Enjoying outdoor activities in Houston comes naturally, with no shortage of green space. I admit it gets humid though! Houston has the most park space of the nation's 10 largest cities, according to a study by The Trust for Public Land. There also are more than 100 miles of hike and bike trails to loop and connect throughout the city. Here are a few of the highlights.
The Best Parks in Houston
Hermann Park, which celebrated its centennial birthday in 2014, is an urban park set on 445 acres in the heart of Houston. The area houses many of the most popular Houston sightseeing spots, including Houston Zoo and Miller Outdoor Theatre, an outdoor amphitheater offering free concerts, theater performances, outdoor movies and more.
The park offers a 2-mile hike and bike trail under historic oaks, Hermann Park Railroad for scenic family rides on the tiny train, Japanese Gardens, playground, Houston's oldest public golf course, paddle boat rentals and more.
Discovery Green recently celebrated seven years in downtown Houston as an amazing urban park. Its calendar features hundreds of free events for Houstonians year-around including outdoor fitness classes, outdoor movies, festivals, children's story time, water spray area, activities on Kinder Lake and beautiful art installations. During the winter, the lake transforms to an ice skating rink for outdoor skating in downtown Houston!
Buffalo Bayou Park, one of the newest parks in Houston, Texas, transformed 160 acres of green space along Buffalo Bayou in a $58 million expansion. The park will feature a bit of everything: hiking, biking, and running trails; bike and paddle boat rentals; nature play area; space to enjoy outdoor activities and live artistic performances. It also features Johnny Steele Dog Park, a $1.5 million project culminating in one of the largest dog parks in Houston with large and small dog ponds, dog washing spaces, shade structures and a wetland area.
Houston Activities: By Bike
Terry Hershey Park – Terry Hershey Park is 500 acres of beauty in West Houston with plenty of fun outdoor activities for all: butterfly garden, picnic tables, boat/kayak launch, wetland habitat, playground and more.
Its paved trail, dubbed the Anthills, is 16 miles out and back. It's great for mountain and road bikes, on foot or with dogs on a leash. Dirt trail entrances are available at Eldridge, Dairy Ashford, Kirkwood and Wilcrest. Plenty of parking is available at lots near Memorial, Beltway 8, Highway 6 and Dairy Ashford.
Heights Bike Trail – This nearly 5-mile route runs from the Heights to downtown Houston. As part of the City of Houston Bikeway System, it's dubbed MKT/SP-Rails to Trails, since part of the route goes along the Missouri–Kansas–Texas Southern Pacific Railroad. Plenty of native trees line the concrete route. Along the way you can see sites such as the free Art Car Museum, Historic Heights, University of Downtown and other downtown sites.
Houston BCycle – Downtown Houston is full of red bikes at more than 20 bike rental stations, thanks to its successful bike sharing program since 2012. Folks can rent bikes through an annual membership or shorter spans of 24-hour or 7-day rental. Members can access bikes free for rides under 60 minutes.
Houston Activities: By Foot
Memorial Park trail – This nearly 3-mile granite exercise trail winds in a loop within 1,500-acre Memorial Park. It also offers a smooth surfaced Memorial Park Picnic Loop for skaters, bikers, walkers and more. The park offers a swimming pool, fitness center, golf course and is home to the annual Buffalo Bayou Art Festival.
North Houston Skate Park – Dubbed the largest skate park in North America, this new outdoor park on 78,000 acres in Spring features a 10-ft-deep bowl, Texas-shaped bowl, 12-ft vertical ramp and a lazy-river-style pathway. Admission is free, though helmets are required. This skate park was designed by the same Seattle firm that designed Lee and Joe Jamail Skate Park, a free 30,000-acre skate park west of downtown.
Houston Activities: By Water
Buffalo Bayou– This main waterway in Houston flows approximately 53 miles into Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. It's home to the annual Buffalo Bayou Regatta.
- This 26-mile paddling trail is the first of its kind in Houston. It's too long to do in one day! According to the folks at Texas Paddling Trail, individual segments of the trail can be paddled in 1.5 to 4 hours. Either bring your own canoe or kayak or rent one at a local rental company.
- 30-minute scenic boat rides on Buffalo Bayou are an intimate way to view downtown, thanks to its Twilight Tours and Second Saturday Boat Rides: $7 for adults, $5 for kids. Dates vary each month, but reservations are not required. First-come, first-served! For a $30 price tag, bat fans can schedule a Waugh Bat Colony Boat Tour with part of the 1.5 hour ride watching the 250,000 bats emerge from under Waugh Street Bridge.
Discovery Green – Downtown's Discovery Green Park features Kinder Lake right in the middle of downtown buildings.
- Kayak rentals are available daily in the summer for just $5. New to kayaking? Take advantage of a free kayak camp each Wednesday in the summer for adults. Kids can take their own kayak camp the first Sunday each month in June – August for just $5.
- Stand up paddleboarding is a new option this year at Discovery Green's Kinder Lake. For just $10, folks can try their hand at this 20-minute water adventure in a smaller setting. This is available daily June 1 – August 31.
Other Notable Fun Activities in Houston
Houston Arboretum & Nature Center – Free. This 155-acre urban nature sanctuary is located near Memorial Park hidden in the trees. Folks can walk more than five miles of nature trails including pond, wetland, forest and meadow habitats. The Center offers plenty of educational programming for kids including camps, classes and nature-oriented festivals.
Mercer Arboretum & Botanic Gardens– This beautiful Houston garden setting includes 325 acres featuring an arboretum and botanic garden. The arboretum includes two playgrounds, 58 picnic tables, cypress swamp, maple collection and several miles of walking trails in preserved woodlands. Located in Humble, north of Houston.
Armand Bayou Nature Center – $4 adults, $2 children. This 2,500-acre wildlife refuge and wilderness preserve offers more than five miles of hiking trails that wind through the woodlands and prairies. Visitors can see alligators, turtles, birds and more on the boardwalk. Kids will love the Interpretive Center that houses a variety of native reptiles and amphibians and the Children's Discovery Area. Located in Pasadena, 25 miles southwest of Houston.