There’s a joke that Houston itself is, “just an hour away from Houston.” Visitors always take note of the way Houstonians (and Texans, in general) measure distance through time and not miles because our land is so massive. Oh, Galveston Beach? That’s like, 45 minutes away. Lake Houston? Only a 30 minute drive! Houston’s 669 square miles is vast, but the Greater Houston area is a whopping 1,660 miles. Much of that mileage belongs to Houston’s natural resources, the land of many bayous and trails to walk, run, and bike. No matter your speed, Houston is so big with southern splendor that most routes are basically the “scenic route.”
Buffalo Bayou winds into downtown as the site that founded Houston in 1836 and the park that surrounds it is one of Houston’s best. Still looking fresh after its 2015 revamp, Buffalo Bayou Park is home to native landscaping, Houston’s hottest dog park, public art, and winding trails that are bursting with green during the day and illuminated with cool blue lights at night. Don’t miss an opportunity to visit The Cistern, a decommissioned reservoir built in 1926 that now hosts some of the coolest art installations in the city.
The largest urban park in Texas, Memorial Park’s 1,466 acres is a runner’s paradise, and walking is no different. Texas’ top-rated 18-hole golf course, trails from narrow footpaths to broad, wide fire roads, massive patches of thick forest, soccer and football fields, and even facilities for swimming, volleyball, and tennis. Bordering Memorial Park’s western edge is the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center. If you’re looking for a beautiful nature walk with plenty of shade, The Arboretum is the place to go with its 155-acre sanctuary, an interactive sensory garden, and a wildlife garden which demonstrates plants that attract hummingbirds and butterflies.
Spotts Park is situated between Waugh Drive and Memorial, a rolling 16.24 acres well-suited for picnics and walking along the trails. If you head to Spotts Park near sundown, mosey on over to the Waugh bridge to catch Houston’s native bat colony take off en masse into the setting sun for a night of snacking on insects.
One of the newest parks to get a stunning facelift is Emancipation Park, 10 acres of historically black land first purchased by Jack Yates and comrades as a place to celebrate Juneteenth and their own emancipation in 1872. Now decked out with playgrounds, splash pads, art installations, and a swimming pool that was once the only pool open to black Houstonians until the 1950s.
A local favorite, Hermann Park has an outdoor theater, a gorgeous rose garden, a 5-acre Japanese garden, and rolling green space bordered by the Texas Medical Center, Rice University, Houston Museum of Natural Science, and Houston Zoo. Rent a pedal boat for two on McGovern Lake or catch the miniature train to spot the birds migrating for the seasons.