Houston Parks And Outdoors

Parks And Outdoors Activities in Houston

Houston is the largest city in the United States without formal zoning regulations, it has developed similarly to other Sun Belt cities because the city’s land use regulations and legal covenants have played a similar role. Regulations include mandatory lot size for single-family houses and requirements that parking be available to tenants and customers. Such restrictions have had mixed results.

Armand Bayou Nature Center

Visit this astonishingly beautiful part of the Texas Gulf Coast and “reconnect with nature.” Visitors can learn about our plant and animal inhabitants; bird-watch; hike on the Nature Center’s trails; or view our live animal displays of snakes, spiders, hawks, and bison. Armand Bayou Nature Center (ABNC) is working to preserve the wetlands, prairie, forest, and marsh habitats surrounding Armand Bayou.

ABNC is the largest urban wilderness preserve in the U.S. and contains 2,500 acres of the natural wetlands, forest, prairie, and marsh habitats once abundant in the Houston/Galveston area. ABNC is home to over 370 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.

Amenities/Activities:

  • Hiking trails
  • Exhibits
  • Field trips
  • Scout programs
  • Birding
  • Canoe tours
  • A historic farm and fun for all

Size: 2500-acres

Address: 8500 Bay Area Blvd., Pasadena TX, 77507

George Ranch Historical Park

This 480-acre living history site, with more than 100 years of Texas history, offers hands-on experiences and costumed historical interpreters.

The George Ranch’s history follows family lines. It all began in 1824 when this was still Mexico and the first American pioneers settled near the Brazos River. In the years since, the ranch has passed through four generations and grown into one of Fort Bend County’s landmarks.

Today, the George Ranch is a 23,000-acre working ranch. The family’s original “home place” is at the core of the George Ranch Historical Park where, every day, the legends and legacies of those who shaped this place come to life. Authentic locations, historic homes, costumed presenters and a remarkable story of determination and courage set the stage for trekking through Texas history.

The 1830s Jones Stockfarm

Meet the Joneses, the early pioneer family who settled the ranch when this was still part of Mexico. Visit pioneers tending to daily life as they work to create a successful ranch on the Texas Gulf Plain. See a replica pioneer dog-trot-style log cabin with a natural air conditioning system; farm buildings including a barn, smokehouse and chicken coop; Thomas and Jeremiah, the oxen team that works the fields; seasonal crops you can help harvest; livestock (chickens, pigs, horses, etc); Weaving, grinding corn, and other hands-on activities and daily demonstrations.

The 1890s Davis House Complex

Representing the second and third generations, the Davis Mansion (a museum) presents Victorian Texas in all its splendor and the business ventures that sustained that grandeur: The cattle industry is reflected in longhorn pens and an exhibit that guides guests though the process of moving cattle to market and a working chuckwagon; The farming business (after the War Between the States) is reflected in the sharecropper’s farm. Drop into the blacksmiths shop and see what the smithy is hammering.

The 1930s George Ranch Complex

The fourth generation, Albert and Mamie George, built their home on the foundation of her ancestors’ original home place. In spite of their great wealth, the Georges’ home reflects their humble values and strong work ethic. Working cattle was the family’s main business and their lives were built around the ranching operations. Visit the barn and tack room and be sure to stop by and see what the cowboys are working on.

Houston Arboretum & Nature Center

Located on the western edge of Memorial Park (4 miles from Downtown Houston), the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center offers an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life and the opportunity to experience the natural world.

This 155-acre non-profit urban nature sanctuary provides education about the natural environment to Houstonians and visitors of all ages. It plays a vital role in protecting native plants and animals in the heart of the city where development threatens their survival.

Visitors can walk the five miles of trails free of charge. The Nature Center building includes the Discovery Room with interactive exhibits and activities and the Nature Shop filled with items for nature lovers of all ages. A Wildlife Garden, which demonstrates plantings appropriate to attract hummingbirds, butterflies and other wildlife to an urban backyard, and the Carol Tatkon Sensory Garden featuring native plants attractive to the senses are the latest additions to the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center’s ever-changing landscape.

Buffalo Bayou

Buffalo Bayou, the 52-mile slow-moving waterway that was the site of Houston’s founding in 1836, has become a destination for outdoor recreation near downtown Houston. It is one of the few bayous left in central Houston which was not reconstructed with concrete in the 1960s and 1970s. It contains an incredibly diverse urban ecosystem supporting dozens of native species of flora and fauna.

An innovative lighting program, designed for the entire Buffalo Bayou greenway, was unveiled with the Sabine-to-Bagby Promenade in June 2006. Diverse lighting treatments identify Buffalo Bayou as the spine of the city and a major destination for night-time activity. The lights, designed by artist Stephen Korns and international lighting firm L’Observatoire, brighten the bridges, trails, and water of the park with a blue-to-white color scheme changing in tandem with the phases of the moon.

Buffalo Bayou Park includes hike and bike trails, exercise stations, the Jim Mozola Memorial Disc Golf Course (north bank immediately west of Sabine Street), a “Dog Park” (site where dog lovers informally meet ) (2700 block of Allen Parkway at Studewood), boat Launch (Eleanor Tinsley Park), Children’s Playground (Eleanor Tinsley Park), the Buffalo Bayou Artpark (temporary public art work is displayed) (north bank immediately west and east of Sabine Street), Henry Moore Sculpture (south bank east of Taft Street), Police Memorial (north bank off Memorial Drive between Fonde Recreation Center (110 Sabine Street).

Canoe and Kayak Trails

See downtown from a new perspective. Buffalo Bayou is perfect for canoeing and kayaking. Whether your destination is Sesquicentennial Park or Allen’s Landing, the bayou wharfs make take out very easy. Click here for a map of canoe and kayak launches along Buffalo Bayou.

Hike and Bike Trails

From Sabine to Bagby Street, 2 miles of trails now connect the Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive trails to Sesquicentennial Park and the Theater District in downtown. Click here for a map of hike and bike trails along Buffalo Bayou.

