Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Tyler, TX

  • Published 2023/01/06

Texas is more than cowboys, the Wild West, and world-class barbeque.

The best example of the diversity of the Lone Star State is the city of Tyler, the county seat of Smith County.

This laid-back, charming city in east Texas is renowned worldwide for its unique fondness of roses.

Thus, this city earned the moniker “The City of Roses” for its numerous gorgeous rose gardens and a festival dedicated to celebrating this beautiful flower.

For those planning to explore Tyler, expect plenty of beautiful parks, gardens, and historical attractions to fill your itinerary.

At the same time, you’ll enjoy sightseeing and outdoor recreation.

What makes Tyler more amazing is most of the attractions you’ll be visiting won’t require you to spend a single penny.

Here are the free things to do in Tyler, Texas:

Marvel at the Tyler Rose Garden

Entrance arch of Tyler Rose Garden

Donna Chance Hall /

Speaking of roses, Tyler considers the rose as their official flower.

As a testament to it, you’ll find plenty of rose gardens in the city, including the most extensive rose garden you’ll ever see, the Tyler Rose Garden.

You can visit this rose garden along Rose Park Drive.

This place isn’t just romantic but also wonderful to explore.

Walk through 14 acres of a dedicated area that cultivates and grows over 35,000 rose bushes.

Daytime view of Tyler Rose Garden

Donna Chance Hall /

Amazingly, this garden doesn’t just maintain and grow a couple of types of roses.

It hosts over 500 different kinds of roses picked from various parts of the world.

It’s a gorgeous place to see carpets of roses with different hues blooming year-round.

Strolling through the Tyler Rose Garden is a splendid experience you mustn’t miss upon arriving in Tyler.

Close view of a rose at Tyler Rose Garden

Kasey Englehart /

Relax at the Southside Park

Southside Park is an excellent place to unwind and enjoy various outdoor activities.

You can visit this community park along Shiloh Road.

This park features a half-mile trail perfect for a short hike with your loved ones or dog.

At the same time, this park boasts a gorgeous and spacious playground area, a picnic area, a pavilion, and other amenities.

It’s a pleasant spot in Tyler to have a picnic or pass the time whenever you’re not in the mood to explore the city.

Above all, Southside Park is known for its tranquil environment, perfect to rest your mind and body from the stressful city life.

Walk Down Memory Lane at the Azalea Residential Historic District

Azalea Residential Historic District is a charming area in Tyler known for its turn-of-the-century homes in excellent condition.

You can visit this area along W. Dobbs Street.

It’s one of Tyler’s best places for sightseeing as you stroll through the street and come across Victorian houses in pristine conditions.

Amazingly, each house you’ll pass has a fascinating backstory.

At the same time, you’ll also notice the blooming azaleas that add color to the entire area.

Thirty-six identified sections comprise the entire historic district, making it a nice place to explore the history, especially with fellow history enthusiasts or friends.

In addition, you can tour the Azalea Residential Historic District on your own or with a tour guide.

Enter the Cotton Belt Depot Museum

Exterior of the Cotton Belt Depot Museum

Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Cotton Belt Depot Museum details the vast railroading history of Texas.

You can visit this museum for free along E. Oakwood Street.

This museum displays fascinating artifacts and memorabilia donated by locals from their heirlooms and past-generation family members.

This museum, run by the Cotton Belt Rail Historical Society, has various exhibits.

Interior of the Cotton Belt Depot Museum

Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of its main attractions is the rare collection of model trains donated by Clyde Bragg.

Known as the “Bragg Collection,” this exhibit features scale models of over 1,600 rail cars and 200 locomotives displayed at the museum.

Besides that collection, there are plenty more fascinating things at the Cotton Belt Depot Museum you mustn’t miss.

Railroad model in the Cotton Belt Depot Museum

Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Spend the Day at the Children’s Park of Tyler

The Children’s Park of Tyler is your go-to place whenever your little one starts to grow bored exploring the city.

You can visit this park along E. Dobbs Street.

Locals find this park unique among other parks in the city.

It’s mainly because of its design and function, which focuses on catering to the little ones with a top-notch park where they can have a fantastic time.

According to its founders, Billy and Jennifer Dan Carson, the park dedicates itself as a place for kids to be kids.

The Children’s Park of Tyler isn’t just your typical kids-themed park.

It also boasts walkways, a butterfly garden, a fishpond, two waterfalls, and an events pavilion, making it an idyllic location for family bonding.

Uncover the Backstory of Camp Ford Historic Park

Camp Ford Historic Park is another fascinating place of history worthy of exploring.

You can visit this historic park along the US-271 highway.

This park served as the biggest Confederate prisoner-of-war camp during the American Civil War.

This POW camp was established in 1863 and closed after the Civil War in 1865, where over 5,300 prisoners were interned.

Today, remnants of the old camp are still standing at the park, such as the stockade and other sections, which you can check out.

You can also check an extensive collection of graphics, photographs, and documents that detail the camp’s history at the museum.

At the same time, explore the entire Camp Ford Historical Park to read interpretive signs and learn about its fascinating history.

Hike the Tyler Azalea Trails

Daytime view of Tyler Azalea Trails

Becky Sheridan /

The Tyler Azalea Trails to witness the full bloom of the Azaleas, especially during spring.

Locals love to celebrate the blooming of the azaleas during spring, with many hiking through a ten-mile route.

The route takes hikers through a mixture of residential and historical areas.

