Explore East Texas this summer.

Summer Activities for Families Near East Texas

by Mary Evett

The thick forests of the Piney Woods and rolling hills common to the East Texas region provide a breathtaking landscape for summer travelers. Dotted with small towns that are rich with history, East Texas is home to a variety of enjoyable, family-friendly activities and parks. Take advantage of all that East Texas has to offer.

1. The Great Texas Balloon Race

Families visiting Longview during the month of July can attend the Great Texas Balloon Race for an awe-inspiring sight. From dawn till dusk for one weekend each summer, the GTBR attracts curious spectators interested in witnessing the world's best pilots compete in a variety of hot air balloon races. Flights start a few days prior to the festival, so if you're near Longview, Kilgore or the East Texas Regional Airport, don't be surprised to see balloons flying through the air periodically in the days beforehand. In addition to giving you the opportunity to see a hot air balloon up close and personal, the festival is packed with music, food, craft vendors and kid-focused activities each day.

2. Texas State Railroad

Known as the official railroad of Texas, the Texas State Railroad is a must-see for any train enthusiast, young and old alike. Board a steam or diesel train at Victorian-style depots in either Palestine or Rusk for a 25-mile ride through the piney woods of East Texas. Purchase a box lunch for noshing during the ride, or save money by taking along your own lunch. Kids 12 and under can take their favorite teddy bear for a free ride in August during the specified Teddy Bear Train Ride.

3. East Texas Gator Farm

Though the park is home to multiple live alligators, from hatchlings to adults measuring over 13 feet long, the East Texas Gator Farm is also a wildlife park. See fish, snakes, lizards, turtles, spiders, parrots, raccoons, squirrels, ferrets and finches inside or ducks and swans at the park's duck pond. Visitors are encouraged to see the alligators in action and attend the gator feedings each day at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

4. Texas State Parks

Pack your fishing poles, s'mores essentials and glow sticks and spend the weekend unplugged at one of the many Texas state parks this summer. Tyler State Park in Tyler has a number of trails ideal for hiking or mountain biking, as well as canoe, paddle boat, kayak, bike boat, and jon boat rentals if you're wanting to explore the park by water. The park also provides kids a free Junior Ranger Explorer Pack that includes binoculars, a journal, pencil, sketchbook, tracing paper, magnifying glass and plant and animal identification booklets upon request. Stay in the cabins at Martin Creek Lake State Park in Tatum if tenting it isn't quite your style. In addition to the standard fishing, hiking and swimming opportunities that most parks offer, Martin Creek Lake allows motorized boats and waterskiing and boasts a group picnic pavilion large enough to accommodate 75 people. Kids ages 4 through 12 can participate in the park's annual perch fishing contest the first Saturday in September each year. The lush vegetation and large cypress trees scattered throughout the waters of Caddo Lake State Park in Karnack make it a beautifully one-of-a-kind Texas park. Visitors can rent a boat from the park and navigate the maze-like waterways to try and catch one of the 70 species of fish in the lake.

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