The Piney Woods—A Great Day Trip from Houston

by Cynthia Marple


Texas is BIG.  As the second largest state in the USA, it has several distinctive ecologic zones. One zone, which is about a one and half hour drive from Houston, is the Piney Woods region. This zone is full of historical markers showing civil war, western frontier, Texas/Mexico battles and other facts. Hike or stroll in the lush forests around Lake Livingston. Smell the pine, enjoy the shade, and relax under large trees.

The Big Thicket National Preserve has many distinct ecosystems within its boundaries and has been nicknamed “biological crossroads of North America.” See both cactus and pine trees along the preserve’s sandy loop hill trail. Four varieties of carnivorous plants live here: pitcher plants, sundews, bladderworts and butterworts. The Sundew Trail is a fun way to see some these insect hungry plants. Bald Eagles, alligators, snakes, turtles, and white tailed deer live and hide this area. Other local and state parks abound in the Piney Woods include the Alabama-Coushatta Indian reservation.

Huntsville Museums


The Gibbs-Powell House Museum in Huntsville showcases a grand home as it appeared in the late 1800s. It is designated as a Texas Archaeological Landmark and a Texas Historical Landmark. Tours are available by appointment and same day requests are welcome.  The Walker County Historical Commission operates it as a county museum.

The Sam Houston Memorial Museum is a great stop for kids learning about Texas history. General Sam Houston is a key figure in the development of Texas. Even though he was a white guy from Tennessee, he lived with and became a citizen of the Cherokee Indian Nation. In 1886, he defeated General Santa Anna after the Alamo had fallen and liberated Texas from Mexico. Later, he worked to have Texas admitted as a state in the USA. An individualist to the end, when Texas seceded from the USA right before the Civil War, then Texas Governor Houston refused to take the oath to the Confederate States of America.  As a result, he was deposed as governor.

The H.E.A.R.T.S Veterans Museum of Texas is located in Huntsville. Hearts stands for “Helping Every American Remember Through Serving”. On May 30, 2016, Memorial Day, the museum will honor the man and woman who gave their lives in military service. There are many static exhibits honoring the men and women who have served the USA during war. You can see many military vehicles such as a Cobra attack helicopter, military jeeps, a forward bunker and an F16A jet.

The Texas Prison Museum, founded in 1989, is a non-profit entity that gives provides some insight into the lives of inmates and workers from the Texas prison system. Exhibits include prisoner art and some artifacts about the infamous Bonnie and Clyde. A special audio exhibit inspired by the documentary film and book by Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian looks at the 1979 death row unit. Its mature content may make this museum too intense for younger children.

More small towns to explore

More charming towns around Lake Livingston are Livingston, Riverside, Shepard, Coldspring, Trinity, Blanchard, and Onalaska. Each town has unique charm and items of interest. Take some time to drive to each town and discover an interesting piece of history that is new to you.

Coldspring has a fascinating old town section. There are many buildings built in the 1800s such as Jackson’s General Store, Ellisor’s corn crib and Camilla’s post office. The preserved buildings gave you a feeling for what it was like to live in Texas in the a few centuries ago. Bear in mind, the old San Jacinto County Jail from 1886 remains as well as the Hangman’s Tree.

Lufkin has the Naranjo Museum of Natural History with exhibits about dinosaurs, the geological history of the Earth and ancient civilizations. It is a fairly new museum and a great addition to the city.


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Start in Lake Livingston, then drive to Galveston and finish in Houston Travel through both the Piney Woods and Gulf Coast regions of Texas. Start in Lake Livingston and spend two days with nature hikes, antique shopping, boating and/or fishing.  Next, drive to Galveston. Enjoy the Pleasure Pier and Gulf of Mexico beaches. There are lots of hotels and resorts which are available for every price range. Moody Gardens and Schlitterban have terrific entertainment complexes.

As you can see, being a tourist in your own state can feel like a vacation and create lasting memories.  Summer is a great time to take day trips to see nearby places without giving up a precious, overscheduling Saturday during the regular school year.  Have you and/or your family enjoyed a “Staycation” or seeing local tourist sites? Please share any ideas that have worked for you and your family in the comments.

Additional Resources:

Discover nature in Texas; just remember your bug spray and sunscreen! For more about the Piney Woods, check out these websites:

Learn more about these museums with the following information:

1 thought on “The Piney Woods—A Great Day Trip from Houston”

  1. My family’s traditional visit to the Piney Wood’s Lake Livingston has been cancelled because of flooding. My thoughts are with all the people affected by the recent flooding in Texas especially those under mandatory evacuation orders along the Brazos River and any other areas. My prayers are with everyone that you find a way to stay safe and dry.

    Remember – Turn Around, Don’t Drown!

    Check with the Texas Department of Transportation to check road conditions before heading out:
    On Facebook at
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    Or call 1-800-452-9292.

    Register and apply for assistance based on flooding by calling FEMA at 1-800-621-3362 or 1-800-462-7585 (hearing impaired) or visiting Call center hours: are 7:00 AM – 10:00 PM CST. Additional information at

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