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Top Outdoor Activities in Houston

by Joe ColemanMar 25, 2022

Houston is known as a concrete jungle, but you’d be surprised at just how many outdoor activities in Houston there really are! Houston has nearly 50,000 acres of park space (that’s even more than San Diego, a city renowned for its park space). It’s also rapidly expanded its outdoor offerings in the last 20 years.

If you’re heading towards the Gulf Coast, don’t avoid Houston because of what you’ve heard. While 20 years ago, the city had earned the reputation for being a paradise of pavement, you might be astounded at what it looks like today. Whether you live here and are looking for new opportunities to explore the outdoors, or you’re visiting on a trip, here are the top outdoor activities to check out in Houston.

Buffalo Bayou

Cyclists cross a bridge in Buffalo Bayou with Houston skyscrapers visible in the distance.

If you’re a water sports enthusiast, grab your kayak or paddleboard and head to Buffalo Bayou. This waterway is a staple of the city and part of the original Houston from the early nineteenth century. If you don’t have your own gear, no worries, there are plenty of rental companies to choose from. If you want some competition to fuel you, enter the annual Buffalo Bayou Regatta (which just celebrated 50 years).

Discovery Green

A walking trail surrounded by trees and water with Houston skyscrapers in the background.

Discovery Green is one of Houston’s more recent additions from the post-2000 revitalization of Houston. Created in 2008, this 12-acre spot of greenery is one of Houston’s prettiest urban parks. If you want to spend a day in downtown, Discovery Green is an excellent place to visit or just stop in quick for a picnic lunch. Discovery Green is always putting on events if you’re looking for something to do other than just sit, so check their calendar.

Armand Bayou Nature Center

An alligator looks into the distance at Armand Bayou Nature Center.

The Armand Bayou Nature Center in Pasadena, Texas is just southeast of Houston itself. If you’re looking for an afternoon hike, Armand Bayou offers five miles of maintained walking trails for you to enjoy. Looking to take in the sights and history? Choose either a guided kayak tour or a pontoon boat cruise. With night hike opportunities available, the fun doesn’t have to stop when the sun goes down.

George Observatory

Two white domed buildings at George Observatory in Houston.

Brazos Bend State Park, just southwest of the city in Damon, offers the best stargazing opportunities in the Houston area. The George Observatory is the place to be if you want to spend a night under the stars. Recently re-opened, the observatory even had a recent facelift and it’s ready for the public once again. If you have room in your weekend schedule, Saturday night stargazing is a must.

Lake Woodlands

Lake Woodlands is a favorite for fans of outdoor activities in Houston. A bridge connects to a small island with water beneath.

Head to one of Houston’s nicest and most popular suburbs for some more fun on the water. While you can paddleboard the Buffalo Bayou, those looking for a more relaxing day on the water may appreciate paddleboarding in the Woodlands area. Just like Buffalo Bayou, you’ll find more than just paddleboards, with kayaks, swan boards, water bikes, and more available to rent.

Surfside Beach

Hundreds of colorful umbrellas at Surfside Beach, south of Houston.

Who says you can’t surf in Texas? If someone tells you that, tell ‘em they’re wrong (then hit the waves in protest). Surfside Beach isn’t too far at just about an hour south of the city. Need to rent a board? No problem! Not sure how to surf? That can be fixed! If you want to hit the water but surfing just isn’t your style, you’ll find kayaks and paddleboards available as well.

Rice University Outer Loop

An entrance sign at Rice University where runners go to enjoy a popular running trail in Houston.

Runners, you haven’t been forgotten. This 2.9-mile loop is a fan favorite in the Houston area and is lined with trees. This path is guaranteed to clear your head and relax you no matter what pace you’re running at. Just remember—Houston gets muggy in the summer months, so get there early in the morning if you’re running in the summer.

Sam Houston National Forest

Green foliage covers the ground between the trees at Sam Houston National Forest.

