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Day Trip: Palestine, Athens and Canton

Updated: May 17, 2022

Some of the best things to see driving through Palestine, Athens and Canton, Texas.

If you're driving through the piney woods in the spring, take some time to see the dogwoods. And if you're seeing dogwoods, just a little more time will lead you to even more Texas back roads charm, fauna and flora.

We recently spent late morning to sundown driving in East Texas through Palestine, Athens and Canton. And whether or not it's dogwood season, here are our favorite local finds and quick stops that give you lots of return on your time investment.

A Day Trip Guide to Palestine, Athens and Canton

Conveniently located for a day trip from Dallas, this stretch of small town Texas offers much in the way of surprises and delights! Each one stands on its own as a great place to visit in Texas, and combined in the same itinerary, takes you through some of the region's prettiest scenery. In the spring, you'll see flowering dogwood, buttercups and black-eyed-Susan blooms. In the fall, changing leaves turn this part of the Texas Forest Trail gold, orange and red. (Bear in mind that this is Texas, so these seasons are truly beautiful but often brief! Plan accordingly.)


An Hour in Palestine

Palestine, Texas is on almost all of the East Texas "must visit" lists, and for good reason. It is fun, friendly and filled with just the right amount of things to do and see. One way that you know you're in Palestine is by its dogwoods and dogwood motifs; another is its commitment to public art. We timed our visit perfectly to experience both!

yellow and blue mural and minimalist blue sculpture shaped like a flower with eyes
Public art by Dana Mathews and Jeffie Brewer in Palestine, Texas.

After lunch at the friendly Hambone's Cajun Grill in Old Town Palestine (try the crawfish tails!) we walked through Main Street and Historic Downtown Palestine. This was our third visit to Palestine, and we always enjoy it as a road trip stop from Dallas or between Dallas and Lufkin. Sadly, of the three visits, we have only been able to try the Oxbow Bakery once! If you want a slice - which trust us, you do - make it the first stop on your Palestine agenda, because it keeps short hours and sells out quickly.

Retro shoe store sign in the shape of a black boot.
City Shoe Shop in Palestine, Texas, est. 1943.

Pretty sidewalk petals in Historic Downtown Palestine, Texas.

"Palestine in Color," by Deanna Pickett Frye, in Old Town Palestine, Texas.

On our way out, we drove through the Davey Dogwood Park. As with the pies, dogwoods (mostly) eluded us this time around, except for the ones on the buildings and sidewalks, which are still very pretty. But there's always next year!

Scene from the Road: Montalba

tin barn covered with yellow, red and blue vintage signs
Montalba, Texas

red, white and blue windmill
Montalba, Texas Windmill

Montalba, Texas caught our eye driving between Palestine and Athens. Not much more than a roadside stop off of Highway 19 - at least from what we could tell, and we'd be happy to be proven wrong - Montalba was nonetheless a colorful and quirky patch of Texas to explore for a minute. We were especially intrigued by Heath's Crawfish, a homey and busy restaurant just off the main highway. A small space partially hidden from the main highway, its mix of casual hometown atmosphere and busy customer traffic made note it for a return visit.

Exploring Athens

We always enjoy Athens, Texas for its history, facades and character. This time, our trip was even sweeter!

Statue of a seated man playing the fiddle
Fiddler statue in downtown Athens.

Historic Downtown Athens is made up of a courthouse square surrounded by blocks of 1900s-era buildings. On a previous visit, we spent some time admiring its murals and Gallery 211. This was a quicker stop; we wanted to catch some of its historic facades in the early evening light.

1925-era brick structure in the American Gothic Revival style.
The Old Henderson County Jail in Athens, Texas. Est. 1925.

Texas courthouse with columns and stairs in evening light
Henderson County Courthouse in Athens, Texas.

Many nearby buildings in Athens' courthouse square have been, or are currently being renovated for modern use. But while their interiors might receive some necessary upgrades, most of its main street facades maintain historic architecture that complements the Henderson County Courthouse.

Across Highway 175 and to the left, we found a fresh new bakery: Panadería Athens. This brightly-lit, colorful stop had grab-and-go Mexican pastries - conchas, buñuelos and polvorones - as well as coffee, juice, and the always refreshing Mexican Coke in a bottle.

Mexican sugar cookie, pink, shaped like a flower
Polvorone from Panaderia Athens.

Catching Magic Hour in Canton

Evening light falls on older buildings in Canton TX
Downtown Canton, Texas.

detail view of the architecture of the Van Zandt County Courthouse in Canton Texas
The Van Zandt County Courthouse in Canton, Texas.

We arrived in Canton too late to visit its local businesses, but the beautiful evening light over its courthouse square and historic architecture made for a great end to a fun day,

On previous visits to Canton, we have enjoyed the Pony Expresso coffee shop, and on our next visit, we plan to browse the shelves at A Wicked Read, Canton's independent bookstore. And of course, Canton's First Monday trade days events are a destination on their own!


East Texas Day Trip Travel Planner

Our East Texas Day Trip Itinerary at a Glance

Our Itinerary:

Arrive in Palestine and have lunch at Hambone's

Check out signage and public art along Palestine's Main Street

Drive through Davy Dogwood Park on the way out of town

Pull over in Montalba for a closer look at roadside attractions

Arrive in Athens' courthouse square for a walk and some architectural photography

Check out Athens Panaderia for baked goods and a bottled Coke

Arrive in Canton at sunset and admire the view

Obligatory Buc-ee's stop in Terrell!

Misc: Our road trip was in mid-March and the beautiful Texas wildflowers were just beginning to bloom. It was cooler in the morning and heated up quickly as we walked around in the midday. All of these stops had very easy parking, but we always recommend comfortable shoes so that you're not held back from getting where you want to go.


About K.Co Press

Since 2016, K.Co has been a platform to share inspiration, creative connections and unique experiences found in local businesses, culture and communities, and off-the-path travel. In spring 2022, we will publish our debut release, Ten Texas Towns and Places In-Between, Field Notes from the Back Roads. You can place an advance order by clicking here.

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