Historic Scenic Drive Through The Pineywoods
By Dana Goolsby
ETX- Take a trip through the Pineywoods on one of the best scenic routes in East Texas. Roll your windows down and turn your radio up, or hop on you motorcycle and let the wind blow through your hair as you travel from Grapeland to Alto, down a historic path in the Pineywoods.
This scenic drive begins in the first county established under the Republic of Texas, Houston County, in Grapeland. Grapeland is a small town that time has not touched, and home of the Peanut Festival. Beginning in Grapeland, head east on FM 227. FM 227 will take you down a winding road which leads to some of the oldest historical markers in the state. You will cross over FM 2022 and soon be in the Augusta Community.
The Augusta Community dates back to 1821, and is named after Augusta Smith. Augusta is a little place with a big past. The Augusta Cemetery is the final resting place of many of the first pioneers in Texas. A bloody massacre, known as the Edens-Madden Massacre, also occurred in this area claiming the lives of several women and children. In the bend of the road you will find historical markers which detail the area’s deeply rooted history.
After you take a bit to walk around in Augusta, continue heading east and drive slowly down the winding road. The road is narrow and makes hard curves through the densely forested region.
FM 227 will soon meet Texas State Highway 21. You will find that you are now on the El Camino Real, one of the oldest traveled roads in the State of Texas. The El Camino Real is also known as the King’s Highway, Royal Road, and Old San Antonio Road. This stretch of land has been traveled since 1690, when Alonzo De Leon crossed Texas to establish Mission San Francisco de las Tejas, near the Neches River.
Now that you are one of the oldest roads in the Lone Star State prepare to be amazed by the past. You will soon pass Mission San Francisco de las Tejas State Park in Weches. The mission was the first Catholic mission established in East Texas in 1690. If the original mission were still standing today it would easily be the oldest landmarks in the state.
After taking a bit to look around the old mission get back on the road, but don’t get in a hurry. It won’t be long before you come to a historic plant on the side of the road. A pepper tree planted in 1848 sits alongside Hwy 21. The pepper tree is impressive in size, as well as age.
Back on the road again, you will see several eye catching markers such as sloughs and trails just off the highway. Soon you will cross the last wild river in Texas, the mighty Neches and leave Houston County and enter Cherokee County.
Soon you will see the impressive mounds built by the Caddo Indians that once inhabited the region. The Caddo Mounds State Historic Site is an amazing place that every Texan should visit. Pull in and take a tour of the visitor center and walk the trails near the mounds where these ancient Native Americans once lived and died, over 1,200 years ago. Three earthen mounds reach for the sky and hold more than just history, as one is a burial mound. Artifacts inside the visitor center will leave you in awe, and you will walk away with knowledge you never had.
Eventually, you will have to pull yourself away from the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site to continue along your scenic drive. From the Caddo Mounds to Alto will yield beautiful sites along Hwy 21.
Alto, also known as Branchtown, is a small town in Cherokee County, at the junction of U.S. Highway 69 and State Highway 21. Take some time to drive around in Alto and see the old buildings from days gone by.
This scenic drive is approximately 30 miles one way. Whereas this route would normally take approximately 40 minutes to travel, the numerous recommended stops will extend the travel time. Travel time will vary depending on which stops are made and how long is spent at each destination.
Once you have reached Alto, the final destination of this scenic route, one has a few options as to choosing a route back to the starting point. One can always simply turn around and travel back along the route mapped from Grapeland to Alto. This route will be no less enjoyable the second time.
For those who are up to taking a different route back to the starting point, one can travel west on Texas State Highway 294. This route is approximately the same distance as the original route, and makes for an excellent option without having to spend more in gas money than one would if they simply turned around and traveled back along the original route.
Traveling west along Hwy 294 will also yield several historic stops. Just outside of Alto a historic marker tells of a German Prisoner of War camp that was established in the area during the 1940s. You will find other historic markers along the highway as well, which detail East Texas’s historic timber industry.
This route will eventually cross the Neches River again. This particular crossing is an excellent place to stop and get a close look at the last wild river in Texas. Travelers will be able to see a worn path that locals take down to the river to fish. If there has been excessive rain in the area, or if you can see water standing in the trail leading down to the river, do not attempt to drive down the path. If the trail is dry drive down and take a look. Odds are you will see someone fishing, and maybe even see some native wildlife.
Once you have seen the Neches up close get back on the road and continue heading west. After traveling west approximately five miles take a left onto FM 228. FM 228 will is part of the Texas Forest Trail and will lead you through the Percilla community, back to Grapeland in about 20 minutes.
*MYETX.com recommends that you pack a sack lunch and cooler for this trip. Depending on what size vehicle you drive this trip should cost roughly $20 for gas at the most. Packing a lunch and cooler full of drinks will deter you from any extra spending along the way, making for a cheap day trip opportunity. Also, there are few places to stop off for a drink or bathroom break, so travel preparedly.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know how your trip through the Pineywoods went and what your favorite historical marker was along the way!