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Family Road Trip to Tyler

It’s clear that big things are happening in Texas these days (Forbes predicts four of the top eight economic boomtowns in the next decade will be Lone Star cities). And with the big cities in the limelight, it can be easy to overlook our state’s smaller gems like Tyler. While the drive there is easy enough for a day trip, the renowned spring flowers, family-friendly hiking trails, zoo and more make it worth a weekend getaway.

Getting there:
From Dallas, head east on Highway 80, continue east on Interstate 20 and then head south on Highway 69. The journey is just short of 100 miles and should take about an hour and a half.

What To Do:
Spend an afternoon hiking the Lakeshore Trail, a 2.1-mile loop through Texas Pineywoods surrounding the lake (which is stocked with perch and trout) in Tyler State Park. Stop and rest, picnic, fish, swim and let the kids run wild on the playground. Then take the crew on the water in a rented rowboat, canoe, kayak or paddleboat, starting at $15/hour. Park entrance is $6 for adults; free for kids 12 and younger.

Have a roaring good time at the Caldwell Zoo, where animals live in their natural habitats. See all the usual suspects, including zebras, elephants, giraffes and monkeys in a place that’s typically free of big crowds. Before you go, download and print one of the zoo’s seven scavenger hunts to add a bit of education to the fun. Adults, $11.50; kids, $8; tots younger than 2, free.

See the big cats up close (like from six feet away) at the Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge, a 150-acre wildlife preserve that nearly 40 tigers, lions and leopards call home. Originally created to rescue abused, neglected or displaced animals, the refuge offers guided and self-guided tours Monday through Saturday. Adult guided tour, $25; adult self-guided tour, $20; kids, $12; younger than 3, free.

Let little explorers seek out the wonders in Discovery Science Place’s hands-on, educational exhibits. Kids investigate underground caverns, examine dinosaur bones and use professional equipment to create a news broadcast. Most exhibits offer interactive activities, puzzles and games so little play and learn at the same time. Adults, $8; kids, $6; younger than 2, free.

Take science buffs to The Center for Earth & Space Science Education on April 9 to navigate the night sky with a telescope during one of three star parties that evening or head to the center’s theater on April 15 to watch a short film about space or stars projected in a 40-foot dome and set to classic rock music. Pricing starts at $7 for adults; $5 for kids.

Or relive a bit of your childhood and catch a screening of The Goonies (rated PG) with the kids at 10am on April 30 in the art deco-style Liberty Hall theater. Buy tickets, starting at $5, online.

Consider glamping among the pines in a quaint cabin in Tyler State Park. Each cabin in the woods sleeps four and includes a queen-sized bed (with room for a BYO blow-up mattress or cot), table and chairs, electricity, a heater, a fridge and a microwave. Bring linens and pillows, and expect a short walk to the communal restrooms (with showers) nearby. Rates start at $58 per night.

Don’t Miss:
Visit in early April to catch the 57th annual Azalea & Spring Flower Trail, which runs through April 10. Pick the Lindsey or Dobbs paths (each of the trails measures about 10 miles and can be walked or driven) and wind your way through historic neighborhoods, basking in the lauded residential gardens blooming with azaleas, tulips, daffodils and dogwoods. Free.

Tyler is known as America’s Rose Capital for good reason. Pack a picnic (and a camera) and meander through the maze of 32,000 rose bushes currently in peak bloom at the Tyler Rose Garden. Let the kids stop and smell the climbing roses, mini roses and some trial varieties too while you take a breather in the meditation garden’s gazebo. Free.