In the third and final series of my East Texas adventure, I journeyed to what ended up being one of the prettiest parks I’ve visited. Nestled in the pine trees of the east, Mission Tejas State Park gently blew on the sparked kindling that is my desire for more knowledge of the El Camino Real de Los Tejas trail, and additionally provided a deepened desire to return.
For whatever reason Mission Tejas always seemed like a tiny park in my head. A park that’s merely a blip, and one that doesn’t offer much in terms of recreation, much less history. This couldn’t have been further from the truth.
As you drive down the pine-lined road of HWY 21 and enter the park you’re immediately greeted by a historic marker. “Mission San Franciso de los Tejas”, it reads. As the Spanish were growing ever more concerned for the possible French invasion into Texas, east Texas became the last hope for defense, and a place to continue converting the natives to the Christian religion.
In 1690 the original mission was established here by Franciscan friars but was visited later by captain Alonso de Leon to keep an eye out for any stragglers of La Salle’s 1685 expedition. Without proper defense teams in place, the mission faltered, and finally, in 1693 it was left abandoned.
Thankfully the Civilian Conservation Corps opted to rebuild in 1934 to commemorate the Spanish mission that gives the park its name.
That sums up half of the history that can be found here. You can see the Rice Family Log Home that was built in 1828 and relocated to its current location in 1973; you can view the majestic Sentry Pine which is one of the oldest trees at the park; visit Fire Tower Hill to see how people used to keep an eye out for natural threats and jump on a section of the El Camino Real to get a sense of what explorers would’ve trudged through to traverse Texas in the 17th century.
One of the other aspects of this park that threw me for a loop was the trail map. I was not expecting the number of trails that can be found here. From short spurs to lengthy loops, this park has something for all skill levels.
Feeling up for the challenge of dense trees and tough terrain? Check out the Olen Matchett Trail (.63 mi.). Short and steep. This trail gives you access to an additional point of interest, the CCC bathtubs. While no one really knows how they got there, or why they’re even there, it makes for a fun place to pause and create your own story.
Looking to stretch out additional miles? Hop on the Steep Ravine Trail. At 2.43 miles this is the longest trail at the park to explore the depths of the forest. If you’re feeling adventurous you can use this trail to hop onto the Hardwood Trail (.53 mi.), The Weches Run (.36 mi.), or continue north to the Nabedache Loop (.99 mi.) and hop onto the El Camino trail.
Camping and Recreation
While the size of the park accommodates history and trails, the amount of campsites is limited. In total there are 17 campsites that consist of 12 campsites that offer electricity ($15/night), Three electric sites just for tents ($15/nightly), and two sites with just water ($10/night).
All of the sites are located on the opposite end of the park, but the one thing I noticed while driving through the park is the trees all around. Very lovely places to camp, though some sections seemed a bit close together. The one takeaway about pine trees would be that their thin tree stalks don’t allow for too much privacy in the form of overhanging branches.
If you’re new to the reservation system, check out this post on how to get to your campsite.
Here is the link for the downloadable trail map for Mission Tejas State Park