Memorial Park

Dubbed “the largest urban park in Texas,” Houston’s Memorial Park, just inside Loop 610 at Woodway, includes Texas’ top-rated municipal 18-hole golf course, as well as facilities for tennis, softball, swimming, track, croquet, volleyball, in-line skating, cycling, and a popular three-mile running course. In addition to the many trails the park is host to several softball/baseball fields, as well as a soccer/football filed. The park is also host to Houston’s annual Bayou City Art Festival.

Memorial Park is bordered to the north by the I-10 Interstate, to the west by the I-610 Loop, and to the south by Buffalo Bayou. All the wooded areas in Memorial Park are criss-crossed by trails. The section of trails located at the park’s southern border along Buffalo Bayou – collectively known around Houston as the Ho Chi Minh Trail – is heavily traversed by mountain bikers, as well as runners and hikers. The woods and trails in the parks SW and NW quadrants are less biked.

All the trails vary in size from narrow footpaths to wide, unused fire roads and the terrain varies from extremely undulating (with “camel hump” sequences rising and falling sharply anywhere from 5 to 40 feet) to perfectly flat. Besides the Bayou itself, there are creeks, ponds, a few open fields, a railroad, and a couple of swamps to run through, beside, or around. The woods are dense, and populated particularly with tall pines.

The trails take you adjacent to an equestrian center, as well as the Houston Nature Center and Arboretum. There are also tunnels underneath the two major thoroughfares traversing the park (Memorial and Woodway). These tunnels connect the various trails and allow runners to avoid negotiating directly across traffic, which can be both thick and speedy at times.

Facilities/Bike Trails

Bikers have a great selection of riding at Memorial Park, from flat paved trails to more difficult, twisting mountain-bike runs. Trails are marked with a color code according to skill level, so riders can easily find the path that will suit them best. Hikers and runners are welcome to use the biker trails. There are nearly 6 miles of bike and running trails in the park as well, but it should be noted that there is heavy car traffic through the park.

Flora/Fauna

The foliage is lush and plentiful, with some sections leading through densely vegetated areas offering many peaceful views. Memorial Park features mixed pine/oak woodlands, fenced in by urban sprawl from all directions, that still support a diverse population of eastern woodland birds. Pine, Swainson’s, Kentucky, and Hooded warblers breed within this park. In late winter, American Woodcocks (a rare breeder on the upper coast) have displayed here. Watch for Mississippi Kites feeding on dragonflies as they skim the treetops along Buffalo Bayou in late August and early September.

Sam Houston Park

Mayor Sam Brashear appointed Houston’s first park committee to oversee the establishment of a city park in 1899. The 10 acres chosen came to be called Sam Houston Park. It was landscaped into a Victorian wonderland, with footpaths laid out to pass by an old mill and cross a rustic bridge over a pleasant stream.

Sam Houston Park is a proud oasis of living history and wide-open greenness amid modern monuments to corporate and civic institutions. The park is surrounded by the skyscrapers and freeways that typify twenty-first century urban life and is only a short walk from downtown Houston’s City Hall.

By the 1950s, Houston was a much different city, and boom times meant that many fine old buildings from more genteel eras were being demolished to make way for a new modernity and burgeoning commercial affluence. The threat to demolish a century-old house in Sam Houston Park brought together a group of Houstonians dedicated to saving tangible connections to the vanishing past–resulting in founding of the Heritage Society in 1954. Their efforts to save the Kellum-Noble House were successful, and the Society turned to other historical preservation projects.

Special Features

Sam Houston Parks includes a small pond with fountain, wetland garden, gazebo, trail/walkways, neuhaus garden, Houston Armillary Sphere Sculpture and USS Houston Memorial Sculpture.

Heritage Society Homes

The park and the museum are open to the public, but tours of the historic buildings must be arranged through the Heritage Society. Some of the historic homes include The Old Place (1823), Pilot House (1868), San Felipe Cottage (1868), Staiti House (1905), Yates House (1870), Kellum Noble House (1847), St. John Church (1891), Nichols-Rice-Cherry House (1850). For information on hours and fees, call 713-655-1912 or e-mail [email protected]

Sesquicentennial Park

Sesquicentennial Park was developed along the banks of Buffalo Bayou as a commemoration of Houston’s and Texas’ 150th birthday. The 10.4-acre site flanks the bayou as it meanders past Wortham Theater Center. The 2.2-acre grand entrance multi-level park, completed August 1989, was built in two phases. This area includes a fountain and a stairway to the park’s promenade, which runs along the western edge of the Wortham property on the bayou’s east bank.

The 8.2-acre second phase was completed in May 1998, culminating a $19 million public-private project requiring 14 years. The high point of the project – literally – is the collection of seven 70-foot stainless steel pillars that line the eastern bank. Another prominent feature of the park is The Common, a gently sloping, 1.25-acre semi-circular lawn that serves as a staging area for outdoor events.

Sesquicentennial Park is a unique venue for outdoor activities of all kinds. Water-based events, such as the Buffalo Bayou Regatta, and anything suited to a gathering of persons wearing T-shirts and comfortable shoes is ideal. Tented events on Commons also work well along the bayou, as do concerts.

The 8.2-acre Phase II section of the park, which opened in the 1998, features the following elements:

The Common

A gently sloping 1.25-acre lawn flanked by a walkway and stately trees.

Allen H. Carruth Promenade

Shaded by large cypress trees and enclosed by an historic balustrade overlook wall, the 24-foot walkway features five of the massive park pillars, created by architects TeamHou and artist Mel Chin.

Preston Avenue Bridge

A pedestrian link to the bayou’s east and west banks, the Preston Avenue Bridge is lined with wide sidewalks and replicas of the historic lighting that once adorned this early bayou crossing.

The Garden Club of Houston Garden

Located on the western bank of Sesquicentennial Park, this natural sweeping grassy slope contains extensive native plantings, unique stonework, and natural water pools.

