Step into the Great Outdoors for terrific birding, hiking, camping and nature opportunities at more than 70 parks, forests and nature centers Around Houston.
From vast acres of towering trees to coastal wetlands teeming with thousands of migratory birds and other animals, those that call the Bayou City home truly don’t have to go far to immerse themselves in nature.
Most importantly for the realities of 2020, there are many, many options for social distancing or staying within your bubble while still escaping the house and getting out into the world.
The city of Houston sits among an expansive region of coastal grasslands, forested land, marshes and swamps, which makes it and the surrounding Gulf Coast cities a hotbed of diverse ecosystem activity.
We’ve compiled some of the best spots to head to when you’re in the mood for nature—premier birding destinations, back country camping, tree-lined trails or many other kinds of outdoor recreation—in the areas Around Houston, including Brazosport, Clear Lake and the Bay Area, Baytown, Beaumont, Conroe, Deer Park, Galveston, Pearland, Port Arthur, Sugar Land, The Woodlands and Tomball.
Of course, in the time of social distancing, it’s important for you to consider any health precautions before heading out. Our picks below may have certain requirements or restrictions at this moment and these things can change quickly, so be sure to contact your destination ahead of time with any questions or concerns.
Birding, Hiking & Nature Around Houston
Kemah, League City, Nassau Bay & Seabrook
- Armand Bayou Nature Center | Parks, Trails, Birding – One of the largest urban wilderness preserves in the nation, this 2,500-acre nature center features natural wetlands, forest, prairie and marsh habitats along with hundreds of animal species (including resident bison) and thousands of native plants. A premier birding destination in the Houston area, Armand Bayou is also great for families and those after hiking and paddle trails in the region. Click here for more information.
- Challenger Seven Memorial Park | Parks, Trails, Birding – In memory of the seven astronauts that lost their lives in the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, this memorial park features about 100 acres of Audubon Society-sanctioned park space, a bird sanctuary, nature trails, fishing ponds and more. Click here for more information.
- Dr. Ned & Fay Dudney Nature Center | Parks, Birding – In League City, this 148-acre park is home to migrant birds such as great blue herons, ibises and whooping cranes; mammals like deer, bobcats, coyote and raccoons; and a wide variety of flora and fauna. Click here for more information.
- Hester Garden Park | Parks, Trails, Birding – A former nursery in Seabrook, the Hester Garden Park is a great stop along the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, offering observation platforms surrounded by native plant life, towering trees and buzzing wildlife like birds, butterflies and dragonflies. Click here for more information.
- Seabrook Wildlife Refuge and Park | Parks, Trails, Birding – This natural refuge preserves 40 acres of undeveloped park space which is home to egrets, herons and woodland birds, as well as turtles, alligators, deer and swamp rabbits. Click here for more information.
- Baytown Nature Center | Parks, Trails, Birding – Surrounded by multiple bays, this 500-acre peninsula provides a habitat to more than 300 species of resident and neotropical migrant birds. In addition, it serves as an important nursery for a variety of aquatic species. Covered pavilions, fishing piers, picnic shelters and two overlooks make this a welcoming place for nature lovers. Click here for more information.
- Eddie V. Gray Wetlands Center | Education, Animal Encounters – On the banks of Goose Creek in Baytown, this wetlands center offers an educational experience to visitors, with 9,000 square-foot exhibition space and opportunities to get up close and personal with reptiles at Gator World and fluttering insects in Butterfly Encounter. Click here for more information.
- Goose Creek Trail | Trails, Birding, Fishing – Stretching for over 5.5 miles, this trail experience along the banks of Goose Lake sends visitors through different regional ecosystems, including salt water bodies, brackish water bodies, wetlands, marshes and heavy forests. Along the way, visitors can enjoy nature, take in birding opportunities, hit the fishing piers and more. Click here for more information.
- Beaumont Botanical Gardens in Tyrell Park | Gardens, Plants – Located within the expansive Tyrell Park, the Beaumont Botanical Gardens are 23 acres of themed gardens that showcase camellias, modern and antique roses, bromeliads and many native plants. In addition, it is also home to the Warren Loose Conservatory which features 10,000 square feet of plants, ponds and more. Click here for more information.
- Big Thicket National Preserve | Parks, Camping, Birding – With over 113,000 acres within its borders, Big Thicket is home to around 40 miles of hiking trails and more than 20 miles of paddling trails that allow visitors to explore many different ecosystems. From camping and birding to fishing and hunting, there is an unbelievable amount of natural goodness to get into at this national park, located just northwest of Beaumont. Click here for more information.
