According to the Handbook of Texas, the East Texas area "may be separated from the rest of Texas roughly by a line extending from the Red River in north central Lamar County southwestward to east central Limestone County and then southeastward towards eastern Galveston Bay", though most sources separate the Gulf Coast area into a separate region.
Another popular, somewhat simpler, definition defines East Texas as the region between the Trinity River, north and east of Houston, (or sometimes Interstate 45, when defining generously) as the western border, the Louisiana border as the eastern border, the Oklahoma border as the northern border, and extending as far south as Lufkin, Texas. The East Texas Regions includes Tyler, Longview, Marshall, Palestine, Jacksonville, Mount Pleasant, and Nacogdoches.
Most of the region consists of the Piney Woods ecoregion, and East Texas can sometimes be reduced to include only the Piney Woods.  At the fringes, towards Central Texas, the forests expand outward toward sparser trees and eventually into open plains.
East Texas comprises 41 counties, 38 of which collaborate in sub-regional Ark-Tex Council of Governments, the East Texas Council of Governments, the Deep East Texas Council of Governments and the South East Texas Regional Planning Commission.
Counties included are Anderson, Angelina, Bowie, Camp, Cass, Cherokee, Delta, Franklin, Gregg, Hardin, Harrison, Henderson, Hopkins, Houston, Jasper, Jefferson, Lamar, Marion, Morris, Nacogdoches, Newton, Orange, Panola, Polk, Rains, Red River, Rusk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Shelby, Smith, Titus, Trinity, Tyler, Upshur, Van Zandt, and Wood County, Texas.
The three additional East Texas counties that join with other regional government councils are Chambers County (Anahuac), Liberty County (Liberty) and Walker County (Huntsville), all three in geographic proximity to the Houston metropolitan areas.
Outside of the Greater Houston area the average population density is around 18-45 per square mile (7-12 per km²), with the population density near the Big Thicket dropping below 18 people per sq mi. East Texas's population is very large and is centered around the Golden Triangle (Texas) which is Beaumont/Port Arthur/Orange in Southeast Texas. Moving north from the coast, Lufkin and Nacogdoches anchor the population center of Deep East Texas. Continuing north from Deep East Texas, Tyler, Longview and Marshall, in Northeast Texas, along with Texarkana, on the far northeastern border with Arkansas, represent the major population centers in the northern section of East Texas. Only eight miles from the Texas border, Shreveport, Louisiana, is considered the economic and cultural center for the Ark-La-Tex, the area where Arkansas, Louisiana, and East Texas meet.
The 2010 U.S. Census shows these 41 East Texas counties with a population of 2,057,518 residents, which represents 8% of the total state population of Texas.
Per the 2010 US Census records, the five most populous counties are:
Per the 2010 US census records, the ten most populous East Texas cities are:
According to US Census records from 2010, the population of East Texas counties is 65.93% White Non-Hispanic, 17.44% African-American, 14.29% Hispanic or Latino Origin and 2.34% Other (including native and Asian). East Texas' most ethnically and racially diverse county is Jefferson County, East Texas' largest county which includes the city of Beaumont, with 44.1% White Non-Hispanic, 34.1% African-American, 17.7% Hispanic or Latino Origin and 4.1% Other (including native and Asian). Unlike Texas' total state racial demographics, only two counties in East Texas have a majority minority, Jefferson County in the Golden Triangle and Titus County having a 40.6% Hispanic or Latino origin population. East Texas and Southeast Texas has a significant African-American population, ranging to nearly 20% in some counties
Climate is the unifying factor in the region's geography--all of East Texas has the humid subtropical climate typical of the Southeast, occasionally interrupted by intrusions of cold air from the north. East Texas receives more rainfall, 35 to 60 inches (890 to 1,520 mm), than the rest of Texas. In Houston the average January temperature is 50.4 °F (10.2 °C) and the average July temperature is 82.6 °F (28.1 °C), however Houston has slightly warmer winters than most of East Texas due to its proximity to the coast.