George Bush Monument

A tribute to the 41st American president, the Bush Monument was unveiled to the public in December 2004. A free public green space, the park is open to the public 365 days a year and features an eight-foot, 650-pound bronze sculpture of the former president and a semicircular wall consisting of four bas-reliefs that depict President Bush in various stages of his life.

The Josephine B. and Anthony Charles Muller Overlook

Situated on a bayou curve near the Prairie and Bagby Street Bridge, this overlook site is the perfect spot to take in the spectacular view of Houston’s downtown buildings.

Seven Wonders

Rising dramatically above Buffalo Bayou’s Sesquicentennial Park are the seven 70-ft-tall pillars “Seven Wonders.” Flanking the park’s Promenade and Preston Avenue Bridge, the columns highlight Houston’s history through the themes of agriculture, energy, manufacturing, medicine, philanthropy, technology, and transportation. Each column is constructed of 150 individual children’s drawings, etched in stainless steel plate.

Allen’s Landing

Often described as “Houston’s heart” and Houston’s “Plymouth Rock,” Allen’s Landing is an area that truly defines Houston. It was here in 1836 that August C. and John K. Allen stepped ashore and claimed Houston as their own. The confluence of Buffalo and White Oak bayous also became Houston’s first port and a thriving commercial hub.

After years of deterioration and numerous planning efforts, Allen’s Landing is undergoing major revitalization and rejuvenation. Already completed is a concrete paved wharf designed to replicate the original port, a promenade, terrace overlooking the bayou, trail/walkway, entry plaza at intersection of Commerce and Main, terraced grass lawn, and text-based Public Artwork.

Improvements are being made west and east of the existing park, including the downtown streetscape enhancement project, which will feature pedestrian connections from Commerce Street to the bayou. Four major entryways will also include stairs, ramps, landscaping, signage, and public art.

Hidalgo Park

7000 Avenue Q, Houston TX

Since its founding at the Turning Basin, Hidalgo Park has been at the center of the East End’s cultural and civic life. Neighborhood residents raised money to purchase the park’s orginal land and sponsored the creation of its unqiure quiosco (gazebo). Hidalgo Park was acquired by the City of Houston Parks & Recreation Department in 1927.

Special Features

Hidalgo Park includes a quiosco (gazebo with concrete columns and railings to look like tree trunks), a creative wooden playground designed and partially funded by neighborhood children, and a baseball field. The park is also one of five Houston parks selected for water playgrounds, donated by H-E-B.

Sea Center Texas

This Texas Parks and Wildlife Department facility, Sea Center Texas, includes a marine aquarium, fish hatchery, and wetland exhibit. A 50,000-gallon aquarium allows visitors to view large Gulf of Mexico marine animals. The site’s visitor center educates through interpretive displays; a 20-foot “touch tank;” and aquariums depicting native Texas habitats, including a salt marsh, jetty, reef, and open Gulf exhibits. The “touch tank” allows visitors to handle blue crabs, hermit crabs, anemones, and more. A 5-acre wetland exhibit is accessible by an elevated boardwalk.

The facility operates one of the three TPWD marine hatcheries located on the Texas coast that produce juvenile red drum and spotted speckled trout to stock in Texas bays. The hatchery has the capability to produce up to 15 million juvenile fish each year. Fish hatchery tours and educational programs are available by reservation. Admission is free to Sea Center Texas.

Flora/Fauna

The Center features shark, red drum, spotted seatrout, sting rays, gray snapper, jack crevalle, a 300+ -pound Queensland grouper named Gordon, oysters, clams, pompano, barnacles, periwinkle, moray eels, angelfish, corals, seahorses, tripletail, jacks, and red snapper. Their wetland area features butterflies, hummingbirds, dragonflies, bulrushes, balck mangroves, smooth cordgrass, wading birds, turtles, snakes, and wildflowers. A small outdoor pavilion provides a quiet resting or lunch spot adjacent to the butterfly and hummingbird gardens.

Activities

  • Aquariums
  • Fishing ponds
  • Marine fish hatchery
  • Touch pools
  • Wetland walkway
  • TEKS-aligned lessons

Eddie V. Gray Wetlands Center

1724 Market Street, Baytown TX, 77520

Eddie V. Gray Wetlands Center’s innovative facility, located on the banks of Goose Creek in Baytown, is host to thousands of visitors and school children each year at the six acre property. An official site on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, the Wetlands Center boasts a 9,000 square-foot exhibit area, which includes a variety of exhibits, a 14,000-square-foot building including staff offices, meeting rooms, a science lab, and computer lab. Gator World, with its juvenile alligators and large wetlands mural, is always a favorite with visitors young and old.

Through education and recreation, the Wetlands Center aims to increase awareness, appreciation, and understanding of wetlands, the environment, and cultural history.

Activities/Amenities

Visitors can enjoy Gator World and Butterfly Encounter, housing live butterflies and an observational beehive. Wetlands Center staff provide tours as time permits, and visitors can always take a self-guided tour.

  • Educational programs
  • Hands-on experiments
  • Taxidermy exhibits
  • Wetlands exhibits
  • TEKS-aligned lessons

Jesse H. Jones Park and Nature Center

20634 Kenswick Drive, Humble TX, 77338

Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center preserves the Native American and pioneer lifestyles commonly found along the banks of Cypress and Spring creeks during the late 1700s and early 1800s. Natural beauty and history are combined in this unique setting located along the banks of Spring Creek. Jones Park is a window into a fast floodplain forest habitat.

Explore diverse ecosystems, including ancient cypress bogs, natural white sand beaches, and wildflower meadows. A variety of guided tours and free programming are offered ranging from the lifestyles and customs of local Indian tribes and pioneer settlers to the environmental benefits of this ecosystem.

The playground at Jones Park resembles a frontier fort nestled among towering native trees. Slides, tunnels, swings, and play decks provide exciting and challenging opportunities for children to develop their imagination and physical well-being. Surrounded by 26 picnic tables and an 80-seat pavilion, this playground complex is a family favorite for children of all ages and abilities.