- Cattail Marsh Scenic Wetlands & Boardwalk | Parks, Trails, Birding – These 900 acres of wetlands provide visitors many ways to engage with nature, whether on the boardwalk and viewing platforms, hiking through more than eight miles of gravel roads, or taking in the hundreds of bird species and aquatic mammals that call this place home throughout the year. Click here for more information.
- High Island | Birding, Trails – What is actually a massive salt dome that rises 32 feet above the surrounding marshes on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico, High Island is a popular destination for birding, which includes four nearby sanctuaries with hiking trails and terrific scenic views. For those interested in guided tours, Tropical Birding Tours offers free guides and talks through the area, ensuring that visitors get the most out of High Island and the surrounding area. Click here for more information.
- Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary | Plants, Trails, Paddling – More than 5,600 acres large, this sanctuary connected with Big Thicket National Preserve is home to a wide variety of plant communities and an abundance of wildlife. In addition, visitors are welcome to hiking trails, nature photography and paddling down nearby Village Creek. Click here for more information.
- Sabine Woods | Parks, Birding – Managed by local Audubon chapters, Sabine Woods is one of the premier birding destinations of the region, particularly in the spring with scores of neotropical birds stopping by on their way down migratory routes. Click here for more information.
- Tyrell Park | Parks, Trails, Birding – The largest and most extensive park in Beaumont, Tyrell Park encompasses many must-see attractions for nature lovers, including the Cattail Marsh Wetlands, Beaumont Botanical Gardens, Warren Loose Conservatory and many hiking, biking and jogging trails. Click here for more information.
- Village Creek State Park | Parks, Camping, Birding– Just north of Beaumont, this part of the Big Thicket National Preserve provides visitors plenty of camping and RV amenities, as well as birding, fishing, hiking and paddling activities. Click here for more information.
- Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge | Parks, Birding, Trails – More than 40,000 acres of varied habitat are home to many species of coastal and migratory birds at this expansive wildlife refuge. From sunrise to sunset, birders, hikers and nature lovers alike will find plenty to enjoy, including an opportunity to take an auto tour through the park. Click here for more information.
- Brazos River Runs | Paddling, Birding – The Brazos River winds through the areas of Brazoria and Freeport, providing excellent paddling opportunities through the 9.8-mile trail of the Gulf Prairie Run, and the six miles known as the Sugar Mill Stretch. These trails send paddlers down an incredible ecological system under towering trees, past flowering plants, nearby wildlife and migratory birds. Click here for more information.
- Buffalo Camp Bayou | Paddling, Birding – In Lake Jackson, the launch point of this flatwater trail is located on the east side of Wilderness Park, across from the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory. Bring a kayak and paddle along the winding water, keeping an eye out for migratory birds and wildlife on the banks. Park is open 6am to 10pm daily. Click here for more information.
- Christmas Bay Paddling Trail | Paddling, Birding, Fishing – The very shallow waters of Christmas Bay provide a great opportunity to safely paddle through the 19.1-mile trail while watching for birds, exploring the oyster reefs, or fishing. Shorter trail loops of 3.8 and 10.3 miles are also available. Click here for more information.
- Dow Centennial Bottomlands | Parks, Birding, Trails – Nearly 200 acres of riparian oak forest in Lake Jackson provide habitat to native woodland and migratory birds, as well as hiking and jogging trails to enjoy nature to its fullest. Click here for more information.
- Dow Woods | Parks, Birding, Trails – Located in Angleton, these 300-plus acres of hardwood riparian forest offer prime birding and wildlife viewing opportunities, along with hiking trails. Click here for more information.
- Freeport Wetlands Trail & Bird Observatory | Trails, Birding – Just off the banks of the Brazos River in Freeport, this wetlands trail offers the chance to watch hundreds of migratory birds along the surrounding 50-acre freshwater marsh. Click here for more information.
- Gulf Coast Bird Observatory | Trails, Birding – In Lake Jackson, this research and education facility sits on 34 acres of Columbia Bottomland forest with self-guided nature trails. Keep an eye out for special birding programs and other events. Click here for more information.
- Hudson Woods Unit | Parks, Trails, Birding – Part of the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge in Angleton, this area features 1,000 acres of old growth forest and willow swamp. Click here for more information.
- Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area | Parks, Trails, Birding – Just outside the city of Freeport, this area of oak-hackberry mote and adjacent grasslands offers great birding opportunities year round, as well as nature trails for visitors. Click here for more information.
- Kelly Hamby Nature Trail | Trails, Birding – Near the San Luis Pass, this walking trail offers beach access and prime viewing of a natural bird habitat which features scissor-tailed flycatchers, tanagers, cuckoos, and more. Click here for more information.
- Old Brazos River Paddling | Paddling, Birding – Launching from RiverPlace at Freeport Municipal Park, the Old Brazos River offers an area of paddling that is segmented from the nearby winding Brazos River. Click here for more information.
- Oyster Creek Paddling at Dunbar Park | Paddling, Birding – This 98-acre public park provides launch access into Oyster Creek, which snakes north and east of Lake Jackson, and is lined by moss-hung oaks and residential homes. Click here for more information.
- Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary | Birding – Just outside the Quintana Beach County Park, this sanctuary is home to a range of coastal ecosystems and offers a terrific birding hot-spot. Click here for more information.
- San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge | Parks, Trails, Birding – This popular refuge in Brazoria offers auto tours, hiking trails, boardwalks and paddling opportunities, as well as prime birding in this unique blend of coastal marsh, prairies, freshwater lakes and oak forests. Click here for more information.
- Surfside Bird & Butterfly Trail | Trails, Birding – Outside of Surfside Jetty County Park, this 2.5 mile trail offers great views of herons, pelicans and more and is surrounded by native plants and woodland. Click here for more information.
- Wilderness Park | Parks, Trails, Birding – More than 475 acres of riparian oak forest brings visitors to the edge of Brazos River in Lake Jackson. Here, a four-mile hiking trail, kayak launch, and birding opportunities make for a memorable nature experience. Click here for more information.
- Lake Conroe Park | Parks, Fishing – Sitting on the west shores of Lake Conroe, this 13-acre park offers covered pavilions, grills, picnic facilities and restrooms, as well as swimming areas and fishing piers for your next family outing. Admission is $2 per person; free for ages 5 and under, 65 and over. Click here for more information.
- Lone Star Hiking Trail | Trails, Birding – Dubbed the hiker’s “jewel of Texas”, the Lone Star Hiking Trail is a 129-mile winding path through the Sam Houston National Forest and beyond. The trail is intended to be primitive, so hikers won’t discover many amenities such as restrooms and other facilities, but the ability to explore the far northeast region of Houston wilderness is rewarding for nature lovers. Click here for more information.
- Sam Houston National Forest | Parks, Camping, Birding – Stretching across more than 160,000 acres, this national forest expands into Montgomery, San Jacinto and Walker counties, north of Houston. Inside, the forest is teeming with wildlife from white-tailed deer and feral hogs to migratory game birds and critters big and small. A regional destination for hunting, fishing, camping, hiking and biking, Sam Houston National Forest is one of the closest and largest stages of nature in the region. Click here for more information.
- W. Goodrich Jones State Forest | Parks, Birding, Trails – Wedged between Conroe and The Woodlands, this state forest is one of the nation’s largest working urban forests. Utilized by Texas A&M and other science researchers and professional groups, this area is brimming with native plants, wildlife, and miles of hiking trails, as well as spaces for limited fishing and picnicking. Click here for more information.
- Deer Park Nature Preserve | Parks, Trails, Birding – Unveiled in late 2019, this 17-acre facility in Deer Park offers nearly two miles of trails through a nature preserve, where visitors can take in the sites of woodland habitat, mammals, birds and native plants. Click here for more information.
- 7 1/2 Mile Road | Birding – On the west end of the island, near Beach Pocket Park 1, this area features natural ponds that are frequented by Black-crowned Night-Heron, warblers, Roseate Spoonbill and many other seasonal migratory birds. Click here for more information.
- 8 Mile & Sportsman Roads | Birding – On the bay side of Galveston Island, Sportsman Road will lead visitors to a rich birding area, teeming with Baltimore Orioles, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and other shorebirds and migratory species. Click here for more information.
- Apffel Park Road | Birding – Along this road that leads to East Beach, visitors will find this lagoon area serving as a habitat to dozens of different bird species, including Red-tailed Hawks, Osprey, Tricolored Heron and other shorebirds and waders. Click here for more information.