All of East Texas also lies within the Gulf Coastal Plain, but with less uniformity than the climate with rolling hills in the north and flat coastal plains in the south. Local vegetation also varies from north to south with the lower third consisting of the temperate grassland extending from South Texas to South Louisiana. The upper two-thirds of the region dominated by temperate forest known as the Piney Woods, which extends over 23,500 square miles (61,000 km2). The Piney Woods are part of a much larger region of pine-hardwood forest that extends into Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. The Piney Woods thins out as it nears the Gulf of Mexico. West of the Piney Woods are the ranchlands and remnant oak forests of the East Central Texas forests ecoregion.
The Sabine River, Trinity River, Neches River, Angelina River and Sulphur River are the major rivers in East Texas, but the Brazos River and Red River also flow through the region. The Brazos cuts through the southwest portion of the region while the Red River forms its northern border with Oklahoma and a portion of Arkansas. In East Texas and the rest of the South, small rivers and creeks collect into swamps called "Bayous" and merge with the surrounding forest. Bald cypress and Spanish moss are the dominant plants in bayous. The most famous of these bayous are Cypress Bayou and Buffalo Bayou. Cypress Bayou surrounds the Big, Little, and Black Cypress rivers around Jefferson. They flow east into Caddo Lake and the adjoining wetlands cover the rim and islands of the lake.
East Texas is often considered the westernmost extension of the Deep South. The predominant cultural influence comes from customs and traditions passed down from European-American and African-American Southerners who settled the region during the mid and late 19th century. African Americans were first brought to the area as enslaved workers for the plantations. These influences are noticeable in the sub-dialect of Texan English that is spoken throughout the region. According to the most recent linguistic studies, East Texans tend to pronounce Southern English with the drawl typical of the Lower South, whereas other parts of Texas are more prone to the "twang" of the Upper South, or--depending upon demographic influences of the particular area--with some Hispanic and Midwestern traits.
East Texas did not have the influence of late 19th and early 20th century European immigrants from Germany and Central Europe. Similarly, the new waves of immigrants since the late 20th century, primarily from India, other Asian nations, and Latin America, and their influences, have been less prevalent in East Texas.
East Texans are predominantly Protestant Christians, expressing their faith as members of many denominations: Baptist (particularly Southern Baptist), Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Pentecostal, and others. Catholicism continues to have influence, particularly with an increased Hispanic population in recent decades. Other religions with smaller numbers, but with adherents in East Texas, include Mormonism and Judaism.
Significant numbers of people of Cajun and Creole descent have come from Louisiana, although most are assimilated partially or completely into East Texas culture (adopting the local culture and losing, to varying degrees, their original culture). This assimilation pattern has often historically included conversion from Catholicism to Protestant faiths. United States settlers from the Protestant Southeast practiced some discrimination against Cajun and Creole migrants, a cultural attitude that persisted until quite recently. Despite the tendency towards assimilation, Cajun and Creole cuisine (for example, jambalaya and catfish gumbo), are popular in the region. Many East Texans, including those without Louisiana roots, are known to be expert at preparing at least some well-known Louisiana dishes.
While some East Texans associate with cowboy culture, most identify more with plantation traditions of the South than with the expansive cattle ranching of the plains regions of Texas. However, it is common for East Texans to own and trade cattle. There are several "sale barns" across East Texas with weekly and monthly trades, as is common in other parts of the lower South.
In the northern part of East Texas, awareness of the native and historical Caddo Mississippian culture remains significant. Cherokee County is home to the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site. Patrons can also view the "Caddo Indian Collection" at the Gregg County Historical Museum in Longview.
Many East Texans have a mixture of European and Native American ancestry, notably country and folk singer Miranda Lambert.
East Texas is home to the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, located in Carthage. East Texans enjoy a range of music that is influenced by gospel, bluegrass, blues, rock, country, soul, rhthym and blues, Cajun, etc. Texas blues originated in East Texas, with many legends having been born in the region including Lightnin' Hopkins and T-Bone Walker. East Texans enjoy live music at many of the region's fairs and festivals, including the Texas Rose Festival in Tyler, the East Texas Yamboree in Gilmer, and Longview's Great Texas Balloon Race. East Texas also has many venues included in what is commonly referred to as the Texas country music circuit, although the majority of such venues are located in Central/South/West Texas and the metropolitan areas of the state.
