Mini East Texas Weekend Getaway
What I love most about Texas are its diverse regions. The Lone Star State has Big Bend Country (West Texas), Hill Country, South Texas Plains, Panhandle Plains, Gulf Coast, Prairies & Lakes (North Texas), and the Piney Woods (East Texas).
Each region is so different than its neighbor. So, when we went on our mini East Texas weekend getaway, we were blown away by its beauty.
Though not as popular as the Hill Country, East Texas has several award-winning wineries and breweries, making it a great romantic or adult-friendly getaway. With that said, it is also the perfect destination for an epic family adventure.
Case in point, we took our toddler (14 months old) with us, and we had the best family trip. We spent an afternoon in Palestine to ride the Texas State Railroad, escaped the city to a Getaway Cabin tucked away in the Piney Woods, and finished our weekend exploring Caddo Lake.
Enjoying a Train Ride in Palestine
There are plenty of fun things to do in Palestine, but riding a train on the historic Texas State Railroad is the most popular attraction. The 19th-century vintage train takes passengers on a 4-hour relaxing ride through the Piney Woods and across 24 bridges.
What's special about this train ride is that it is for everyone. There are family-friendly cars with a glass of champagne or sparkling apple cider toast, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, candy, ice cream, and other sweet treats for purchase. So, mom and dad can relax with a glass of wine or beer, and the children can get hyper on sugar with soda and candy. It is truly the perfect adventure for the whole family to enjoy
Like taking a flight, you are not able to bring a stroller or car seat onboard. An adult must hold a baby or a child under 2 in their lap or a body carrier. Toddlers or small children must be under adult supervision at all times.
We had a lot of fun enjoying the Texas State Railroad with our toddler in the Presidential Car. The car has comfortable couches and chairs with glass tables. Our son would play on the couches, eat the yummy snacks onboard, and calmly sit on our laps to look out the window. Eventually, the vibration of the train moving put him to sleep, which left us some peace and quiet to enjoy the train ride.
Staying in a Getaway Cabin
One of the best ways to go camping with your kids without the stress of building a tent and sleeping on the floor is glamping. Cue the luxurious Getaway Cabins.
A Getaway Cabin is a modern little cabin tucked away in the woods. It has everything you need to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. The kitchen is fully equipped with cooking essentials like oil, salt, pepper, pots, and pans. The private bathroom has a toilet and a walk-in shower. There is a small dining table with chairs, but the best part... the bed is adjacent to a giant window, so you can go to sleep and wake up with a view of the beautiful outdoors.
There are three Getaway Cabins in Texas - Piney Woods, Hill Country, and Brazos Valley. Each outpost is 1 - 1.5 hours away from Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, or Houston.
For a family escape, the Getaway Cabins have queen-sized bunk beds. It is truly a perfect accommodation for a family of four. For us, a family with one toddler, we had to share our queen-sized bed. Did we have the best night's sleep? No. However, it will be a night we will never forget because of all the snuggles and the memories we created.
A Day on Caddo Lake
Caddo Lake is a 25,400-acre lake and bayou on the border between Texas and Louisiana. It is one of Texas' greatest gifts from nature. Ideally, you can spend (and will want to spend) a weekend here, but we had one day.
Before we had our son, we were sunset people. Now we always wake up early and see more sunrises than sunsets. So we started our adventure at Caddo Lake with a sunrise boat tour, and I highly recommend everyone do the same. This tour took our breath away.
After a short nap, we explored Caddo Lake State Park. Caddo Lake State Park has so much to offer, which is why it is easily one of our favorite Texas State Parks. You can hike the trails, rent a canoe and launch from the park, go fishing on the pier, launch your boat from the ramp, sleep in a cabin, and make a tent at the campsite.
We opted to explore Caddo Lake State Park on foot. We grabbed our hiking carrier and took our son on a lovely hiking trail. There are four different one-way trails ranging from easy to moderate. Our two favorite trails were the CCC Cut-Through and Caddo Forest Trail. There are nine wooden bridges to cross between the two trails that make for the perfect photo-op and experience.
For more time on the lake, we took another boat tour. This boat tour showed us a different part of the lake and in a different light. As a family, we enjoyed the experience because of the lake's beauty and the smile it brought to our son's face. A boat tour is truly the perfect way to see and experience the lake with children.
All this sightseeing and exploring will make you hungry, which is why I recommend you dine at Big Pines Lodge. Every meal includes complimentary hush puppies, coleslaw, relish tray, and ice cream. The restaurant is known for its fried gator, all-you-can-eat farm-raised catfish, fresh-cut fried onion rings, and more. The portions are huge, so come hungry! And if your kids are not ready to try gator yet, do not worry; they have a kid's menu too.
HOW TO: East Texas
TO DO BEFORE YOU GO:
If you plan to go on the Texas State Railroad in Palestine, you need tickets in advance. It is also recommended to purchase your lunch meal at time of booking. I would recommend booking at least a few weeks in advance. Especially if you want to go on the weekend during the busy season such as summer. If you plan to visit Caddo Lake, I have a few recommendations on booking. With that said, the best time to visit Caddo Lake is during the spring and fall. Spring time has great weather and lotus flowers will bloom. November is cooler, but the cypress trees have fall foliage colors that will take your breath away.
The Caddo Lake State Park can get busy during the summer, so I would reserve day passes and/or camping sites and cabins at least a month in advance. Canoe rentals are available at the visitor center and are first come-first serve. There are several boat tours to book to explore Caddo Lake. My personal favorite day boat tour is Captain Ron's Swamp Tours. Additionally, I highly recommend you book a sunrise boat tour for an unbelievable experience. I really enjoyed our tour with Caddo Lake Bayou Tours.
For an outdoor adventure, the usual. A hiking carrier for our son (toddler), hiking clothes, hiking boots, light jackets for the sunrise boat tour, sunscreen, bug spray, snacks for the road trip, and once casual outfit for the train ride.
For our toddler, we like to give him graham crackers inside a snack catcher (cup). It helps keep him occupied while also allowing himself to get his own snack and eat it. We also pack his favorite toys. We try to play our preferred music in the car that he is familiar with but if nothing is making him happy, we play his sing-a-long music and it immediately does the trick.
At Caddo Lake, I highly recommend stopping and grabbing a meal at Big Pines Lodge. They are known for their farm raised catfish and gator. They have all you can eat fried catfish, and other fried food such as hushpuppies, fresh cut onion rings, popcorn shrimp, and more. Of course, the gator is a local delicacy and tastes sweeter than you think. If you are up for it, I would try it!
To enter Caddo Lake State Park, you must pay an entrance fee and then you can park anywhere you like. The parking for the Caddo Lake boat tours is free. Additionally, parking at Texas State Railroad is free.
BONUS – ADVENTURE STAPLES:
We also pack snacks and baby wipes are like gold to us - we use them for everything! We like keeping the snacks in an easy and convenient location (usually right the middle seat floor). We also like to pack at least two baby bottles for our son with a little cooler in case he wants milk. To keep our son calm and to help with naps in the car, we let him bring his lovey.
This incredible article was written by Christina Dwiggins. You can find more helpful adventure tips and tricks on Christina's blog (https://www.oursweetadventures.com and through her Instagram (@our_sweet_adventures)