- Artist Boat Kayak Adventures | Paddling, Birding – Out of Galveston Bay, this guided tour service takes participants on paddling adventures through some of the area’s most beautiful coastal areas, including East End Lagoon Nature Preserve, Christmas Bay, Armand Bayou Nature Center, Cypress Swamp and Coastal Heritage Preserve. Click here for more information.
- Beach Pocket Park 1 | Beaches, Birding – On the west end of Galveston Island, this pocket park near 7 1/2 Mile Road offers on-beach access so you can pull your vehicle onto the sand for a day of relaxation and wildlife watching as Gulf birds find their way up and down the shore. Entry fees are charged from Mid-March through Labor Day and vary per day. Click here for more information.
- Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary | Birding – Just a quick Bolivar Ferry ride from Galveston, this Shorebird Sanctuary in Port Bolivar offers birders an opportunity to take in the sights of gulls, terns and shorebirds, as well as migratory visitors throughout the year. Click here for more information.
- Coastal Heritage Preserve | Parks, Birding, Paddling – This 690-acre conservation area managed by Artist Boat offers visitors a chance to take to observation platforms at the Edward and Helen Oppenheimer Bird Observatory for excellent birding opportunities, as well as take in the native wildlife and plants that fill the preserved natural habitat. Artist Boat also leads guests on guided paddling tours of the area, helping to build an educational understanding of the local ecosystem. Click here for more information.
- Corp Woods Nature Sanctuary | Birding– A stop along the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, this hidden gem offers the chance to view many species of migratory birds that inhabit the small ponds and ditches that dot the area. Click here for more information.
- Dos Vacas Muertas Bird Sanctuary | Birding – This six-acre preserve can be found along the way to San Luis Pass, providing an area of large tidal flats, grass-covered wetlands and several miles of beaches that serve as habitat to local and migratory bird species. Click here for more information.
- East End Lagoon Nature Preserve | Parks, Birding, Paddling – Stretching across 685 acres, this nature preserve offers excellent birding opportunities along the shores of East End Lagoon, including those of open water, shore and wet coastal prairie. A nature trail also extends into the Lagoon area, with plans to expand it further to provide an ADA-accessible experience, and the Lagoon is a popular spot for fishing and kayaking. Click here for more information.
- Galveston Island State Park | Parks, Camping, Hiking – Though the beach side of the park is closed until 2022, the bay side provides plenty to do with fishing, picnic, birding, hiking, biking, paddling, camping activities and more. Operated by Texas Parks & Wildlife, this natural environment is a boon to those who want a closer look at Texas’ rich coastal ecology. Click here for more information.
- Kempner Park | Parks, Birding – Located next to the historic Garten Verein building, this neighborhood park provides popular birding opportunities to catch glimpses of American Robins and White-winged Doves. Click here for more information.
- Lafitte’s Cove Nature Preserve | Parks, Birding, Hiking – This wooded preserve is home to many migrant songbirds, as well as alligators, snakes and more just off the boardwalk trails. Click here for more information.
- Piers 19 & 20 | Birding – For a unique birding opportunity, head to the Galveston piers where you’ll spot plenty of perched pelicans awaiting the arrival of the harbor’s shrimp boats, who will toss throwback fish and shrimp to their hungry observers. Click here for more information.
- San Luis Pass | Beaches, Birding, Fishing – From Galveston, take the San Luis Pass Beach Access just before the Bluewater Highway bridge to find popular birding and fishing spots. Along with countless waterbirds packed onto the sandbar, you’ll also be able to spot migratory species throughout the year. Click here for more information.
- Texas A&M Wetlands | Birding, Trails – This portion of the Texas A&M Pelican Island Campus has been dedicated to the study of coastal wetlands, encompassing various habitats and serving as home to many wading birds, shorebirds and neotropical migrants. Click here for more information.
- Brazos Bend State Park | Parks, Birding, Trails – Covering 5,000 acres, this state park offers more than 20 miles of biking trails, lake fishing, alligator observation and George Observatory, featuring one of the largest telescopes in the nation open to the public. In addition, the park is brimming with wildlife that include more than 270 species of birds, nearly two dozen species of mammals and more than 20 species of reptiles and amphibians. Click here for more information.
- Delores Fenwick Nature Center | Education, Animal Encounters, Trails – With hands-on educational opportunities, classrooms and outdoor pavilions, the Delores Fenwick Nature Center helps children and adults alike get in touch with nature and explore the ecosystems that make up the region. Click here for more information.