Many notable music artists have East Texas roots including: George Jones (Saratoga), Miranda Lambert (Lindale), Kacey Musgraves (Mineola), Neal McCoy (Longview and Jacksonville), Lee Ann Womack (Jacksonville), Janis Joplin (Port Arthur), Don Henley (Linden), Ray Price (Perryville), Johnny Horton (Rusk), Johnny Mathis (Gilmer), Tex Ritter (Panola County), Jim Reeves (Panola County), Mark Chesnutt (Beaumont), Tracy Byrd (Vidor), Clay Walker (Beaumont), Chris Tomlin (Grand Saline), Michelle Shocked (Gilmer) among many others.
Many high school bands in East Texas continue the tradition of military-style marching, unlike other parts of the state. These bands compete in the National Association of Military Marching Bands (NAMMB).
As with other parts of Texas, high school football is king in East Texas. Residents of East Texas towns and rural communities fill high school stadiums in support of their local team, cheerleaders, bands, etc. Many East Texas high school teams have won Texas state championships and have produced collegiate and professional football players.
Earl Campbell, the "Tyler Rose", played football for John Tyler High in Tyler before playing for the Texas Longhorns and the Houston Oilers. Don Meredith, who famously played for the Dallas Cowboys, played at Mt. Vernon. Dez Bryant, a football product from Lufkin, is a current wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys. Adrian Peterson, a star running back for the Minnesota Vikings, played high school football in Palestine. Other high school sports are popular in East Texas including basketball, baseball, volleyball, softball and track.
A significant number of East Texas youth participate in Little League Baseball, soccer and softball. Church leagues are quite common in providing opportunities for basketball and softball for youth and adults alike. In recent years, cowboy churches have grown in number and offer rodeo events for their youth.
East Texans also enjoy collegiate athletic competition. Most residents support collegiate teams located in other regions of the state; the Texas Longhorns, Texas A&M Aggies, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Baylor Bears, TCU Horned Frogs, etc. Due to proximity to neighboring states, East Texas has a substantial number of fans of the LSU Tigers, Arkansas Razorbacks, Oklahoma State Cowboys and Oklahoma Sooners. The Battle of the Piney Woods is a fiercely contested sports rivalry between the Bearkats of Sam Houston State University "SHSU" in Huntsville and the Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin State University "SFA" in Nacogdoches. Both of these universities compete in the FCS level of NCAA athletic competition as members of the Southland Conference. The Cardinals of Lamar University in Beaumont also compete with SFA and Sam Houston State in the Southland Conference.
Other universities and colleges that field athletic teams in East Texas include, East Texas Baptist University "ETBU" Tigers in Marshall; University of Texas at Tyler Patriots in Tyler; LeTourneau University Yellowjackets in Longview; Texas A&M University-Commerce Lions; and several junior colleges throughout the region which participate in the Southwest Junior College Conference in Region XIV of the NJCAA. East Texas is also home to the Kilgore College Rangerettes, a world-famous dance team which debuted in 1939.
A few professional sports teams are located in East Texas. The East Texas Pump Jacks, located in Kilgore, play baseball in the Texas Collegiate League. Additionally, the East Texas Storm, a semi-professional football team located in Tyler, competes in the Lone Star Minor League. Typically, northern parts of East Texas tend to support the professional teams from the Dallas/Fort Worth area (Dallas Cowboys, Dallas Mavericks, Texas Rangers, Dallas Stars), while southern parts of East Texas tend to support professional teams from the Houston area (Houston Texans, Houston Rockets, Houston Astros).
As with other parts of Texas and/or the South, other popular sporting activities in East Texas include rodeo (including PRCA), hunting and fishing. Prominent rodeos in East Texas are held in Beaumont, Nacogdoches, Paris, Longview, Gladewater, Huntsville, Lufkin, Athens, Palestine, Lindale, etc. East Texas contains several award-winning lakes for sport fishing including Toledo Bend Reservoir, Lake Sam Rayburn, Lake Livingston, Lake Fork, Lake Tawakoni, etc. East Texans have a long tradition in outdoors sporting and observe the opening day of deer season as a near religious holiday.
