Travel Guides

Exploring the Lone Star State's Lake District

By Lynn & Cele Seldon

Lake lovers don’t have to head across the Atlantic Ocean to England’s Lake District to explore breathtaking countryside lakes. They just need to go to the many lakes of northern Texas, situated just above the sprawling Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. With expansive drives between lots of lakes (and three well-placed lake-focused Thousand Trails campgrounds), it’s easy to say, “Howdy Y’all” to the Lone Star State’s very own lake district.

With a tourism tagline of, “It’s Like a Whole Other Country,” Texas truly is like its own country in many ways, thanks to lots of varied travel regions, including Big Bend Country, the South Texas Plains, the Gulf Coast, Hill Country, the Piney Woods, and the Panhandle Plains. The North Texas lakes area is part of the huge Prairies & Lakes region of northern Texas, providing a unique Texas adventure that’s truly like visiting another country.

Generally heading in a clockwise direction in a “triangle” that connects Lake Bridgeport to the west, Lake Texoma to the north (up on the Oklahoma border, giving the lake its name), and Lake Tawakoni to the east, it’s easy to put together a multi-day or -weeks journey exploring the area. Along with several other lakes and many marinas, lots of rolling pastures and cattle, great golf, and many small towns with much to offer (including great only-in-Texas dining options), it makes for a great adventure that’s all wet—from the lakes to links with water hazards to the barbecue sauce.

Heading northwest out of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex toward Lake Bridgeport, by way of Boyd and the town of Bridgeport, Texas lake country begins quickly, with Eagle Mountain Lake lying to the west. Along the way to the lake or when leaving the area, possible stops include the International Exotic Feline Sanctuary in Boyd (50-plus big cats, including lions, tigers, leopards, bobcats, and more), Decatur’s pretty courthouse, the Wise County Heritage Museum in the old Decatur Baptist College, shopping at Dry Creek Boutique, and dining at Rooster’s Roadhouse and Sweetie Pie’s Ribeyes, plus Bridgeport’s colorful downtown “Welcome to Bridgeport” wall mural, the Center for Animal Research (a 20-acre sanctuary with 40-plus exotic species), the Bridgeport Heritage Museum, the 5.8-mile looped Bridgeport Falls Paddling Trail, and the sprawling 20,000-plus acres of LBJ National Grasslands, north and northeast of Bridgeport.

Four miles west of Bridgeport, Lake Bridgeport proper is an impoundment on the West Fork of the Trinity River. It’s an ideal introduction (or ending) to an exploration of North Texas lakes, thanks to the typical Texas lake pursuits, including swimming, boating, fishing, and more.

The northwest corner of the Prairies & Lakes travel region is next, with the town of Nocona (about 50 miles from Lake Bridgeport) a perfect place to start. Situated southwest of Lake Nocona (an impoundment on Farmers Creek), highlights in friendly Nocona must include the excellent regional Tails ‘N’ Trails Museum (look for the historic Chisholm Trail outside), huge Horton Classic Car Museum (more than 125 restored cars and more), and Nokona American Gloves, where they’ve been making leather baseball gloves and more for decades (including tours and a small museum). There’s also adjacent Nocona Boots and Nocona Beer and Brewery next door for some serious chillin’, Texas style.

To the east about 15 miles and also on US 82, cute Saint Jo awaits with the Stonewall Saloon Museum, Howell-Sickles Studio (featuring the art of Cowgirl Hall of Fame inductee Donna Howell-Sickles, a great granddaughter of one of the town’s founders), the Lazy Heart Grill, Gilbert’s Fenton Art Glass and Collectibles Museum. The historic square dates back to 1873,

Next, still on US 82 and just another 10 miles east, German-leaning Muenster awaits with sprawling Fischer’s Meat Market, which is a perfect place to buy provisions (including lots of local meats, cheeses, and more), and other unique shopping opportunities (like Main Street Mercantile, Bird Nest, and Girlfriends Boutique). Featuring varied sausages, schnitzels, German potato salad and many other sides, beers, and more, Rohmer’s is a local favorite that’s been family-owned and operated since 1953, while Doc’s Bar & Grill Biergarten is another great place to meet locals over an adult beverage.