Tulips at Tyler Azalea Trails

Brent Daniels /

The hike offers a magical experience as the entire route’s street sides are covered with gorgeous flowers such as azaleas, wisteria, tulips, dogwood, etc.

Many visitors describe this annual activity as the perfect time to visit Tyler for gorgeous postcard-like photos.

So, head to Tyler from March to April to join the hike of the Tyler Azalea Trails.

Vibrant flowers at Tyler Azalea Trails

Brent Daniels /

Browse the Smith County Historical Society Museum

The Smith County Historical Society Museum is another worthwhile historical attraction in Tyler.

You can see this museum along S. College Avenue.

This museum houses many fascinating historical artifacts that will surely tickle your curiosity whether you’re a historical enthusiast or an average tourist.

The museum building was built in 1904 as the Carnegie Public Library.

One of the best exhibits to check out at the museum is the 20th Century of Progress and the artifacts that date back to the Caddo Indians.

Of course, plenty of exhibits and fascinating history await you at the Smith County Historical Society, so remember to add this place to your itinerary.

Celebrate the Texas Rose Festival

One of the best experiences in Tyler is the Texas Rose Festival.

If you’re looking for fun, schedule your trip to Tyler every third week of October to catch all the highlights and activities lined up during the festivities.

This festival, which started in 1933, pays tribute to the thriving rose industry in Tyler.

The simple festival then became one of the most sought-after annual traditions in the city and the entire Smith County.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people flock to Tyler to see this fantastic festival.

Some of the activities you can join for free during the Tyler Rose Festival are the rose parade, the queen’s coronation, and plenty more activities for the entire family.

Explore Downtown Tyler

The road of Downtown Tyler

LMPark Photos /

Downtown Tyler is where the action happens.

It’s also home to most of its attractions and businesses, making it an excellent place for sightseeing.

You can stop by the Tyler Visitor’s Center at the Plaza Tower or check out historical attractions and public art installations.

Buildings along Downtown Tyler

LMPark Photos /

Also, remember to strike a pose by Downtown Tyler’s gorgeous and well-preserved 1900s buildings for lovely souvenirs.

Above all, strolling through the streets of this downtown area allows you to get acquainted with the city’s atmosphere.

Theatre at Downtown Tyler

LMPark Photos /

Have Fun Outdoors at Faulkner Park

Faulkner Park has been one of the go-to places of Tyler’s locals since 2001.

You can visit this community park along W. Cumberland Road.

This park has all the amenities of an excellent park, making it an idyllic destination for quality family bonding.

The park has a picnic area, nature trails, a fishpond, and a children’s playground for everyone to enjoy.

At the same time, it has numerous sports facilities for baseball, tennis, and skateboarding.

It’s a charming place to spend time with your family outdoors, whether you’re in for relaxation or activities.

So, list Faulkner Park in your itinerary for a splendid day with your loved ones.

Catch Shows at the Bergfeld Park Amphitheater

Bergfeld Park is like most parks you’ll be visiting throughout Tyler.

However, this park along S. College Avenue is known for its open-air amphitheater.

It regularly hosts various shows, from entertainment to community-related events.

It has a total seating capacity of 750 to fit everyone who wants to catch a free concert.

Besides being a nice place to watch public shows in Tyler, this park also has the needed amenities of an excellent open space.

Bergfeld Park also has a picnic area, tennis courts, a children’s playground, a splash pad, and restrooms.

Catch Fish at Lake Tyler

Sunset over Lake Tyler

Troy Hayes Photography /

Head to Lake Tyler for a peaceful but exciting fishing session.

This lake, situated on the city’s southeastern side, is an artificial water reservoir near the neighboring cities of Arp and Whitehouse.

This lake, connected to a canal, serves as Tyler’s vital water source and a top-notch recreation area, particularly for fishing.

The lake covers 2,224 acres of surface water and teems with local fish species for you to catch.

When planning to fish, you can choose from various fishing spots such as the Lake Tyler Marina and others.

Lake Tyler is an excellent place to cast your line and wait for the fish to bite as you pass the time on a beautiful day in Tyler.

Drop by the Tyler Junior College Cultural Arts District

The Tyler Junior College Cultural Arts District is a fantastic place that displays Tyler’s vibrant local arts scene.

This district comprises numerous centers of public interest that display various art forms for everyone.

This district is run by the art students and faculty of the Tyler Junior College campus, which offers various arts-related programs to everyone.

You can check out various art centers in the district, including art galleries, art-related shows, and plenty more.

Amazingly, the Tyler Junior College Cultural Arts District has kept Tyler’s vibrant arts scene alive by staging this program for the past 90 years.

Today, it remains one of the most prominent art districts in Smith County.

Traverse the Legacy Trails

Legacy Trails is a short but worthwhile hiking location.

You can find the trail off W. Cumberland Street, a stone’s throw away from Faulkner Park.

It’s an ideal destination if you’re yearning for more hiking adventures since this trail takes you to some historical and natural areas in Tyler.

It spans over 4.5 miles, with most of the trail following the old railway of the Cotton Belt train route.

Legacy Trails gives you more reasons to pack your hiking boots when visiting Tyler.

Final Thoughts

Tyler is a special place in Texas that you must include on your travel bucket list.

This city’s unique identity gives you a fresh perspective on Texas.

Its rose gardens, festivals, historical attractions, and gorgeous parks are some of the local gems waiting for you.

Start planning your itinerary with this list of the free things to do in Tyler, Texas, for a getaway to remember.

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