Our Visit to Mission Tejas State Park:
Mission Tejas State Park Sign
If you are looking for a quiet, peaceful retreat in nature with some interesting history mixed in, Mission Tejas State Park is for you! One of the least visited of the Texas State Parks, this small park is miles away from the hustle and bustle of the larger parks. There are no crowds and no cell phone signals, making it the perfect place to truly get away and relax. It is definitely one of our favorite Texas State Parks! There is just one problem. The small campground here only accomodates RVs up to 28 feet in length. But even though our 35 foot motorhome is too big to camp in the park, we will visit for the day when we are in the area. Simply put, we love this park! So even if you have a larger RV, please keep reading. You don't want to miss this park completely.
Looking back through our photos from our visit with our 23 foot travel trailer, our pull-through campsite looks large enough to accomodate our current RV. The problem, however, comes in access. All of the back-in campsites are small, and while the pull-through sites seem to be long enough for us, they are narrow and curved with trees and rocks on either side. Navigating through the park with anything longer than 25 to 28 feet would be a real challenge. So, unfortunately, for now it's best to leave your larger RV camped somewhere else and visit Mission Tejas via your car, truck or motorcycle. Camping options for larger RVs within 30 minutes of this park include Ratcliff Lake Recreation Area, Rusk KOA and the Texas State Railroad Campground.
Mission Tejas Pull Through Site
For those of you lucky enough to have a smaller RV that will fit, we absolutely 100% suggest that you put Mission Tejas State Park on your list of places to camp! We cannot say enough about our experiences here. The small number of campsites and fairly remote location of the park (compared to many other state parks in Texas) translate into a very peaceful and relaxing camping experience. Cell service and TV reception are limited (if you can get any), so bring your books, magazines, puzzles and board games, and come prepared to decompress!
The park is named for the first Spanish Mission to be constructed in Texas, Mission San Francisco de los Tejas, which was built nearby in 1690. The CCC-constructed replica of the Mission sits on the top of the hill right above the pull-through RV sites. Take your time when you visit the Mission and pay attention to all of the "hidden" details that make up the structure. If you look closely, you'll notice that the door handle is a hatchet. There is a Texas star embedded in the stone floor, and a bird (or possibly an angel) within the petrified woodwork of the fireplace.
Replica of Mission San Francisco de los Tejas
The history within this park is so interesting: from the stories of the early days of Spanish colonization, the "King's Highway" (El Camino Real), a local family's log home/inn from the 1800s, and the story of all of the work completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps here during the 1930s. No study of the history of Texas is complete without a visit to Mission Tejas State Park.
The Park Office was destroyed in a generator fire during Hurricane Ike in 2008, so they have been working out of a temporary building for 10 years. Construction is currently underway on a new park headquarters and entrance. We hear that additional RV and tent camping may be on the project list for sometime in the future. We definitely hope this is true. It is a shame that more people (including us now) are not able to enjoy camping in this beautiful park because of the original campground limitations. Maybe if we can get the word out about this gem of a park, and more folks begin to express an interest in it those expanded campground plans we've heard rumors of for years will start to move forward?? Fingers crossed.
Ice is sold at the office, and a local sawmill has been known to donate large scraps of cedar for campfires, but check with the headquarters before you assume what type of firewood will be available within the park. You might have to bring your own firewood if you'd like to cook in the firepit.
If you are planning to RV camp at Mission Tejas State Park, don't forget your leveling blocks. Remember, this is an older campground. The RV sites are all shaded but are not level. Trust us, though... a little time spent leveling is worth the work to stay here.
We look forward to the day when we can enjoy camping at Mission Tejas State Park again. We really love this park!
Inside Mission San Francisco de los Tejas
Mission Tejas Historical Marker
The History of Mission Tejas State Park:
The park development of this area on the northern edge of the Davy Crockett National Forest that would later become Mission Tejas State Park began when the citizens of Houston County bought land and erected a monument commemorating Mission San Francisco de los Tejas, the first Spanish Mission built in Texas. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) worked at this site from 1933 to 1935 planting trees and building structures including the replica of Mission San Francisco de los Tejas, the old fire tower, the fishing pond and trails.
In reality, the original Mission Tejas was probably quite different from the CCC replica, and was located a short distance from the park. But this is still an interesting place to learn about the history of the early Spanish entrants into Texas and the local Caddo Indians who met them here.
