East Texas was where I spent a good part of my childhood, weekends and a good chunk of each summer spent on Lake Cypress Springs near Mt. Pleasant, Texas. The Piney Woods nearly as familiar under foot as my local neighborhood back in Dallas. Now many years later it had been quite a while since I had traveled east from Dallas to those familiar places in East Texas. However as part of my resolution for 2016 to visit a State Park each month, it wasn’t long till the idea of heading out to Bob Sandlin State Park popped up as an ideal choice for a weekend road trip. A sister lake to Lake Cypress Springs I was familiar with Lake Bob Sandlin State Park, and just as importantly, a local catfish restaurant near by which I will tell anyone willing to listen is the best anywhere.
The lake chain consisting of Lake Bob Sandlin, Lake Cypress Springs and Lake Monticello is located in the north east corner of Texas, a very easy 90 minute drive east of Dallas on Interstate 30. Leaving Dallas you’ll pass through Greenville and Sulphur Springs along the interstate before taking the exit just as you arrive in the small town of Mt. Vernon. Once off the Interstate it’s a short 12mi drive through beautiful rolling hills on country roads to the entrance to the State Park. Just prior to the turn into the State Park off Farm to Market 21 you’ll note a large sign showing the turn into Vaughan’s Catfish On the Lake. No trip to the area is complete without dining at Vaughans, but I do highly suggest taking a nice long hike at the State Park first so you’re good and hungry before hand.
As the name might imply, Lake Bob Sandlin State Park is situated on the shores of the largest of the three lake chain. And as with most lakes in the area, the fishing on Lake Bob Sandlin is quite good. Monticello has been long known as a fantastic bass fishing lake, and I can attest to having pulled many fish of all types out of Cypress Springs over the years. Also for your fishing pursuits, the State Park has a small pond nestled back among the trees only a short walk from the trail parking lot which is stocked in the winter months with trout.
In addition to shoreline activities, there is a 4.5 mile hiking trail, less than a half mile of which needs to be covered to get back to the trout pond, a nicely maintained playground for the kits, and numerous camp sites and screened shelters if your travel plans consist of staying in the area for more than a day trip. While not nearly the largest state park in the area, it has plenty to offer all visitors to the area.
Photography Gear Suggestions
If your main goals are photography, and if you have any interest in bird photography, then certainly don’t leave your long lenses at home. During my short day trip I counted numerous bird and duck species in the park including a large Pileated Woodpecker and a Bufflehead on the lake near the boat ramp.
Beyond the long telephoto lenses for wildlife aims, your standard kit of landscape lenses are very well suited. I used both my ultra wide 16-35mm, the longer 24-105, as well as the 70-200mm during my day trip. Also of great use almost any time of year is a macro lens for doing close up nature study shots. The featured photo above was taken at my ultra-wide lens’s maximum of 16mm. The photo below was also taken at the wide end of the excellent 16-35mm F4L.
At the other end of my recommended focal length range, it was the 70-200 F4L along with the 100mm Macro lens that I used primarily during my short hike along part of the 4.5mi trail through the park. I find the longer focal lengths and depth of field compression a vital part of my lens kit during hiking excursions.
My visit to Bob Sandlin State Park was only for a day trip, however a pre-dawn departure from home in the Dallas suburbs allowed me to capture a spectacular sunrise over the peaceful calm waters of the lake. Late January temperatures meant a layer of frost along much of the vegetation giving some great options for macro photography to capture the intricate patterns of ice crystals and the surfaces they clung to. Once the weather warmed up a little allowing me to shed my outer layers and venture more into the woods I found the hiking trail easy to follow back to the trout pond and beyond.
The State Park employees which I met during my visit were all very welcoming and helpful. They were happy to pass along information on where they had recently seen certain species of birds in the park and answer any other questions I might have.
I do hope to find an opportunity in the coming year to make at least a weekend camping trip out to the State Park so I can continue to explore the area more thoroughly, but also so I have an excuse to visit Vaughans again for that amazing catfish. I’m not going to describe the food there, but simply insist you go try it for yourself. Do be sure to check their hours as they are not open every day of the week.
In addition to Bob Sandlin State Park, there are a number of other small parks along the three lake chain. Additionally there are countless small towns with interesting names like Mt. Pleasant, Scroggins, Pittsburg which is locally known for their hotlink sausages to explore and visit. Dangerfield Lake State Park is a short drive further east, and back to the west Cooper Lake State Park is situated just north of Sulphur Springs.