Tyler is one of the larger cities in far east Texas, renowned for their Rose festival (October) and Azalea (March & April) festivals each year, it is a beautiful city with a rich history and welcoming people. Not to mention some of the better Bar-B-Q (Stanley’s) I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying in my years of living in Texas. Situated just north of the city, Tyler State Park is another jewel well worth searching out when traveling through the area, and especially so if you desire to make camp and sit by a crackling fire at the end of the day.
Interstate 20 cuts directly between the city of Tyler (to the south) and the State Park just to the north. Getting to the state park from Dallas couldn’t be easier once you get yourself to the Interstate. Simply point yourself east and set the cruise. During the later spring and summer months, it’s well within a Friday evening drive without having to setup camp in complete darkness. Coming up from the Houston area or in from other directions might require taking slightly smaller highways, but that too can be an advantage as the rolling hills and piney woods of the region are a beautiful drive nearly any time of the year.
Tyler State Park really does have a little something for just about everyone. A 64-acre lake has plenty of area to explore for fishing holes or beaver dams, canoe, kayak, or even a paddleboat around the lake on a beautiful sunny afternoon. Several lighted fishing piers can be found around the lake for those looking to setup a chair and let the fish come to them. On land, 13 miles of hiking and mountain bike trails are there to explore for those who want to take a more active approach to their trip.
Options abound also when it comes staying overnight at the park. From water-only camping sites to full hook up RV sites, screened shelters and limited use cabins or even group facilities the park is sure to have the option best suited for your needs for a sound night’s rest. I’ve stayed in both the water & power hook up area known as Area 1 – Cedar Point as well as the water only Area 7 Hickory Hollow. While quite different in feel and seclusion, both were great experiences and would not hesitate to setup camp in either of the areas again.
Along the eastern shore of the lake the boat ramp, rental boat dock, gift shop, bath house, swim beach and dock and day use picnic areas are situated along a nice point which gently pushes out into the lake opposite the RV camping areas.
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. There is a reason the staff at Tyler State Park give frequent birding tours around the park, and you don’t often have to go far to find some sort of winged wildlife. Several of the park hosts have bird feeders near their RV camp sites on the north end of the lake.
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 both recent trips. 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 Rokinon ultra-wide lens with an amazing 14mm focal length on a Full Frame sensor. 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. The longer 70-200 also allowed me to frame the bow of this canoe early one morning during my October 2015 trip with its reflection in the nearly perfectly still water.
I’ve actually spent two weekends at Tyler State Park in the last year. The first trip was in October of 2015, the second more recently this past January. Tyler State Park is large enough to easily spend multiple days and in fact multiple trips exploring.
During my October trip I was blessed with a beautiful sunset, as seen in the featured photo up top, my first night followed by great blue skies the rest of the trip. While brilliant blue skies don’t make for the greatest photographic opportunities, they are great for just getting out and taking a hike around the lake or into the many back wood trails that cross the park’s north and western flanks. I also took a short break from the camera work to cast a line in the lake at Tyler State Park during my October trip. Sadly however, I must report that I failed to catch dinner for that evening. You do not need a current Texas State fishing licence to fish from the shore of any Texas State Park, and if the lake is completely contained within the State Park grounds as is the case with Tyler, you can jump in a boat and fish without a licence as well.
An unseasonably warm start to the year prompted my January trip. Taking what I learned during my recon hikes the previous trip in October I came prepared with a game plan for this trip. Taking the closest camp site available to to the small inlet cover on the south east edge of the lake in the Hickory Hollow camping area, I was within walking distance of the small foot bridge spanning the creek flowing into the lake. My plan was to setup for a set of star trail photos from the vantage point with towering pine and hard wood trees framing the lake and skies. My planning and preparation paid off, after 2 hrs I returned to camp with a set of photos that would later be combined into one of my favorite star trail photos to date, one of which I recently featured in a Show & Tell post.
Tyler State Park is quickly becoming a favorite go-to destination for my weekend camping excursions. Its hiking trail options are varied enough to not get bored within a day or exploring, and rest assured they are long enough to get yourself thoroughly turned around if not careful. The Lakeshore Loops makes for a nice morning stroll along the water’s edge, especially good for finding spots to catch the rising sun or making notes for where to return for sunset. Blackjack Nature Trail recently experienced a burn, possibly controlled, which has opened up the underbrush allowing you to view the many small bird species that call the State Park home. I’ve also explored much of the B and C loop trails. For more information on these trails, I encourage you to check out the trails map on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website (link below)
Planning a spring or fall trip will give you the opportunity to also take in the city’s annual festivals dedicated to their local blooms of roses and azaleas. If planning a trip during these periods, I would suggest making your camping reservations early as I suspect you will not be the only ones with the idea of combining the two. Several large reservoirs are also in the area offering boating and fishing opportunities well beyond what Tyler State Park’s small lake can provide. Tyler also boasts is own Zoo, a beautiful down town area and plenty of local eating options for when you don’t feel like cooking over an open fire. The Mineola Nature Preserve and multiple city and county parks offer outdoor destinations within a short drive of the state park which are worth a stop to explore. Further out, two other Texas State Parks are also within a day trip excursion.