Activities/Amenities

  • Akokisa Indian Village
  • Biking on Sundays
  • Guided canoe trips and tours
  • Hiking trails
  • Live snakes exhibit
  • Observation beehive
  • Mounted specimens
  • State-of-the-art audiovisual system
  • Redbud Hill Homestead

Katy Prairie Conservancy Wildlife Viewing Platform

28411 Sharp Road, Katy TX, 77493

A broad sweep of land that stretches from just beyond the Houston city limits, west toward Brookshire, and northwest toward Hempstead, the Katy Prairie has a decidedly unique heritage. Ranging from the flat coastal plains that girdle Interstate 10 to gently rolling pastures in the northern reaches of the prairie soils that mark the area, the terrain is typical of what is found along much of the upper Texas Gulf Coast.

However, in autumn, just after the crops are in and the land lies fallow, this unassuming prairie becomes the site of one of the most incredible natural spectacles in North America, as thousands, then millions, of migratory birds arrive, especially waterfowl. For most, the Katy Prairie is a winter home until March, when they return to nesting areas in the upper Midwest and Canada. Others use the prairie as a staging area on their way to southerly climates or may even remain the entire year.

Flora/Fauna

The Katy Prairie is comprised of a variety of habitats, including agricultural wetlands, depressional wetlands, creek corridors, and coastal grasslands.

Activities/Amenities

Katy Prairie Conservancy features beaver, alligator, deer, coyote, bobcat, and squirrels, providing enjoyment for naturalist and hunter alike. There is no visitors center, so please visit web site or call for information.

  • Weekend tours
  • Kid’s group
  • Wildlife observation
  • Field trips by special arrangement

Texas City Prairie Preserve

4702 Highway 146 North, Texas City TX, 77590

The Texas City Preserve, with 40 acres open to the public and 2000 acres on tours, features rare coastal prairie habitat and supports wild Attwater’s Prairie Chickens. Restoration is a primary stewardship activity on the preserve. Since the late 1800s, cattle grazing has provided a substitute for the wandering herds of bison that are no longer present. Through the use of prescribed burning, the Conservancy staff is returning natural fire to the preserve.

At the turn of the century, there were approximately 1 million Attwater’s Prairie Chickens along the Texas coast. However, loss of coastal prairie habitat over the years devastated the population, and less than 50 remain in the wild today, making the bird one of the most endangered in North America. Texas City Prairie Preserve includes the introduction of captive-bred juvenile birds into the wild at the preserve each summer.

Flora/Fauna

At the Preserve, visitors will find big and little bluestem, the occasional rare coastal gayfeather, nesting colonies of least terns and black skimmers, brown pelicans, white-faced ibis, black rail, American peregrine falcon, white-tailed hawk, reddish egrets, Forster´s terns, and American oystercatchers.

Amenities/Activities

  • Birdwatching
  • Boardwalks
  • Group camping
  • Prairie studies
  • Seining
  • Identify wildlife
  • TEKS-aligned lessons

Trinity National Wildlife Refuge

1351 N Main St, P.O. Box 10015, Liberty TX, 77575

Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge was established to protect a remnant of the bottomland hardwood forest ecosystem along the Trinity River. The refuge is currently at 18,500 acres and continues to grow. This Refuge is located within the Lower Mississippi Joint Venture Project Area of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and, as such, is highly valuable habitat for a diversity of waterfowl species. A highly valuable habitat, it is used during migration or nesting by nearly 50 percent of the neotropical migratory bird species listed by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Although not fully surveyed, the refuge contains more than 620 plant species and 400 vertebrate species.

Champion Lake (public use area) includes a bottomland hardwood forest ecosystem (one of 14 priority-one bottomland sites identified for protection in the Texas Bottomland Protection Plan), bottomland hardwood forested swamps, open water, wet pastures, upland cultivated pastures, natural pine forests, and mixed pine-hardwood forests sheltering a diversity of waterfowl species.

Flora/Fauna

The refuge is home to white-tailed deer, squirrels, numerous other furbearers, freshwater turtles, alligators, snakes, river otters, and bald eagles.

Activities

Only small groups may use this site as restroom facilities are extremely limited. Guided tours are not available.

  • Birding
  • Hunting
  • Fishing
  • Photography
  • Wildlife viewing

Lake Houston Park

Lake Houston Park is a beautiful, lushly forested expanse 30 miles north of Houston. It is located where Caney Creek and the East Fork of the San Jacinto River meet near the town of New Caney.

Park facilities include walk-in campsites with a lantern post, picnic table, fire ring, and grill; water is centrally located. Camp Oakwood and Camp Ironwood each have 8 campsites and share a picnic pavilion, and Camp Magnolia, also with 8 sites, is a short hike away. A shower building with restrooms is available.

Alongside Peach Creek is an area of six walk-in campsites, with a fire ring, tent pad, picnic table, and lantern hook. A restroom/shower area is in the vicinity. Campers can access 12 miles of hike and bike trails and 8 miles of equestrian trails, with a maximum of 20 riders per day. As development of the park continues, more trails will be opened.

Activities

Guest are encouraged to bring their own bikes, watercraft, and horses. Most of the park is heavily forested and features beautiful trails. It’s a perfect spot for photography, nature study, and bird watching; and the birds may watch you back.

  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Mountain biking
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Horseback riding

Hikers will be happy they made the effort to reach the park’s ponds, well off the beaten path. These lovely spots are surrounded by pines and cypresses and peace. Deer populate the woods, birds abound, and other than an occasional passing jet from Intercontinental Airport, there is nothing there to remind you that civilization is close by.

Montgomery County Nature Preserve

301 North Thompson, Conroe TX, 77301

The Montgomery County Preserve provides a wonderful area for birdwatching, native plant observation, and hiking. It’s permanently protected with a conservation easement held by the Legacy Land Trust (the first of its kind in the nation), a nonprofit organization directly involved in protecting land for its natural, recreational, scenic, and historical value.

