Weekend Trip: Jefferson, Texas and Caddo Lake
Highlights: Lots of antiquing. Beautiful homes and well preserved city, like a throw-back in time as you walk around. Great food choices, and decent nightlife. The only natural lake in Texas, Caddo Lake, is nearby for a day on the water.
Suitable For: A great couple’s getaway as well as a fun family weekend spent on the lake. Or, spend a week at the lake taking a couple of day trips into Jefferson.
Accommodations: Best bet is to check VRBO or HomeAway for cabin rentals on the lake, or stay in one of the many Bed and Breakfasts in Jefferson. The Excelsior House is a great, historic hotel in Jefferson.
Worth Mentioning: There is so much to do here that everyone should be able to have a good time. The specific stores and eateries I’ve mentioned here can be easily found by just walking around – no need for calling for directions. The town is very small, so no worries.
DAY 1: JEFFERSON, TEXAS
The city of Jefferson, population 2500, is a very well preserved small Texas town that saw it’s boom in the 1840’s. The city was an East Texas river port entry when its waters were navigable by steamboats from New Orleans. The homes, the city, and the buildings are well-preserved and it is pure pleasure to just walk around the city wandering in and out of the shops and homes available for tour.
Shopping For Your Next Home Project
Antique shops are everywhere, but my personal favorite is Walnut Street Market. I’ve known the owners for years, and about half my house in Savannah has a piece of something I brought back from here. Larry and Hope are the owners and they always have a fresh assortment of interesting things to look at, as they are always “in the know” for the best places to find architectural salvage, furniture, and everything in between.
Many a project idea has originated from something I found in this store. I have remodeled my front porch railing based on one picket I found here, built a fence to add to the 100 year old cypress fencing I bought here, knocked out windows and added antique doors I brought home, and so many other projects including outdoor fireplaces and light fixtures. Marty and I have rented a U-Haul trailer and on another trip bought a flat-bed trailer to bring back treasure we found in this store. As he says, I can get in all kinds of trouble here.
If you’re just looking for small souvenirs to take home, stop at The Jefferson General Store. You can enjoy a 5 cent cup of coffee, sample different kinds of salsa, get an ice cream treat, or even play checkers as your partner shops. Take a picture outside by the antique Ford truck, and get some wonderful fudge or pralines here, too. It’s a great little store that looks exactly as it would back in the early 1900’s.
Eating and Drinking
Stop for lunch at Riverport Bar-B-Que and enjoy some of the best fried okra anywhere. Of course, the barbeque is awesome, but I always get two sides with my meal: okra and okra. Other wonderful little restaurants are The Hamburger Store where you can get some awesome burgers plus fabulous pies with meringue piled sky high on top. The Bayou Bakery is great for breakfast, and you can’t beat Auntie Skinner’s for a great Bloody Mary, draft beer, and Texas Toothpicks, which are fried jalepeno pepper strips dipped in ranch dressing.
For nightlife, try going on a ghost tour either walking or by horse drawn carriage. Get information for tours right next to Auntie Skinner’s. On weekend nights, Skinner’s has live music and a party atmosphere and The Franchise is also great for live music and the bar scene. Beware of getting too rowdy, though. If you are taken in for disorderly conduct or public drunkenness in Jefferson, you will spend the night in jail, conveniently located across the street from Auntie Skinner’s. You will wear the orange stripes and wash police cars the next day as the tourists wonder what the heck you did. I’m surprised Marty and I have escaped this all these years, but we have. Once we were at the grocery store and saw the warden with some weekend jailbirds picking out their meal for the evening. No, I’m not kidding.
Jefferson gets really sleepy early in the evening and most restaurants and stores close early, so get your dinner and nightlife in early. If you’re not into the bar scene, you can enjoy a night ride on the Historic Jefferson Railway, which goes through the woods and varies in theme based on the time of year. It’s always fun for couples or families but my personal favorite is the haunted tour around Halloween time, but this may be too scary for the little ones as there are ghosts and goblins jumping out of the woods and onto the sides of the train.
Jefferson has a festival or event weekend about once per month. Mardi Gras is especially festive, complete with a parade through town and lots of beer gardens and nightlife all weekend long. The Christmas Candlelight Tour of Homes is a great way to go inside some of the town’s well-preserved mansions and learn about their history. There is also a Civil War Reenactment weekend, The Pilgrimage, always the first weekend in May. The city is taken over by soldiers, and people are dressed in period attire, as the reenactment of battles is carried out. The historic homes are open for tour during this time of the year as well, and a hostile take-over of these homes by soldiers could happen at any given time. Whatever you decide to do, be careful because you may be so charmed by the city that you end up buying real estate and moving as many city slickers have done after a charming weekend trip to Jefferson.
DAY 2: CADDO LAKE
The best way to enjoy Caddo Lake is on the water. If you are staying at a cabin rental on the lake, most likely you’ll have kayaks, canoes, or possibly a boat to use to see the lake. If not, you can rent from the state park headquarters or take a tour on a steamboat or swamp boat. It’s really a huge lake, which you can spend days exploring. Getting lost is easy to do, so if you aren’t familiar with the layout, you may want to avoid heading into the many detours off the main waterway where the steamboat tour stays. That said, the detours provide some of the most beautiful scenery complete with cypress trees laden with Spanish moss, lily pads, turtles, beautiful egrets, blue heron, and of course, snakes and alligators.
Swimming, water skiing, and fishing are huge here on Caddo, especially in the summer months. However, you can see people jet-skiing and water skiing in wetsuits in the winter months as well. For many, simply floating in a tube tied up to a dock, sipping on cold beer and watching the lake is a great way to spend the day. If you are spending the weekend in Jefferson, plan for an entire day on Caddo to enjoy the lake and unwind. If you love the lake life, rent a cabin with your family for a week and take a day-trip or two into Jefferson. Have lunch at The Big Pines Lodge or River Bend for some great catfish, hush-puppies, and Shiner Bock beer. Both of these restaurants are accessible by boat or by land.
Jefferson Visitor Center: visitjeffersontexas.com
Caddo Lake State Park: tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/caddo-lake
Historic Homes Tours: Jefferson-texas.com
Excelsior House Hotel: theexcelsiorhouse.com
Historic Jefferson Railway: jeffersonrailway.com