95-acre grounds.