- El Franco Lee Park | Parks, Fishing, Birding – Located on the north side of Pearland, this 80-acre public park contains a man-made pond available for fishing, plenty of birding opportunities along an elevated boardwalk, nature trails and popular park amenities like covered pavilions and sports fields. Click here for more information.
- John Hargrove Environmental Complex | Parks, Birding, Trails – This community park is home to many species of migratory birds, including bald eagles, and contains nature trails, ponds, and the Delores Fenwick Nature Center. Click here for more information.
- Shadow Creek Ranch Nature Trail | Parks, Birding, Trails – Located in the Shadow Creek Ranch community, this green space offers paved trails, wildlife viewing and migratory birding from an observation deck. Click here for more information.
- Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge | Parks, Birding, Trails – Sprawling along the coast for 34,000 acres, this wildlife refuge provides prime coastal birding opportunities, as well as trails, an auto tour loop and stunning scenic views of the bay. Click here for more information.
- J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area | Parks, Birding, Trails – This wetlands area is a prime birding stop along the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, featuring a wide variety of animal species from waterfowl and roseate spoonbills to sea turtles and river otters. Click here for more information.
- McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge | Parks, Birding, Trails – More than 58,000 acres of this wildlife refuge encompass hundreds of animal species, including tens of thousands of geese and ducks during migratory seasons, as well as the largest concentration of American alligators in the state of Texas. Click here for more information.
- Pleasure Island | Birding, Fishing, Camping – This longtime magnet for amusement in Port Arthur provides great opportunities to enjoy the surrounding waters of the Intracoastal Waterway and Sabine Lake. Pleasure Island is home to great sailing, boating, fishing, crabbing, hiking, birding, camping, and much more. Click here for more information.
- Sabine Woods | Birding, Trails – Managed by local Audubon chapters, Sabine Woods is one of the premier birding destinations of the region, particularly in the spring with scores of neotropical birds stopping by on their way down migratory routes. Click here for more information.
- Sea Rim State Park | Beaches, Birding, Fishing – This coastal state park is a combination of more than 5 miles of Gulf shoreline and 4,000 acres of marshlands, providing access to natural beaches, fishing and birding, as well as camping, kayaking and more. Click here for more information.
- Brazos River Park | Parks, Trails – Located along Southwest Freeway, this 67-acre park included public amenities like picnic tables and grills alongside 3.3 miles of trails, meadows, and hiking opportunities. Click here for more information.
- Cullinan Park Conservancy | Parks, Birding, Trails – One of the largest nature parks in the Houston area, this 750-acre green space offers visitors a chance to get up close and personal with native plants, buzzing wildlife, and a wide variety of bird species. Click here for more information.
- Sugar Land Memorial Park | Parks, Trails, Fishing – Spanning more than 400 acres, this public park provides picnic areas, playgrounds and pavilions, as well as gravel trails, a fishing lake and bike paths. Click here for more information.
- George Mitchell Nature Preserve | Parks, Birding, Trails – Stretching for more than 1,800 acres, this preserve features hike and bike trails, paddling, and extensive wildlife viewing in this woodland area teeming with critters big and small. Click here for more information.
- Burroughs Park | Parks, Birding, Trails – This 320-acre park provides a vibrant natural landscape, winding trails and lakefront views with public amenities, a fishing lake, and observation decks throughout. Click here for more information.
- Kleb Woods Nature Preserve | Parks, Birding, Trails – Providing more than 130 acres to the public, this nature preserve offers extensive birding opportunities, scenic trails and camping access to explore natural woodland habitat. Click here for more information.
- Spring Creek Park | Parks, Birding, Trails – This 114-acre facility provides public park amenities like pavilions, grills, and sand volleyball, as well as access to the surrounding pine forest, ponds and prairies. Click here for more information.
- Theis Attaway Nature Center | Parks, Trails, Fishing – This modest four-acre park serves as a preserve for natural wildlife in the area, along with an asphalt walking trail and a pond which offers limited fishing and a sanctuary for birds and small animals. Click here for more information.
Social Distancing & COVID-19
Businesses in Houston have opened under modified protocols, following guidelines administered by local health officials, the State of Texas and CDC. At this time, guidance from experts urges people to continue wearing face masks when in public spaces, practice social distancing of at least six feet, limit your touching of surfaces and frequently use hand sanitizer or soap and water to keep your hands clean.
Before heading out, take time to familiarize with your destination’s requirements or restrictions at this moment, and be sure to contact them ahead of time with any questions or concerns.
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