The green way is free to visit and open to the public daily, bringing many ecotourists to southern Montgomery County. Local Master Naturalists as well as Butterfly Enthusiasts of Southeast Texas (B.E.S.T.) host official national butterfly counts, monitor water quality, and provide educational programs for area citizens.

Anahauc National Wildlife Refuge

Anahuac TX, 77514

In Anahauc National Wildlife Refuge, the chorus of thousands of waterfowl, wind moving through the coastal prairie, the splash of an alligator going for a swim, and a high-pitched call of a fulvous whistling duck are heard during visits. The meandering bayous of Anahuac NWR cut through ancient flood plains, creating expanses of coastal marsh and prairie bordering Galveston Bay in southeast Texas. These coastal marshes and prairies are host or home to an abundance of wildlife, from migratory birds to alligators to bobcats and more.

Flora/Fauna

The park features, a coastal prairie and marsh, are home to many migratory birds and alligators such as muskrat, nutria, opossum, skunk, raccoon, and coyotes with characteristics of red wolves. Between October and March, there are as many as 27 species of duck present in refuge, including green-winged teal, gadwall, shoveler, ruddy duck, and northern pintail. Huge groups of snow geese, sometimes in excess of 80,000, feed on rice fields near Shoveler Pond; secretive yellow rails usually live in refuge, also roseate spoonbill, ibis, egrets.

Activities

  • Boardwalk
  • Outdoor educational programming (free, K-5th)
  • Photography
  • Birding
  • Canoeing
  • Wildlife observation

Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge

Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, a freshwater slough winding through salt marshes, offers rare, native bluestem prairie that graces the uplands. Brazoria NWR is on a key location on the Texas Gulf, which helps Freeport draw one of the highest Audubon Christmas bird counts in the nation–more than 200 species. In winter, more than 100,000 snow geese, Canada geese, pintail, northern shoveler, teal, gadwall, American wigeon, and mottled ducks fill the plentiful ponds and sloughs to capacity. Sandhill cranes join in, too. In summer, birds that nest on the refuge include ten species of herons and egrets, white ibis, roseate spoonbill, mottled duck, white-tailed kite, clapper rail, horned lark, seaside sparrow, black skimmer, and scissor-tailed flycatcher.

Look for alligators year-round on Big Slough and in refuge ponds. In dry seasons, their trails thorough the mud and excavated gator holes are easy to spot. Roseate spoonbills capture the pink glow of sunrise in their wings in flight. Those same rosy feathers proved a near death sentence when demand for feather hats decimated spoonbills, great egrets, and other fine-feathered fowl until plume hunting ended before World War I.

Flora/Fauna

More than 300 bird species, central flyaway migratory waterfowl in winter and neotropical migratory songbirds, create one of the highest audubon bird counts in the nation in freshwater marshes, sloughs, and ponds. There are four thousand acres of native coastal bluestem prairie, designated an internationally significant shorebird site by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, with birds including roseate spoonbills, herons, yellow rails, ibis, and other wading and shorebirds. There are also alligators, upland birds, coyotes, and armadillos.

Activities

Waterfowl hunting is permitted on Christmas Point and Middle Bayou. Fishing is available year round, and bank fishing for redfish, spotted sea trout, black drum, and flounder is found at Clay Banks and salt lake area. During the winter, wildlife observation is popular for Audubon/Freeport bird count of Teal Pond, Rogers Pond, Middle Bayou, Big Slough, and Mottled Duck Marsh.

  • Photography
  • Visitor Center/Environmental Education Center
  • Birding
  • 2 Boat ramps
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Visitor Center/Environmental Education Center
  • Wildlife observation
  • TEKS-aligned lessons.

Stephen F. Austin Park

Twelve acres of Stephen F. Austin Park are set aside in honor of the area’s past. Located on the Brazos River, adjoining the old ferry site and a part of the Commercio Plaza de San Felipe, this is the site of the township of San Felipe, the seat of government of the Anglo-American colonies in Texas. It was here Stephen F. Austin, the “Father of Texas,” brought the first 297 families to colonize Texas under a contract with the Mexican government. From 1824 to 1836, San Felipe de Austin was the social, economic, and political center, as well as the capital of the American colonies in Texas. Due to the many historic events that occurred here, the community acquired the reputation “Cradle of the Texas Liberty.”

Also, the conventions of 1832 and 1833 and the Consultation of 1835 were held here. These meetings eventually led to the Texas Declaration of Independence. San Felipe was the home of Austin and other famous early Texans; the home of Texas’ first Anglo newspaper (The Texas Gazette, founded in 1829); the home of the postal system of Texas origination; and the setting for the beginning of the Texas Rangers.

The park is divided into two sections, a small historic section and the larger recreational area. The small historical section of the park is located on FM 1458, one hundred yards or so past the recreational park entrance. There are several monuments, more than one historic grave, and a bronze Stephen F. Austin statue by John Angel (1935). There is a replica of Stephen F. Austin’s original cabin and a general store replicating a similar one that served San Felipe; it was originally built in 1847. Guided tours are available, and the small state ran historic general store is open on weekends.

Flora/Fauna

This forested park is bordered to the north and east by the Brazos River. It provides a natural habitat for deer, squirrels, raccoons, foxes, and opossums. A variety of birds is present year-round. The undeveloped areas of the park permit hiking and river fishing.

Activities/Amenities

  • Picnicking
  • Camping
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • 18-hole golf course
  • Nature and historical tours

Tranquility Park

400 Rusk St., Houston TX, 77002

Tranquility Park, named for the Sea of Tranquility, is filled with grassy embankments and serene pools while situated right next to City Hall in downtown Houston. The cool oasis of fountains and walkways was built to commemorate the first landing on the moon by the Apollo 11 mission.