Who would create a list of the top outdoor activities in Houston and forget the national forest of the city’s namesake? Not I! If you don’t mind the drive (about an hour north), there is no better place for outdoor activities in the Houston area. Seriously, the Sam Houston National Forest is criminally underrated.

With more than 160,000 acres, you’ll have all the space to hike you could want. If you came here thinking Texas is a barren, tree-less state, here’s the proof otherwise. The Lone Star trail is the crown jewel of the forest. While it’s 128 miles in length, you can hop on and off the trail as you please to enjoy the best parts.

Hermann Park

A pedestrian bridge at Hermann Park in Houston, Texas.

This is a two-for-one opportunity if you’re thinking about visiting the Houston Zoo. Located right near the zoo, this park offers open-air relaxation to go with structured events throughout the year. While more of a respite than a place to get your adrenaline coursing, this may be a nice change of pace for travelers coming from a long hike or intense kayak ride.

Read Next: Best Campgrounds in Texas Hill Country

Where to Stay in Houston

Sure, there are plenty of hotels to choose from in Houston. Why stay in a hotel on your outdoor tour, though? Skip the high-rise and check out these spots any outdoor aficionado will appreciate.

Sam Houston RV Park

Three longhorn cattle in a green pasture outside of Houston, Texas.

If the nearby national forest has caught your eye, spend the night close by. You really can’t get much closer than this RV park perched squarely in Sam Houston National Forest. You’ll find full hookups here with all the necessary creature comforts. Whether you want to go simple or all-out on your luxuries, Sam Houston RV Park can accommodate.

Sam Houston RV Park Site Options

  • 30-amp full hookup pull-through site
  • 50-amp full hookup pull-through site

General Sam’s Offroad Park

Four muddy ATVs parked outside of General Sam's Offroad Park.

While you don’t have to be a rugged adventurer to camp here, it does help! Just west of the Sam Houston National Forest lies this off-roader’s dream come true. With miles of off-road trails sprawling through hundreds of acres of the famous Texas piney woods, you can count on getting dirty here! Not sold on the dirt? Hey, no worries. With five on-site cabins, you won’t have to be short on luxuries at General Sam’s. For RVers, full hookups and a dump station are available.

General Sam’s Offroad Park Site Options

  • Large cabin
  • Small cabin
  • Deluxe full hookup RV site
  • Water and electric RV site
  • Primitive RV site

Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort: Waller

The lazy river at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort: Waller.

If you need to make everyone happy, Jellystone makes a solid case for itself with endless amenities.  Best of all, with more than 300 sites, you won’t have to worry about getting a spot like you would at smaller parks.

Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort: Waller Site Options

  • Grand lodge
  • Ten-person cabin
  • Eight-person cabin
  • Yogi handicap-accessible cabin
  • Cindy handicap-accessible cabin
  • Six-person cabin
  • Four-person cabin
  • Group tent area
  • 50-amp full hookup pull-through site
  • 30-amp electric pull-through site
  • 30-amp electric back-in site
  • Standard tent site

While once a mecca of concrete connected by winding highways, Houston is building its reputation as a solid outdoor destination in the Lone Star State. If your travels take you toward Houston, don’t forget to stop and appreciate its greenery!

Joe Coleman is a freelance travel and outdoor writer based in East Texas. His love for the outdoors started when living near Olympic National Park and has stayed with him ever since. Taking a respite from social media, you can reach him exclusively at joecolemanfreelance@gmail.com.

Photo credit in order of appearance: Adobe Stock – Othman, Adobe Stock – Nate Hove, Adobe Stock – St_Matty, Adobe Stock – Gabi, Adobe Stock – Angela Elder/EyeEm, Adobe Stock – St_Matty, Adobe Stock – Trongnguyen, Adobe Stock – JHVEPhoto, Adobe Stock – ©photomarque, Adobe Stock – Duydophotography