East Texas also contains numerous golf courses and avid golfers, as well as NASCAR fans. However, the region does not host professional events in either of those sports. The nearest NASCAR track to East Texas is Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
East Texans enjoy many Texas State Parks including: Caddo Lake, Atlanta, Daingerfield, Lake Bob Sandlin, Tyler, Mission Tejas in Grapeland, Cooper Lake, Lake Tawakoni, Martin Creek, Huntsville, Lake Sam Rayburn, Lake Livingston and Sea Rim among others. East Texas is also home to the Angelina National Forest, Sam Houston National Forest, Sabine National Forest, Big Thicket National Preserve, Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge, Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge and Mcfaddin National Wildlife Refuge.
Deep East Texas is a sub-region of East Texas. According to the Deep East Texas Council of Governments the region consists of the following twelve counties: Angelina, Houston, Jasper, Nacogdoches, Newton, Polk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Shelby, Trinity, and Tyler.
The "Deep" designation comes from the similarity to East Texas (it is similar in culture and topography, being highly forested), but with a location "deeper" (i.e., farther south and towards the Gulf Coast) than the rest of East Texas.
"Deep" also refers to the cultural and social characteristics of the area and is considered synonymous to "The Big Thicket", an allusion to the dense growth of underbrush in the "piney woods." It was the earliest area of Texas to be settled by Anglo-Americans (and one of the last areas to submit to law enforcement--by the governments of New Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, state of Texas, or the United States). Renegade clans controlled local governments, especially in Shelby County, well into the first quarter of the 20th century.
The area contains two of the oldest towns in Texas; Nacogdoches, the oldest town in Texas, dating from 18th century, and San Augustine, the oldest "Anglo" settlement in Texas, dating from the 1820s. People of English, Scottish, Scots-Irish, and to a lesser extent Welsh ancestry predominate in the region, which is in contrast to South Central Texas and West Texas in which people of German and Hispanic heritage predominate, respectively. Prior to the Texas War of Independence, settlement was generally prohibited by the Spanish and later Mexican governments, but neither government was able to exert control or law enforcement in the area. As a consequence, the "Big Thicket" became a refuge for criminals fleeing the United States and hiding out in a "no man's land" in the pine tree thickets.
The early isolation of the region and its links to the Deep South have resulted in its well-known pine woods being described as a 'curtain' which demarcates a certain cultural enclave or bubble that distinguishes East Texas from the rest of the state. Former residents describe leaving behind the 'Pine Curtain' as a form of escape.
Historically, the East Texas economy has been led by lumber, cotton, cattle and oil. Prior to the discovery of the East Texas Oil Field, cotton, lumber and cattle were the predominant source of economic gains and stability. Needs of local farmers contributed greatly to the establishment of local towns and trading posts. As with many parts of the nation, the chosen paths of railroads often determined the continuation of many towns. At the beginning of the 20th century, the oil fields were discovered and oil became accessible, which changed the future trajectory of the region.
In the decades leading to the new millennium, crude oil production in the East Texas Oil Field, the largest oil field in the United States, somewhat decreased. In turn, the number of high-paying jobs for uneducated workers also decreased. During the 20th century, local groceries, general stores and cafes were replaced with franchise department stores, retail chains and fast food restaurants. Due to the decline of oil production, many small towns closed cafés and gas stations, some of which were replaced with cash loan shops and pawn shops.
Tourism has not been a highly significant source of economic activity in East Texas, although several high-traffic corridors pass through East Texas which have aided economic development along those routes. These include: Interstate 30 (from Dallas through Texarkana), Interstate 20 (through Dallas and on through Shreveport), Interstate 10 (through Houston and Beaumont into Louisiana), Interstate 45 (through Houston up to Dallas) and U.S. Highway 59 (through Houston and up past Texarkana; in process of being upgraded along most of the route to Interstate 69).
In recent years, the region has become home to many patent holding companies, due to its legal system being particularly friendly to patent holders and hostile to out of state tech defendants.
The region also contains Sam Houston State University in Huntsville and Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, which helps contribute millions of dollars into the Deep East Texas economy. Texas A&M University-Texarkana, University of Texas at Tyler, LeTourneau University and East Texas Baptist University are a few of the smaller universities in East Texas. Texas A&M University-Commerce is right outside east Texas and is formerly known as East Texas State University, while A&M-Texarkana was a branch campus of ETSU.