Varner-Hogg Plantation

Established in 1824, 2 miles north of West Columbia, this plantation centers on a grand mansion – accessible on guided tours only – plus several outbuildings. Enthusiastic rangers in the visitor center explain its history in detail. To grow and process sugarcane, its unscrupulous owners used slaves smuggled from Africa after the slave trade was banned, and later leased – and mistreated – local convicts. After former Texas governor Stephen 'Big Jim' Hogg bought the hurricane-damaged property in 1901, his family struck oil.

Visitors can spend the night on the plantation in the two-story, three-bedroom Ranger’s Cottage (Sunday to Thursday $100, Friday and Saturday $150), which dates from the 1920s and comes complete with rocking chairs on the front porch.