Opening to visitors in 1979, the park was dedicated on the tenth anniversary for the first lunar landing. Neil Armstrong’s words from the moon, “Houston, Tranquility base here. The Eagle has Landed,” are written in many languages on plaques placed at the entrance of the park. The mounds and depressions on the park’s surface represent the cratered lunar surface.

Each year, Tranquility Park becomes home to annual events such as the Children’s Festival, Houston International Festival, and many more. This popular spot is great for individuals seeking shade or a place to have lunch during one of Houston’s hot summer days.

Tranquility Park is located between Walker and Rusk Streets, east of Smith St. in downtown Houston.

Eleanor Tinsley Park

500 Allen Parkway, Houston TX, 77002

With its sloping hills and lush trees, this park is a great place to relax. Picnic tables are sunken into some of the hills to make for a unique setting. Some are also covered, which is handy in case of a sudden downpour. The layout of this park makes for some interesting strolls. It’s set along Buffalo Bayou and is adjacent to the Bayou’s scenic ArtPark (featuring a host of sculptures and other art pieces).

Discovery Green

1500 McKinney, Houston TX, 77010

Discovery Green, a 12-acre park located in downtown Houston, officially opened to the public on April 13, 2008. The long-awaited destination fulfills a commitment from Mayor Bill White and major private Houston foundations to create and preserve green space within Houston’s central city. With its proximity to the George R. Brown Convention Center, Minute Maid Park, and Toyota Center, Discovery Green is an ideal location for the city’s newest attraction.

Emulating the model of great urban parks around the country, Discovery Green is designed as an engaging and active place with programming to serve all ages and backgrounds, as well as workers, residents, and visitors alike.

Much to See and Do

Tree-shaded walks lead to a tranquil pond while grassy slopes offer postcard views of downtown. Try out the new jogging trail that surrounds the park, or splash around The Model Boat Pond. Special dog fountains and runs are appropriately sized for large and small canines.

Want to try bocce ball or challenge your best friend to a game of horseshoes? Maybe recapture your title as king of croquet? Discovery Green is your field of play. It starts with a rentable four-wheel golf cart embellished by the talents of two local Art Car artists. The art cart is stocked with just the right equipment for an hour or two of friendly competition. Children will be amazed at the towering Mist Tree and delight in the one-of-a-kind play area designed to reflect the path of migrating birds. And don’t forget to make time to laugh and splash the Gateway Fountain, an interactive waterscape. Art installations add to the landscape while touring musicians and performing arts groups take the stage for noontime and weekend performances at the park’s amphitheater.

Dining at the Park

Visitors have a variety of dining experiences to choose from within the park: the informal elegance of The Grove restaurant and the fast-casual fare of The Lake House, with both menus comprised of award-winning Chef Robert del Grande’s creations. The Grove’s all-glass exterior overlooks a gathering of live oaks, offering visitors a peaceful, upscale ambience in the heart of the nation’s fourth largest city. Upstairs, the Tree House serves up appetizers and drinks to the shorts-and-sandals set, who relish the atmosphere of the open-air deck. The Lake House reels in visitors with its self-serve lakeside concept and convenient counter service.

Major Park Features

Prominent features visitors can enjoy include a one-acre lake, children’s playground, interactive water features, amphitheater stage and slope, small and large dog runs, public art works, HPL (Houston Public Library) Express, open lawns, and great restaurants.

Andrea and Bill White Promenade

This walkway forms the heart of the park and offers a 360-degree view of Houston’s skyline.

Kinder Lake

Kinder Lake, encompassing more than an acre of the park, features water gardens and a model boat area, a shallow pool specifically designed to accommodate remote-controlled watercraft operated by park goers of all ages.

Elizabeth Baldwin Park

The City of Houston acquired Elizabeth Baldwin Park in 1905. It consists of 4.88 acres on Elgin Street between Crawford and Chenevert Streets in a proud old neighborhood facing revitalization in the twenty-first century in the form of renovated houses and newly built townhouses and businesses.

The Park is named after Elizabeth Baldwin, whose father was the brother-in-law to Houston’s co-founder, Augustus C. Allen. When Elizabeth died, she reserved a portion of her estate to purchase and preserve parkland in the Houston area.

Little more than a lawn for picnics in its early days, Baldwin Park was fitted out in 1912 with a stone fountain dedicated to the wife of Houston’s founder, Charlotte Allen. The park was upgraded through a bond initiative in 1930 and 1931 and was a popular tennis center for years. The most recent improvements have resulted from the 2003 bond sale by the Midtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone and the plans of the Midtown Management District.

New trees have been planted to supplement the hundred-year-old specimens dating from the park’s birth, and an irrigation system has been put into place. A crushed granite jogging trail has been installed, as have new picnic tables, chess tables, and sidewalks. The Vietnamese Heritage Plaza greets visitors in a variety of languages and honors the Vietnamese community that flourishes in Midtown. The old park has been reborn as a monument to civic pride and the efforts of the area’s twenty-first century citizens.

The Elizabeth Baldwin Park is located in Midtown, just south of Downtown on Elgin at Crawford.

Lake Plaza at Hermann Park

6001 Fannin St, Houston TX, 77030

Lake Plaza in the center of Hermann Park will connect visitors, celebrate Houston’s diversity, and welcome all,” said Doreen Stoller, executive director of Hermann Park Conservancy. “The Lake Plaza project was built upon the Hermann Park tradition of bringing Houstonians together and generating opportunities for recreation and rejuvenation in the heart of the city.

Lake Plaza consists of several all new components: Kinder Station (the new main train station), The Tiffany & Co. Foundation Bridge, Little Big’s café, dining terrace, public restrooms, gift shop, boathouse, and volunteer and maintenance building. The area wraps along the eastern edge of the 7.5-acre McGovern Lake, and offers magnificent views from its newly landscaped promenades.

The entire project is LEED-certified, and was designed with Hermann Park Conservancy’s commitment to conservation and community in mind. A public art project in the Plaza helps accomplish these goals with art by Jesse Lott, a local artist known for using found objects. The Mary Gibbs and Jesse H. Jones Greenway, a prominent environmentally friendly feature, collects water from the Plaza and naturally filters pollutants as it travels to the bayou. The Greenway also serves as a detention basin, holding water during heavy rainfall to help reduce flooding along the bayou.

