Houston has a lot to offer beyond its towering skyscrapers and endless freeways. The fourth-largest city in the United States might be best-known as the space and energy capital of the world, but there’s plenty of outdoor activities in Houston too. Whether you’re looking for things to do with kids or on the hunt for an adventure in Texas with a difference, we’ve got you covered. Here are 10 of the best outdoor activities in Houston.
Things to do outdoors in Houston:
Kayak along Buffalo Bayou
This 52-mile (83.6 km) slow-moving waterway was where Houston was founded in 1836 – and one of the best ways to explore it is by water. There are dozens of kayaking companies to choose from, and if you’re feeling particularly athletic you could even choose to paddleboard instead. As you wind your way around the meandering river, you’ll get to enjoy sparkling views of the Houston skyline as well as the incredible surrounding flora and fauna. If you’re in town in October, you could even enter the Buffalo Bayou Regatta. Now in its 49th year, the annual festival is Texas’ largest canoe and kayak event.
Picnic in the park
Houston is known as the ‘concrete jungle’ of Texas or the ‘spaghetti bowl’, thanks to its complicated intertwined freeways. But, it actually ranks first among the nation’s 10 most populous cities in total acreage of parkland, beating Phoenix and San Diego. Houston has 52,912 acres of park space and tons of parks to choose from, whether you’re looking for an urban downtown park like Discovery Green or a 2,000-acre nature reserve like the Armand Bayou Nature Centre.
Get nose-to-nose with the animals
One of the best things to do in Houston with kids is to hit up Houston Zoo. It’s been named as one of the top 10 zoos in the United States countless times, and for good reason. It’s home to over 6,000 furry, feathered and scaly residents from all corners of the globe, from giraffes and gorillas to storks and tortoises. The 55 -acre animal oasis is conveniently located in the heart of Houston too.
If you’re looking for the ultimate exciting outdoor activities in Houston, you can even book an exclusive Animal Encounter experience to get up close with sea lions, rhinos, elephants and cheetahs. Plus, there’s a giraffe feeding platform and a wildlife carousel for little ones.
Get some wave action
Houston may not offer bundles of open water, but that doesn’t mean you need to travel miles for a water adventure. Wake Nation, just south of Houston, is a 12-acre man-made lake boasting eight-metre (35-foot) steel towers carrying unique overhead cable systems to wakeboard, water skate, water ski and kneeboard without a boat around the lake. It’s one of only 10 such parks in the whole country.
For first-timers, there’s a practice pond while thrill-seekers can enjoy the custom-built jumps, grind rails and sliders. Riders reach speeds of up to 20 mph but it’s perfectly safe for 5+-year-olds, making it one of the best things to do in Houston with kids. There’s also an enormous floating playground, with tons of inflatable rides to slip and slide on.
Kick back and relax in Market Square
If you’re looking for things to do in downtown Houston, Market Square is a must-visit. Nestled into Houston’s historic district, the park sits on the foundations of the original city hall. Today, the sprawling green space offers outdoor entertainment, art and dining all year round. Throughout the summer, you can make the most of the free outdoor movie screenings and blanket bingo. Bring a picnic or pick up a tasty bite from eateries like Niko Niko’s, a walk-up kiosk serving up Greek-inspired breakfast, lunch and dinner.
There’s also a history walkway and a kids play area too. You’ll stumble across works of art from local and national artists across the park too, with sculptures like Surl’s ‘Points of View’ and other pieces from the likes of Richard Turner and Ketria Scott.
Soar in the sky
For skyhigh thrills and unparalleled views of the cityscape, nothing beats a motorless flight in a glider. The Greater Houston Soaring Association offers gliding every weekend, with introductory flights for up to two guests per plane. A certified instructor takes you up high as you sit in the front seat, with just a tow rope connecting the glider to the tow plane ahead. Once you reach the altitude, the pilot releases the towrope and you get to glide through the clouds like an eagle.
Take a trip to Galveston Island
Another one of the best things to do in Houston with kids is to take a trip to Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Resort on Galveston Island, located just outside Houston. The award-winning waterpark features 32 amazing rides and attractions, including a large wave pool, speed slides, kids water playgrounds, uphill water coasts, whitewater rapids, hot tubs and family raft rides.
There’s also the Boogie Bahn surf ride, which involves grabbing a bodyboard and surfing across endless waves along a rapid sheet of water. While you’re there, you could pop into Moody Gardens too. Also located on Galveston Island, the park features an aquarium, rainforest and discovery pyramids too.
Take a tour of the city
If you’ve just arrived in Houston, one of the best ways to find your bearings is on a walking tour. There are dozens of tours to choose from, ranging from historical sightseeing tours to foodie day trips. If you’re looking to pump up your heart rate, this Buffalo Bayou and Historic Downtown Guided Bike Tour is perfect. It’s also one of the best things to do in downtown Houston, which has undergone a huge renaissance in the past decade.
Covering around 7.5 miles (12 kilometres) of trails, the route meanders around some of Houston’s biggest green spaces before heading into the heart of Downtown to explore the city’s routes. You’ll also pick up plenty of tips on where to get the best drinks too.
Over at the George Observatory at The Houston Museum of Natural Science in Brazos Bend State Park, you can spend a few hours under the stars exploring the galaxy. Every Saturday night, you can head to the deck for real-time camera feeds from telescopes, expert interactions with astronomers and a laser tour of the night sky. You can bring your own binoculars or microscopes too.
Discover your inner horticulturist
You don’t have to be green-fingered to enjoy the Mercer Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. The 250-acre nature reserve is set in Cypress Creek, with the largest collection of native and cultivated plants in the whole region. There’s also miles of hiking trails, a boardwalk over the cypress swamp and a big, beautiful butterfly house. It’s the perfect patch to enjoy a picnic too, overlooking the manicured lawns, colourful bamboo and ponds.
Plants to look out for include vibrant camellias, orchid trees, Pine Warblers and Black-capped Chickadees. At the arboretum, named after Thelma and Charles Mercer who purchased the creek in the 1940s, you can explore towering non-native trees too.
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