Gainesville is 15 miles further east, with much to see, do, and eat. The possibilities once in town include: Moss Lake, fun Frank Buck Zoo, the museum up on the mezzanine at Kinne’s Jeweler’s (also a fun place to shop), The Original Fried Pie Shop (making famed fried pies for more than 100 years), Lavender Ridge Farms, Gainesville’s Medal of Honor Park, the Horton Museum of Cooke County, and lots of historic homes on Church, Denton, and Lindsay streets, as well as a firehouse and historic churches. Gainesville’s Los Mariachis Mexican Restaurant is the “Home of the Texas Famous Sizzling Fajitas,” which are truly sizzling, tasty, and picture-perfect.

Sprawling Lake Texoma on the Texas/Oklahoma border is next. Along with lots of typical lake-focused watersports like boating, fishing, and jet skiing (and tasty seafood meals at Pelican’s Landing), the 14-mile Cross Timbers Hiking Trail, and Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, the Lake Texoma area features several interesting towns. Along with Pottsboro’s Perrin Air Force Base Historical Museum and The Sherman Museum, Harber Wildlife Museum, and the oh-so-Victorian C.S. Roberts House on Heritage Row in Sherman, the Denison area provides a great outing—including fascinating Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Site (where President Dwight D. Eisenhower was born), pretty Eisenhower State Park, Red River Railroad Museum, and the Grayson County Frontier Village (look for the huge statue of Eisenhower’s head, which is part of the Eisenhower Veterans Monument at the entrance).

To the east and south of Denison, several other interesting towns make for great outings or stops while meandering toward Lake Tawakoni. Though it’s a bit of a diversion, Paris will likely interest many trailblazing travelers who don’t want to cross the Atlantic for a some c’est la vie. Capitalizing on its name, the town features a 65-replica of the Eiffel Tower—but topped with a big red cowboy hat and with colored lights for nighttime viewing. There’s also the Lamar County Historic Museum, Plaza Gallery, which features the work of Lamar County artists, the Sam Bell Maxey House State Historic Site, and Lake Crook and Pat Mayse Lake. About halfway to Paris, Bonham features the Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site, Sam Rayburn Library Museum, Fort Inglish Village, the Fannin County Museum of History, Bonham State Park, and Lake Bonham on Timber Creek.

Whitewright might provide another possible stop on the way south, thanks to Whitewright Historical Museum & Nature Park and, for those who dare, Skydive Spaceland Dallas. Along with Cooper Lake State Park, Commerce features the Northeast Texas Children’s Museum and the state-of-the-art Texas A&M-Commerce Planetarium. Finally, Greenville is another Lake Tawakoni area option, including the Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum (don’t miss the historic Ende-Gaillard House, the Hunt County War Memorial, and the Confederate Soldier Memorial), Mathews Prairie Nature Preserve, and downtown’s popular Landon Winery (in an old Kress department store building and one of three Landon Winery locations, with others in McKinney and Wiley). For tasty Texas ‘cue and more, Ernie’s Pit Barbecue, Soulman’s Barbeque (with 20 locations) and The Rib Crib (one of dozens of locations) are all good bets.

Part of the Sabine River Authority, bucolic Lake Tawakoni features lots of watersports, as well as Lake Tawakoni State Park on the south shore. It provides a great base for exploring the south east corner of this lake-focused Texas region.

Heading back across the northern side of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, possible stops include Rockwall’s Lake Ray Hubbard, McKinney’s famed Hutchins BBQ, alluring Lake Lavon, Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary, Chestnut Square Historic Village, Collin County Farm Museum, the Heard-Craig House, the historic courthouse square, art galleries, and—as mentioned—another bustling Landon Winery location, and even more in downtown Denton (including the excellent Courthouse on the Square Museum, the historic houses of Denton County Historical Park, and more).

Given all of these options, it’s easy to see why lake lovers don’t have to head across the Atlantic Ocean for “lake district” travels and travails.


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