The 7 Best Things To Do in East Texas (Local Advice)

While I loathe the process of moving as much as the next person, I love exploring in a new place without the hassle of packing up and driving a long way.

There’s nothing quite like the adventure of being a tourist in your new home town.

In East Texas, we’ve found so much variety hidden in those trees, it seems like every month I hear of something new I want to try.

Nothing can help you shed your outsider label faster than exploring some of the favorite spots for local activities.

Here are seven things to do in East Texas that us locals would recommend:

Map of Things to Do in East Texas

1. Hike at Daingerfield State Park

No one in East Texas ever gets over how beautiful the forest is. If you want to get an eyeful of those majestic green hills, Daingerfield is a great spot to do it.

The hikes are challenging enough to let you know you’ve exercised, but not so terrible you need to have an ambulance on standby if you’re out of shape.

Local tip: Bring bug spray, water and sturdy shoes and pay close attention to the park map. The trees can be disorienting, and you may end up walking much farther than you planned if you aren’t careful. Leave early in the morning and you can enjoy the sunrise from a hilltop.

2. Shop at First Monday at Canton

first monday trade days canton texas

People come from miles around to shop ’til they drop at Canton’s First Monday Trade Days.

Weirdly, if you show up on the first Monday of the month, you’ll be too late. The mayhem actually occurs Thursday-Sunday the weekend before.

There are miles and miles of vendors selling almost anything you can imagine and even more things you’ve never even thought of.

It’s a great place to people watch, if that’s something you enjoy. The eclectic range of people who enjoy shopping at Canton is fascinating.

Local tips: Wear comfortable shoes, you’re definitely going to meet your step goal. You’re also inevitably going to find something you’ve never heard of before, but now can’t live without, so make sure you have extra space in your vehicle. You may also want to bring a cart to pull; the thing you fall in love with could be heavy.

3. Fish at Sam Rayburn Reservoir

Sam Rayburn lake is the largest lake in Texas and boasts some the best bass fishing in the nation.

No boat? No problem. You can rent a boat at the lake, or a kayak, or whatever manner of water vessel—well, floats your boat.

If Sam Rayburn isn’t convenient, East Texas has more lakes, rivers, creeks and ponds than you can shake a stick at, and they’re almost all loaded with fish.

Fishing is so much a part of life here in East Texas, that I’m trying hard not to tell people this is the first year I’ve ever even gotten a fishing license. So don’t tell anybody, okay?

4. Visit Tyler Rose Garden

tyler tx rose garden

If your resolution is to stop and smell the roses more often, set your GPS for Tyler, Texas. They have the largest public rose garden in the nation and even a festival to go with it.

With 32,000 bushes and hundreds of rose varieties, it’s a treat for your eyes and your nose. (Unless you’re allergic, I suppose.)

There’s an idea garden if you’re looking for inspiration for your home landscaping and a meditation garden if you’re just looking for inspiration in general.

Local tip: visit around mid April or mid October to see the plants at their best.

5. Snorkle at Athens Scuba Park

I have a confession; this site is actually not something I’ve heard the locals mention. I stumbled across it online, and now I can’t wait to go.

It never occurred to me that with all the water in East Texas, diving would be a fun hobby. (I’ve only snorkeled a few times, but it was incredible seeing underwater life so up close and personally.)

At Athens Scuba Park, you can snorkel, scuba dive or just swim around and watch other people do those things. They also have all kinds of wrecks under the water you can explore, and once a year, they do a scavenger hunt for golf balls that correspond to prizes.

They offer classes and all kinds of training if you’re looking for a place to learn something new.

6. Watch the Great Texas Balloon Race

great texas balloon race longview

Every June in Longview, Texas, hot air balloons take to the skies.

If you’re a morning person, you can follow the pilots to their launch spots and watch them take off. But for the night owls there’s live music and a balloon glow in the evenings.

The people who really seem to have the most fun at the events are the pilots, so if you happen to have a hot air balloon, this is a race you should definitely check out.

The rest of us will hang around on the ground and watch.

7. Cruise the Highway 80 Sale

If there’s one thing that has been mentioned to me more than anything else, it’s this giant garage sale all the way down Highway 80.

For a full weekend twice per year, each town along the highway bands together, residents have garage sales and stores set up roadside sales.

You can cruise the highway from Mesquite, Texas, all the way into Georgia (the state… seriously!) and the sales just go on and on.

It has been recommended to me as a great way to find some nice furniture and home decorations for next to no money and generally just be amused by the odds and ends people are trying to sell.