One time at a grocery store in Houston a clerk turned to me and said, “Welcome to Planet Houston!” I thought that was a fair assessment. As the largest city in Texas, “Planet Houston,” is a never-ending network of highways, skyscrapers, strip malls, and neighborhoods. It would seem that in a place so vast and industrial, the closest you would come to the outdoors would be on a patio.
But I’ve found a few pretty spots in Houston to get outside, commune with nature, and breathe fresh air. Well, somewhat fresh anyways. Houston has lots of waterways–heck, when it rains it practically is a waterway–and a marshy bottomland feel, so as a proud Texan who loves every region of our state, how can I leave it out?!
Armand Bayou Nature Center
Of the parks I describe in this post, this is the most natural and wild feeling. While Armand Bayou is in the middle of Houston’s sprawling suburbs, you’d never know it. The tall trees, peace and quiet, and pristine land around the bayou make you think you’ve escaped.
I went here last year and love it more than I expected.
Houston and its suburbs sit on a connected systems of bayous (say this as twangy as possible for maximum enjoyment), which feed into the Gulf of Mexico. One such bayou is Armand Bayou, named after an early environmentalist who was determined to protect this one particular waterway and marsh on the outskirts near Pasadena.
It’s a gorgeous, expansive property (2,500 acres) with marshes and of course the deep Armand Bayou running through it, and you can hear a chorus of birds, frogs, and ducks.
When I was there, I took a pontoon boat tour and saw big white pelicans lounging about and enjoying the sunshine.
Guided canoe tours are also available. Plus, around the corner from the Armand Bayou Nature Center is a kayak rental shop, which is another fun alternative for enjoying this pretty scenery. (Details below.)
What to Like: Pristine wetlands. Big pelicans. Great blue herons. Turtles. Alligators (a safe distance away.) Activities to entertain your kids. A place to kayak.
The only alligators I saw were made of plastic, though real ones are rumoured to lurk in the shallows.
Birds of prey!
I loved Armand and this would be my first choice for the outdoors in H-town.
Buffalo Bayou Park
It’s impossible to talk about nature in Houston and not mention Buffalo Bayou Park.
While it’s not as natural or wild as Armand, this 160 acre park in downtown Houston offers some natural recreation, from a charming dog park, to playgrounds, natural wetlands, and art sculptures.
Trooper and I had a great walk there one morning recently. He got as filthy as possible in the mud and sand, and I got some exercise, so both of our needs were satisfied. However, now I need a car wash.
Tidy and charming.
I even found some of my first wildflowers of the season!
Seriously, what’s not to love about a bluebonnet?
Looking good, little yellow flowers. Keep it up.
How picture-perfect is this sunflower? It’s like I planned it, but I did not. Oh, nature. So pretty.
Troopy and I walked for about 45 minutes on the trail, and only covered a portion of it. If you really want to see the whole park, allow a couple of hours.
I found the bayou trail to be mostly flat, easy and doable by folks of all ages and fortitudes.
Next time, I would start at this darling brunch/lunch spot called The Kitchen and go walking from there.
“Outdoors in Houston” is a relative term, after all.
The Kitchen overlooks “Lost Lake”…another relative term. Nothing about this lake looks lost to me. On the contrary, it looks very planned and intentional. That name will remain a mystery.
Lost Lake aside, I will tell you that if you are expecting a pristine natural environment, Buffalo Bayou may not be for you. A lot of the banks are eroded and there were also many areas where debris and trash had washed up. But, in a city of two million people, that floods regularly, I think some trash is inevitable. Just focus on the bluebonnets.
Not to be outdone by Austin, Houston also has a bat colony that takes up residence in the Waugh bridge at Buffalo Bayou. The bats can be seen leaving at dusk on summer nights…and can be smelled the rest of the time.
Ah, smells like Austin.
George Bush Park
Also located on Buffalo Bayou, this park is one of the largest urban parks in the nation with a whopping 7,800 acres. Granted, not all of this is natural landscape–there are soccer fields, for instance–but it is a great place to jog through the trees and enjoy the outdoors.
Photo Credit: Bill Jacobus
Or, enjoy the American Shooting Center on the property where you can rent guns, take lessons, and shoot skeet, trap, pistols, and rifles.
If you want to hike or bike with your dog, boyfriend, significant other, or family, might I recommend using Backpacker.com’s suggested trail: Click here.
I once heard that Houston has more fine art performances on any given night of the week than any other city in America except New York. So not only does Houston have options to satisfy your outdoor needs, but it can cater to a girl’s taste in art as well. Not a bad place to be.