Petrified Wood Fireplace Art in Mission Tejas
Mission Tejas Hatchet Door Handle
Spanish Captain Alonso de Leon, Fray Damian Massanet and 3 other priests established Mission San Francisco de los Tejas in this area in 1690 in response to reports of French colonists landing in Texas. History reports that the Mission was built in less than a week in a Caddo village. Three priests and three soldiers lived at the settlement charged with teaching the Native people new ways of farming and Christianity. The first Christian church service held inside a structure in Texas is said to have been at Mission San Francisco de los Tejas on June 1, 1690.
Only three short years later, a smallpox epidemic coupled with a drought and a clash of cultures led to growing hostilities between the Caddo and the Spanish. One night in October 1693, the Spaniards burned the Mission, buried the Mission bell and cannon, and left for Mexico.
When Mission San Francisco de los Tejas was destroyed, one of the priests, Fray Francisco Hidalgo, became inspired to increase his missionary efforts amongst the local Caddo. He went on to participate in the founding of several new missions in Texas including San Juan Bautista in 1700. Hidalgo re-established Mission Tejas on the other side of the Neches River in 1716 under the name Nuestro Padre San Francisco de los Tejas. It was abandoned in 1719 during the Chicken War when Spain withdrew from its East Texas Missions expecting aggression from France (which didn't happen). After a couple of other short-lived establishments, the Mission was relocated near San Antonio in 1731 and renamed Mission San Francisco de la Espada. Mission Espada is now part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park!
Walk in History on El Camino Real
Hiking El Camino Real
The interesting history of this area doesn't stop there. Mission Tejas State Park is one of the only public access points for El Camino Real. The park opened a series of new trails on June 1, 2013. This is the first expansion of public access in the park since the 1930s and it includes a portion of El Camino Real!
El Camino Real is said to have been established by de Leon's expedition to build Mission Tejas. It became a major trade route, and is the road traveled by Texas heroes including Moses Austin, Stephen F Austin, Sam Houston and Davy Crockett as they entered our state.
I have to say, it was truly amazing to have the opportunity to walk along the same path as these Texas history legends and other pioneers. The earthen berms on the side of the path were built when the trail was wet. If a wagon became bogged down in the mud, the mud would be dug out from around the wheels and thrown to the side of the path. Looking at how high some of the berms were, we'd say they got stuck quite a bit! We saw similar earthen berms when we walked part of the Trail of Tears in Arkansas. These historic roads that are now trails just fascinate us. You can feel the history as you hike.
El Camino Real de los Tejas runs from Natchitoches, Louisiana to the Rio Grande River. For more information on this historic road, visit El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail Association.
Star Embedded in the Floor of Mission Tejas
Base of the Old Mission State Forest Fire Tower
Back in the 1930s, communities bid for opportunities to have the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) come to their area to establish parks. Typically, areas that were selected had some type of geographical, geological, natural or historical significance. The people of Houston County sought to build a park commemmorating the first Spanish Mission in Texas. Their plans were accepted, and from 1933-1935 Forest Company 888 of the Civilian Conservation Corps worked to construct the replica Mission, park roads, picnic areas, and the original park pavilion (which has since been replaced). These men planted trees, built trails and dug out the park's pond by hand. They also built the dam to create the pond and a fire tower to watch for wildfires.
Today, you can still see quite a bit of the CCC's handiwork and craftsmanship including the base of the old fire tower. It sits along a trail that runs from the Rice Family Log Home to the RV camping area. Take the time to read the history of the fire towers in this area. Very interesting stuff. When the park opened prior to Texas' 1936 Centennial, it was operated by the Texas Forest Service and called San Francisco Mission State Forest. The Park was transferred from the Texas Forest Service to Texas Parks and Wildlife in 1957 and was renamed Mission Tejas State Park. Since it's inception in the 1930s it has grown from 118 acres to 660 acres. Camping was added in the early 1970s.
Very Cool Trailhead Marker
1820s Rice Family Log Home
Things to Do at Mission Tejas State Park:
Mission San Francisco de Los Tejas: This replica structure of the first Spanish Mission in Texas was built here by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and serves as the foundation and namesake of the park. At the time of construction, this was thought to be the actual location of the short-lived Mission. The details in the craftsmanship are very interesting, although they may not be entirely historically accurate. The Mission is located near the camping bathhouse just above the pull-through RV sites.
