Before this west Texas girl officially relocated to deep northeast Texas, we came to visit twice a month for a year.
As we passed through Canton and into the rural areas around Tyler on I-20, I felt like princess Leia coming to land on the forest moon Endor.
It felt like a new planet.
I wasn’t sure how I would feel living full-time in a place that felt so foreign to my mesquite-tree-loving heart.
To save you from that confusion, I’ve put together this article sharing all the pros and cons of living in the Piney Woods in East Texas.
The Pros of Living in East Texas Piney woods
There are several great things about living in the East Texas Piney Woods.
1. The smell
I walk outside in the morning, and it smells like Hobby Lobby at Christmas time (which starts in August, but that’s a soapbox for another day).
It makes you want to wear flannel and go hiking.
That pine smell is strongest right before or after a rain, which brings me to my next point.
2. There’s water here
As I write this, we’re experiencing a drought, but even still the lakes and creeks have kept the vegetation fairly lush. My tiny vegetable garden isn’t even dead yet.
The yearly rainfall averages about 50 inches, which to someone from the edge of the Permian Basin seems akin to the Amazon rainforest, but not nearly as scary.
3. You can grow just about anything
Want to try your hand at gardening? This is an ideal place to start.
Just stick your seeds in the ground and watch them grow – almost literally.
If for some reason you have terrible luck with plants, like me, just ask any middle-aged or older person you see, and they will effectively diagnose what’s wrong with your plant and tell you how to fix it – or direct you to someone who can.
Almost everyone, except me, is an expert at growing things out here, and they love to help.
4. Family is king
East Texas has a reputation for being overly insular and hard for outsiders to find a home in (see the cons list for more information on that). But the positive side is that they value family incredibly highly.
Employers and community organizations are generally, pretty understanding about family commitments and needs, compared to other places in the country.
When you do find your tribe in East Texas, they’re fiercely loyal to you and will support you and all your kin to extreme lengths.
5. Christmas is extra magical
Curious why all the Christmas Hallmark movies are set in heavily forested areas? Come do Christmas in East Texas.
From the constant scent of pine to the extreme outdoor Christmas lights displays, the East Texas Piney Woods make the Griswold house look like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.
Even my Grinchy husband started listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving last year.
6. Charming small towns
Each small town in the East Texas Piney Woods has a particular charm. Some charm is more obvious than others, but they each kind of seem like a world unto themselves.
We’ve enjoyed exploring each little world for all it has to offer.
Gladewater, for example, is like going to a family reunion at your grandma’s house. There’s great food, antiques, some sassy boutiques and the sweetest little bookstore you’ve ever seen.
It’s a comfy place.
7. Rich History
East Texas was the first big region of the state settled by Europeans, and they had more symbiotic relationships with indigenous peoples to start with than other areas of the state. Many families that settled this land are still here generations later.
The result is a rich variety of historical sites, museums and historical markers for the Texas and Southern history nerds to check out.
East Texas is heavily influenced by several wonderful cultures, and all of those cultures have great food.
Our proximity to Louisiana means the Cajun food is amazing and there’s a Cajun restaurant, truck or crawfish stand on almost every corner.
Tex-Mex is my personal favorite, and nothing compares to how they do in west Texas. But East Texas is slowly but surely catching up, as the best of the west moves its way east. I’ve found several great spots around Longview to get a taste of home.
The Piney woods is easily the most southern part of Texas culturally, and southerners love food. And, not to brag, but we’re great at it.
Come try a mess of greens, southern fried catfish and chicken, fried okra and a million different amazing “salads,” in which the only green ingredient is pickles or maybe chives if it’s a fancy place.
And don’t leave without gaining at least five pounds in biscuits and gravy.
Because you can grow anything in East Texas, there’s tons of amazing produce right on the side of the highway.
Family farms in the area load up the back of a truck with watermelons and park on the side of the highway. You can meet a neighbor and get the best melon you’ve ever tasted, on your way to church.
If you are a church goer, you likely don’t need to stop at the roadside stands because someone in the congregation is going to bring a 5-gallon bucket of whatever they’ve been growing and leave in the foyer for anyone to take what they want.
Pro-tip: Find a few great recipes for summer squash. There’s going to be a lot given to you if you live here.
Cons to living in the Piney woods
Despite my girls’ assertions, the Piney Woods is not the enchanted forest from Frozen.
Living here has some downsides like anywhere else.
1. Insular culture
When every small town is primarily made up of five to ten old families and everyone is kin, it can be hard for someone from the outside to find their place at first.
Pro-tip: Obey Thumper’s mama, if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all; that grouchy cashier that irritated you at the grocery store is probably your new hairdresser’s niece.
2. No Sunset Views
The trees make everything feel cozy and they make everything smell amazing, but they’re going to block your view of the sunset, which for a girl from the plains is a bummer.
Pro-tip: Hit the lake at sunset occasionally to get a double dose of those beautiful colors.
If you’ve got unruly hair or want to work outside in July after 9 a.m. you’re going to need adequate preparation. Some summer days I feel like I’m drowning when I walk across the yard.
Pro-tip: They say that the first summer or two are the worst and then the humidity starts to feel normal after that. I’m still waiting to adjust, but this is only our second summer here.
Also, hairspray is not always optional out here, so find one you like.
Final Thoughts on Living in East Texas / Piney Woods
If those downsides sound endurable and you’re looking for a place to put down some roots, literally or otherwise, East Texas might be the place for you.
Hopefully this list can help you prepare to make the most of the transition to this unique planet. Just remember to come hungry, wear a friendly smile, and keep an eye out for Ewoks!