The Piney Woods are the natural heart of East Texas. Comprised of several national forests and not much else, most of this vast area remains as it has been for centuries, when Native-American tribes and pioneers hunted wild game in the dense woods by day and slept under the canopy of pine boughs by night.
The moniker “Piney Woods,” a Texas colloquialism, is an endearing term describing this forested region, an image many visitors don’t associate with the stereotypical desert landscape of the Lone Star State. Regardless, these aren’t dense, lush, groves of evergreens—they’re mainly shortleaf and loblolly pines, sprinkled liberally with hardwoods such as oak, elm, ash, and maple. The combination is especially appealing in autumn, when, in another unexpected Texas scene, the changing colors offer a scenic outdoor escape.
There’s no shortage of recreational activities in this portion of East Texas, particularly in the national and state forests and parks, which annually draw tens of thousands of campers, bikers, hikers, fishers, and boaters to their natural playscapes. Texans accustomed to their state’s hot summers and unpredictable winters will frequent the recreation areas throughout the year, while out-of-staters prefer to enjoy them during the temperate months of spring and late fall.
These wooded areas provided shelter and sustenance for the region’s earliest inhabitants, the Native American tribes that were largely displaced by Westward frontier expansion. The legacy of the Caddo Indians is evident in the rich history of Piney Woods communities like Nacogdoches, and the Alabama-Coushatta tribe remains a vital cultural presence on its reservation in the Big Thicket National Preserve.
The forests also had a significant impact on East Texas’s economy when the lumber industry became a major contributor to the state’s agricultural output in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Though much of the area was initially overharvested, the industry eventually recovered and remains an essential economical element today. The Piney Woods community of Lufkin contains several cultural attractions related to the area’s timber-oriented past.
© Andy Rhodes from Moon Texas, 6th Edition