The Rice Family Log Home: Also at Mission Tejas State Park is the Rice Family Log Home. Built in 1828 by Joseph Redmond Rice, Sr and his wife, Willie (while she was 8 months pregnant), this log home is likely the oldest wooden structure in Houston County. The Rice family expanded the home in 1832 and again in 1838. It is said that they used the newest portion of the home as an inn. The home was moved to Mission Tejas State Park in 1974.
Hiking: Our favorite activity here! From the original 1930s CCC trails to the newly opened ones, this is a serious hiking park. Elevations range from about 170 feet to over 550 feet. Some of the trails are very well marked, and others are more rustic. You'll definitely want to take your hiking boots, plenty of water and request a Trail Map at the park headquarters. Watch your step as this is a heavily forested park and many of the trails have roots and stones in the path. Points of interest on our hikes included El Camino Real, the base of the old fire tower, the CCC baths and the CCC dugout pond.
One of Many Foot Bridges at Mission Tejas
We Love Hiking at Mission Tejas!
Biking: Some of the trails are bike friendly, some less so (at least for us anyway). Some folks use their bikes to get to points within the park. This park isn't huge, but there are some hills.
Fishing: Fishing is available in the pond which was created by the CCC (We are just amazed that they dug the entire pond out by hand!). If you don't have fishing gear or forget to bring it with you, Mission Tejas State Park participates in the Tackle Loaner Program. No fishing license is required for bank fishing inside a Texas State Park.
Geocaching: Mission Tejas State Park is home to 8 geocaches. A few GPS systems are also available for loan from the park headquarters if you are interested. If you would like to learn more about geocaching, take a look at our post "Discover Amazing Places By Geocaching".
Wildflowers in Mission Tejas State Park
New Sapling Pines Growing in the Forest
Birding and Wildlife Viewing: The park is located near the Northern edge of the Davy Crockett National Forest along the Prairies and Pineywoods Wildlife Trail - East. We didn't see a ton of wildlife, likely due to the fact that a large portion of this park is undeveloped. We did see deer, a woodpecker, cardinals and blue jays. The trees here are incredibly tall, so while we could hear the birds, it was often tough to spot them. Even so, it was relaxing to just sit and listen.
Ranger Programs: Mission Tejas State Park offers ranger programs focusing on the nature and history of the area. Check with the Park for current schedules. Guided park tours are also available upon request according the park's website.
Bench by the CCC Hand-Dug Lake
Historic CCC Baths at Mission Tejas
Other Amenities at Mission Tejas State Park:
CCC Structures: Be sure to check out the Mission, the CCC baths, and the park's pond. Of all of the CCC-built parks that we have visited so far, I think this is the first time we have seen where the workers actually bathed. The stone pits were filled with water. One is marked "bathe" and the other "rinse". The fireplace of the park pavilion is original CCC work, though the original pavilion itself has been replaced. And though the fire tower no longer exists, the park tells an interesting history of this and similar towers in the area where the base still sits. As you walk the trails, also keep an eye out for original trail steps placed here by the CCC.
Playground: Located near the park's pond and the Water Only Tent Camping sites, the playground is shaded by the forest and has nearby picnic tables and parking.
Forest! This is a PHENOMENAL place to camp during the Summer! Thanks to the work of the CCC and the Forest Service, the entire park is incredibly shaded. We stayed here for 4 days in June and never put on sunblock! (and trust me, we are people who wear sunblock!). Most of the trails are shaded, as is the pond for fishing. Don't be afraid to visit during the summer.
Mission Tejas State Park Information:
Year Opened: 1935
Discount Passes Accepted: Texas State Parks Pass
CCC Park? Yes! Visit the replica of Mission San Francisco de Los Tejas and the CCC baths.
Park Store? Souvenirs.
Lodging Options at Mission Tejas State Park: Tent Camping, Small RV Camping, Primitive Group Camping
Mission Tejas State Park Reviews: Campendium, RV Park Reviews, RV Parky, TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google Reviews
Amenities: CCC history, replica of the 1st Spanish Mission in Texas, bank fishing, access to historic El Camino Real, geocaching, hiking, biking, wildlife viewing, nature trails
Operated By: Texas Parks and Wildlife
Region: East Texas Pineywoods
Nearest Towns: Weches TX (1 mile), Alto TX (13 miles), Ratcliff TX (14 miles), Kennard TX (17 miles), Crockett TX (22 miles)
View Mission Tejas State Park Map
Weather at Mission Tejas State Park
Tags: Texas State Parks, East Texas, CCC Parks, Texas History