White flowers on a tree with large branches and green leaves
Flowering dogwood inside the Ruby M. Mize Azalea Garden on the Stephen F. Austin University campus in Nacogdoches. Photo by Sean Fitzgerald

Piney Woods

Nacogdoches is teeming with activities and history

By Clayton Maxwell

Six flags have flown over Texas but the small Piney Woods city of Nacogdoches, or Nac as locals call it, claims nine. The stories behind those extra three flags—a dramatic mix of scrappy rebellion, bravado, and blunders—are the stuff of legends. First a Caddo settlement circa 1200 AD, but officially founded by a Spanish trader in 1779, this friendly burg is considered by many to be Texas’ oldest town. While that claim has been debated, one thing is certain: Nacogdoches delivers on an old-timey travel experience. Whether it’s a stroll down the red brick streets of the historic downtown, a visit to a Caddo Mounds State Historic Site, or an amble through a lush azalea garden, Nacogdoches immerses visitors in its unique history and culture amid the sweet-smelling pines of East Texas.

STAY

The Fredonia Hotel
Check in at the midcentury modern Fredonia Hotel (starting at $149/night), named for the 1826 rebellion in which settlers declared themselves independent from Mexico. The Republic of Fredonia, one of the city’s unique flags, may have been short-lived, but it looms large in local lore. Restored to its retro charm in 2017, the hotel today is a deluxe starting point for exploring of the town’s past.

A man pours a beer from behind one of six taps

Fredonia Brewery. Photo by Brian Maschino

EAT

Clear Springs Restaurant
Even the food in Nacogdoches has a history, including the Clear Springs Restaurant. Built in the 1900s, it previously served as a grocery store. What was once the first refrigerated warehouse west of the Mississippi is now a family-owned eatery known for its fried catfish and other comfort foods.

Texas State Parks: Hidden Gems

DAINGERFIELD STATE PARK

Walk the trails beneath 100-foot pines. Dive into the pristine water. Paddle, fish, camp, and rest your head in a rental cabin. These are some of the many ways to admire the abundant natural beauty in this area of East Texas. Visit in spring to see colorful wildflowers and blooming dogwoods in shades of blue, pink, and yellow. Visit in fall to see sweetgums, oaks, and maple trees in breathtaking shades of gold, red, and orange.

OTHER HIDDEN GEMS
Atlanta State Park
Lake Bob Sandlin State Park
Village Creek State Park

MORE PINEY WOODS STATE PARKS
Caddo Lake State Park
Huntsville State Park
Lake Livingston State Park
Martin Creek Lake
State Park
Martin Dies Jr. State Park
Tyler State Park
Mission Tejas State Park

For more information, directions, and amenities, get your free mobile guide to all 80-plus state parks: texasstateparks.org/app

Maklemore’s Ale House & Bistro
For a superlative burger, head to this laid-back bistro with a college vibe. Concoctions such as the BBQ Bacon Smoked Gouda Burger and the Cheeseburger Eggsplosion will fill the belly and perhaps inspire a post-meal digestive stroll. An ample selection of salads balances out the decadence.

Fredonia Brewery
With its tasty Nine Flags Amber Ale and Pine Cove porter, this homegrown brewery celebrates Nacogdoches through a skillful balancing of yeast, malt, and hops. A rotating lineup of food trucks serves dishes from around the world: Indian, Vietnamese, Mexican. Trivia nights, book club meetings, and live music bring in the locals for community fun. Tours of the brew room and cellar give visitors a glimpse into the art of making beer.

LEARN

Charles Bright Visitor Center
Located within a former stone-walled post office from 1918, the center houses a small museum full of tales of local revolts and heroes. A walking tour brochure guides visitors to a Caddo mound in city limits and Lanana Creek Trail, an almost 6-mile trail that was once a Caddo footpath leading into the Piney Woods.

Sterne-Hoya House Museum and Library
This historic landmark was a dogtrot house built in 1830 by a German immigrant who participated in both the Fredonian Rebellion and the Texas Revolution. Here you can visit one of the state’s first wine cellars and ponder rumors that a grown Sam Houston was baptized there.

SEE

Ruby M. Mize Azalea Garden
Bright azaleas, sweet-scented camellias, and delicate Japanese maples envelop the senses in this lush garden located on the Stephen F. Austin State University campus, an anchor of Nacogdoches cultural life. Its easy walking trail winds through a mind-boggling variety of plant specimens. Marvel at the wonders of horticulture as you stroll.

SHOP

Main Street
For an authentic local shopping experience, explore the shops around downtown’s Main Street. The Bosslight, an independent bookstore stocked with the work of Texas writers, is a beloved hub for Nac’s bibliophiles. Nearby, check out the brick-walled Nacogdoches Cigar Co. More than a purveyor of cigars and pipes, this local institutions sells “mantiques:” knives, fishing memorabilia, and other cool relics. H

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The March 2024 cover of Texas Highways Magazine

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