Mercer Arboretum and Botanical Gardens

:22306 Aldine Westfield Rd., Humble TX, 77338

Named after Thelma and Charles Mercer, Humble’s Mercer Arboretum and Botanical Gardens entices visitors daily with free admission and 250 acres of land along Cypress Creek.

Although 14.5 acres of the land originally belonged to the Mercers—who used it for their home and garden—the area has since been purchased by Harris County and expanded to include several well-maintained hike trails, a butterfly house, restroom facilities and picnic areas.

The nationally-recognized arboretum and botanical garden boasts the largest collection of native and cultivated plants in the region. Among the many highlights are native Dogwood trees, vibrant pink camellias, rare camphor daisies and orchid trees. Pack a picnic and spend the afternoon spotting colorful Pine Warblers, Black-capped Chikadees and Cardinals as they flit overhead.

Little Cypress Creek Preserve

Telge Road at Spring Cypress Road, Cypress TX, 77429

Located northwest of Houston—at the intersection of Spring Cypress and Telge Road—Little Cypress Creek Preserve is a 58-acre undeveloped park site that will eventually serve as an educational resource for local residents and visitors.

The area, which was acquired by the county in 2004, officially opened in March 2005, welcoming visitor groups for weekend exploration. In addition to hiking, fishing and equestrian trails, the preserve features 10, man-made ponds, which have been designed to mature into a vibrant, functioning wetland. There’s also abundant bird spotting opportunities, as the area attracts more than 60 different species.

Spring Creek Greenway

1118 Pruitt Rd., The Woodlands TX, 77380

Spring Creek Greenway represents an ambitious eco-endeavor, aiming to create a 12,000-acre linear park system stretching from Tomball to the San Jacinto River in Humble.

Ultimately, the area will offer a variety of recreation options like fishing, canoeing, bird watching and hiking while providing a protected refuge for many plant and animal species. Ultimately, joggers and bikers will also be able to access a continuous, 10-mile trail along Spring Creek, once the 7.5 Pundt Park-to-Jones Park trail connects with the 2.5-mile trail from Jones Park to Highway 59.

The project will also prove to be beneficial during heavy rains, as the area’s ponds, tributaries, wetlands and secondary creek banks help trap sediment, filter pollutants and slow water velocity during flooding.

Burroughs Park

:9738 Hufsmith Rd., Tomball TX, 77375,

Situated northeast of Tomball, Texas, on 320 acres between Kuykendahl Road and FM2978, Burroughs Park remains a popular outdoor destination for visitors of all ages and abilities.

The multi-use park makes room for soccer and softball fields, a stocked, seven-acre fishing lake, more than eight miles of hiking trails, picnic areas, a popular barbecue pavilion, as well as wheelchair accessible playgrounds. There are also convenient rest room facilities, as well as an observation deck and an elevated boardwalk.

Head there on a quiet afternoon, for a peaceful stroll on a trail through the area’s dense woodlands. Bonus: The paths are positioned at a distance from the most popular areas of the park, allowing visitors plenty of peace and quiet, beneath a lush, pine tree canopy.

Spring Creek Park

15012 Brown Rd., Tomball TX, 77375

Located on the northwest side of Tomball, Spring Creek Park offers outdoor enthusiasts 114, peaceful acres tucked along the banks of Spring Creek.

Once the site of a cannon powder mill for the Confederate Army, now serves visitors interested in skateboarding, the park’s well-equipped playground and covered basketball pavilion that’s lit at night. Spring Creek makes room for two lighted tennis courts, a softball field, barbecue pavilions, picnic facilities and a sand volleyball court. There are also several hiking trails and fishing available, too.

Guests looking for overnight accommodations can take advantage of Spring Creek’s RV and camping hook-ups, tent sites, as well as the well-maintained restroom and shower facilities.

Bear Creek Pioneers Park

3535 War Memorial Drive, Houston TX, 77084

Sandwiched north of I-10, between Eldridge Parkway and Highway 6 in West Houston, Bear Creek Pioneers Park offers visitors more than 2,000 acres of walking and equestrian trails, sports fields, picnic areas, golf and live animals on view.

On nice days, Bear Creek is popular with groups enjoying events beneath one of the eight park pavilions, childrens’ little league games and for visitors exploring the animal habitat, which features buffalos, bison, peacocks, pigs, ostriches and emus. Other park highlights include an aviary, playgrounds, lighted tennis courts and hundreds of picnic tables and grills.

The park is open daily from 7AM until 10PM and admission is free. To reserve one of the covered pavilions, contact the parks reservations office at (281) 496-2177.

Congressman Bill Archer Park

3201 State Highway 6 North, Houston TX, 7708

Congressman Bill Archer Park is a pup’s paradise. The 926-acre facility located north of I-10 on Highway 6 North, opposite of Bear Creek Pioneers Park, features bone-shaped ponds, agility equipment, dog runs, shaded gazebo areas and granite trails catering to both large and small dogs.

Bring your four-legged bundle of joy for off-leash fun. The park, which officially opened in May 2006, offers 17-acres of open space—14 acres for big dogs and three acres for pint-sized pups—as well as trash bins, bags and a cheeky array of fire hydrants. Visitors of the human variety will appreciate Bill Archer Park’s washing stations, tree-shaded scenery and easy-to-find parking.

The park is free to the public and open daily from 7AM to dusk.

David G. Burnet Park

1704 Burnet Ave., Baytown TX, 77520

With an average of only 18 days per year with temperatures below freezing and 99.6 days with high temperatures falling in the 90s, Houston’s nature enthusiasts know that there’s no better city to soak up the great outdoors.

Located east of downtown Houston—about a mile south of I-10 as you head toward the Lynchburg Ferry— David G. Burnet Park offers locals and visitors a $2 million green space to enjoy 365 days a year.

