It’s no secret that Houston is hot and humid, so you'll need to find a way to beat the heat somehow. Rather than hopping in the pool, try grabbing a paddle and stepping into a kayak. Houston and its surrounding areas have miles and miles of waterway trails, and with the area’s abundance of birds, trees, and aquatic life, it’s definitely worth the effort.
Whether you have your own boat, need to rent one, or are already an experienced paddler, you’ll find plenty of locations and resources to spend a day on the water in and around Houston. These five popular spots will help get you started are all within a morning’s drive of the city. You can also check out the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Texas Paddling Trails page for a whole host of options.
This is as Houston as it gets. A 26-mile trail that stretches from the west side of the city right to downtown, the Buffalo Bayou Paddling Trail has 10 access points to drop into the water and will land paddlers in the heart of H-town. If you don’t have your own, kayak rentals are available through Bayou City Adventures.
Being that this is a bayou with a current and not an open waterway, plan on a one-way trip. There are shuttle services that provide rides and parking along the waterway, but the parking situation is pretty limited, especially the closer to downtown you get.
Each year, the bayou helps to host the Annual Buffalo Bayou Partnership Regatta. Hundreds of paddlers, from beginners to experts, participate in this popular locals festival. Even if you don’t sign up to paddle, it’s worth a watch.
For a paddle with more amenities nearby, The Woodlands is a good option. It has the advantage of being in an urban area while feeling somewhat cloistered in among the trees. You can row through the trees to a dock connected to a playground, or through a waterway with restaurants and shops on either side. Some paddlers set out in the evening so that they’re on the water during concerts at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. There’s no view of the stage, but sound drifts out of the open amphitheater.
Galveston Island State Park
For a saltwater paddle and a view of the Gulf Coast, head southeast to Galveston Island. The state park has three official paddling trails between 2.6 and 4 miles long. These trails are on the bay side of the island, between the island and the mainland, rather than on the open ocean. This makes for gentle waters that are accessible to all levels of paddlers. There is typically plenty of parking in the state park, except for in the summer when beachgoers crowd in.
There are no rental facilities in the state park, but where that amenity lacks, hospitality takes its place. The state park, along with Friends of Galveston Island State Park, hosts frequent kayaking events like beginners classes and sunset paddles.
Martin Dies Jr. State Park
Moving from the sand to the swamp, this state park is 120 miles northeast of Houston in Jasper, Texas. While much of the scenery surrounding Houston looks similar, this park has a variety of nature views. Unlike many kayaking spots, which are large open areas, the trails here cover winding sloughs and the Neches River. You’ll navigate your boat through tunnels of Cypress trees, lily pads, and Spanish moss. You might even see an alligator!
San Marcos River
Heading the other direction, the San Marcos River is just a little further, 145 miles straight west of Houston near Luling, Texas—just south of Austin. Also known for its ideal tubing conditions, this is the spot for a paddler craving clear water. Bring your kayak and park for free, or rent in town and use a shuttle service. Plenty of spots are available for drop-in, but those looking for a more organized paddle can check out the Luling Zedler Mill Paddling Trail.
This six-mile water path will take you over clear water and through pecan trees. One thing to keep in mind about this spot is that there is a dam past the mill, so the water level can vary. This typically only presents a problem when levels are low and there could be a risk of scraping a kayak along submerged branches.