Outdoors

Ditch Highways for Hiking Trails and Hit Houston’s Great Outdoors

Houston is known for many things — top-notch restaurants, experimental bars, world-class art museums and a newly revitalized downtown. The country’s fourth-largest city doesn’t exactly inspire images of the great outdoors, though. It’s known more for highways than for hiking trails.

Over the past 15 years, however, Houston has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a green makeover within this concrete jungle. Both locals and visitors alike are benefiting from more space to go running, biking, canoeing and more.

Although several of the city’s parks sustained flooding during Hurricane Harvey, most of them are now fully operational. Here are four of the best for outdoors activities in Houston.

Hermann Park

Thanks to a $119 million renovation, 445-acre Hermann Park is now Houston’s premier green space. The focal point of this historic park in the Museum District is the 740-foot-long Mary Gibbs and Jesse H. Jones Reflection Pool, edged in sculpted stone and lined with oak trees.

Take a pedal boat ride on McGovern Lake, or perhaps enjoy a free performance by the Houston Grand Opera, the Houston Ballet or the Houston Symphony at Miller Outdoor Theatre (check the schedule of events in advance).

While you’re in the neighborhood, check out a few more of the city’s outdoor attractions, as well. The Hermann Park Golf Course and Houston Zoo both border the park. On Rice University’s campus, located nearby, an installation by renowned artist James Turrell is open to the public. “Twilight Epiphany” Skyspace is the site of a free light show that takes place Wednesday through Monday at sunrise and sunset.

Buffalo Bayou Park

houston outdoors
Admire the city … from a distance. (Photo: Getty Images)

The 160-acre space along Houston’s main waterway, Buffalo Bayou Park, recently underwent a $58 million facelift complete with new running and biking trails, a skate park, public art and pedestrian bridges.

The Waugh Drive Bridge is even home to the city’s largest bat colony. Plan to take a boat tour to see the approximately 200,000 Mexican free-tailed bats that usually come out at sunset year-round, or rent kayaks from Bayou City Adventures and paddle along the narrow stream of water. Those who prefer to stay on dry land can take a bike tour with Bike Barn and explore miles of paths lined with oak and magnolia trees.

Memorial Park

Runners will want to head to Memorial Park, with its 30 miles of pathways that include the popular Seymour Lieberman Exercise Trail, which is paved with crushed granite.

Sprawling across 1,466 acres, it’s one of the largest urban parks in the country and includes facilities for tennis, softball, swimming, track, croquet and volleyball, in addition to an 18-hole Memorial Park Golf Course. It’s also home to The Houston Arboretum & Nature Center, where visitors can wander 5 miles of nature paths and learn about the region’s native plants.

Discovery Green

houston outdoors
You never know what you’ll discover at Discovery Green. (Photo: Getty Images)

Location, location, location. That’s the biggest advantage for Discovery Green, Houston’s compact downtown park that’s tucked between the George R. Brown Convention Center and several shops and restaurants.

Open since 2008, this space packs an impressive selection of activities into just 12 acres. Find a putting green, a recreational lake, bandstands, two dog runs, a children’s playground area, revolving art installations and a jogging trail. There’s even an ice rink during the colder months, as well as more than 300 special events like concerts, film screenings and festivals held throughout the year.