Head to the area—named after the first President of the Republic of Texas—to enjoy the facility’s playground and walking trails, which boast metal markers highlighting historic facts about Texas.

Stay tuned for Burnet Park’s phase two developments, where a small pavilion and a replica of David G. Burnet’s home will be added to the site.

Edna Mae Washington Park

7613 Wade Rd., Baytown TX, 77521

With an average of only 18 days per year with temperatures below freezing and 99.6 days with high temperatures falling in the 90s, nature enthusiasts know that Houston is a prime place to soak up the great outdoors.

Located east of downtown Houston—just north of I-10 East—Edna Mae Washington Park offers locals and visitors a multi-functional green space to enjoy 365 days a year.

Head to the area and cool down at the Spray Park, which features jumping water jets, misting palm trees and showering towers. Edna Mae also boasts paved trails, picnic facilities, a tennis court, a baseball field, an equestrian center and playground.

The park is open daily, while the Spray Park is open from the first Saturday of April to the last Saturday of October.

Halls Bayou Hike and Bike Trail

8000 Tidwell Rd., Houston TX, 77028

With an average of only 18 days per year with temperatures below freezing and 99.6 days with high temperatures falling in the 90s, nature enthusiasts know that Houston is a prime place to soak up the great outdoors.

Located north of downtown Houston—between the 610 Loop and Beltway 8— Halls Bayou Hike & Bike Trail offers locals and visitors three miles of paved trails set within a lush, wooded landscape along Halls Bayou.

Completed in 2009, the Halls Bayou Trail extends from Hirsh Road to Bretshire Street, providing a link between Tidwell Park and Forest Brook High School. Look for exercise equipment, park benches, bridges and under crossings to dot the 10-foot-wide trail, which remains popular among cyclists and area joggers.

Extensive flood control projects are also in the works along the bayou, which will provide for additional trails to be added to the area in the future.

James Bute Park

512 McKee St., Houston TX, 77002

With an average of only 18 days per year with temperatures below freezing and 99.6 days with high temperatures falling in the 90s, nature enthusiasts know that Houston is a prime place to soak up the great outdoors.

Located along the edge of downtown Houston—near Buffalo Bayou and the McKee Street Bridge—James Bute Park offers locals and visitors 12.5 acres of green space, paved trails and picnic facilities to enjoy 365 days a year.

Head to the area—which is centered around the Historic Frost Town Site and Buffalo Bayou—and enjoy views of the nearby water, while walking the dog or going for a jog. James Bute Park is open daily from 6AM to 11PM.

Bay Area Park

7500 Bay Area Blvd., Houston TX, 77058

With an average of only 18 days per year with temperatures below freezing and 99.6 days with high temperatures falling in the 90s, Houston’s nature enthusiasts know that there’s no better city to soak up the great outdoors.

Located southeast of downtown Houston—between Space Center Boulevard and Red Bluff Road, along the shores of Armand Bayou—Bay Area Park offers visitors and their four-legged friends a vibrant green space to enjoy 365 days a year.

Head to the area and enjoy a variety of playground structures, picnic tables and barbecue pits, as well as a botanical garden and hiking trails that wind through lush oak trees. Tennis courts, baseball, softball fields and canoe ramps are also key highlights at Bay Area Park.

Bring your pup, too, and let ‘em loose at the precinct’s first dog park, which is fenced in and divided into two sections—one for small (under 20 pounds) and another for large dogs. The facility features wash bays, trails, fountains and plenty of open space for pups to explore.

James Driver Park

10918 1/2 Bentley St., Houston TX, 77093

With an average of only 18 days per year with temperatures below freezing and 99.6 days with high temperatures falling in the 90s, nature enthusiasts know that Houston is a prime place to soak up the great outdoors.

Located in northeast Houston—along US Highway 59—James Driver Park offers locals and visitors 15.5 acres of park space that includes two community center buildings, covered and lighted basketball facilities, a skate park, baseball field and a playground to enjoy 365 days a year.

Head to James Driver Park and take part in one of the special programs, events and activities organized by Precinct2gether.org or pack a picnic and enjoy a relaxing afternoon. The park also features restrooms facilities and an unlit walking trail.

Jim and Joann Fonteno Family Park

14350 1/2 Wallisville Rd., Houston TX, 77049

With an average of only 18 days per year with temperatures below freezing and 99.6 days with high temperatures falling in the 90s, nature enthusiasts know that Houston is a prime place to soak up the great outdoors.

Located northeast of downtown Houston—between Interstate 90 and Interstate 10—Jim and Joann Fonteno Family Park offers locals and visitors 33 lush acres of green space including picnic facilities, a loop path and garden scapes to enjoy 365 days a year.

Set among towering Pine trees and wetlands—in the middle of a neighborhood, parking lots and a strip mall in eastern Harris county—Fonteno Park delights with its traditional park offerings. There’s a covered pavilion for programmed activities, decked picnic areas crafted from recycled materials and pocket parks highlighting bird and butterfly gardens

Gene Green Beltway 8 Park

6500 E. Sam Houston Parkway N., Houston TX, 77049

With an average of only 18 days per year with temperatures below freezing and 99.6 days with high temperatures falling in the 90s, nature enthusiasts know that Houston is a prime place to soak up the great outdoors.

Located east of downtown Houston—near the Interstate 90 and Beltway 8 interchange—the recently-opened Gene Green Beltway 8 Park offers locals and visitors 250 acres of fun-filled activities and state-of-the-art equipment to enjoy 365 days a year.

Among the environmentally-friendly area’s most popular features are a kiddie spray park, tennis and basketball courts, a BMX freestyle course, dog runs, paved trails, an amphitheater and well-equipped skate park. Everything from the lighting to the water flow that runs through the park was made from recycled materials and designed to conserve resources.

Gene Green Park is open daily from 7AM to 10PM. The kiddie spray park is open from the first Saturday in April to the last Saturday of October.

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