Houston has a reputation for being a sprawling concrete jungle, full of highways and high-rises, but it also has its fair share of green spaces. For those looking to escape the bustle of the city, there are plenty of ways to get the heart pumping and breathe some fresh air. From leisurely hikes in the forest to soaring thousands of feet above ground, here are a few of the best outdoor and adventure activities in and around Houston.
Fish in the Gulf of Mexico
Several companies offer guided fishing and charter boats, ranging from relaxing excursions in the bay to adrenaline-packed shark fishing further off the coast. Boats can often carry the whole family for a few hours or whole-day excursions. Those not interested in fishing can still tag along or charter their own boat to sightsee or watch for dolphins.
Price ranges vary from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand and typically include all equipment needed to fish.
Hike in Sam Houston National Forest
Sam Houston National Forest is less than an hour's drive outside of Houston. The forest's Lone Star Hiking Trail is 129 miles long and winds through the park's many creeks and vistas. Multiple trail heads and side loop trails provide opportunities to pick and choose the amount of time you spend hiking, making it easy to do a short trip or a full-day excursion. The terrain is also relatively flat — great for even the most novice of hikers.
There is no entrance fee to hike in the forest, though some fees for certain recreational areas — such as camp sites — and activities may apply.
Go Kayaking Down Buffalo Bayou
Houston's vast network of slow-moving creeks, known as bayous, have given it the nickname the "Bayou City." While a primary purpose of these waterways has been to catch the overflow of water brought on by Houston's rainy season, they also serve as a great place to kayak and canoe.
Buffalo Bayou, for example, is more than 50 miles long and stretches nearly the entire length of the city. Kayaking trips take you through the lush greenery of Memorial Park and the elite neighborhood of River Oaks to give you a breathtaking view of downtown. Take a guided tour or rent or bring a kayak and go solo.
Kayaking is also available at Discovery Green Park downtown.
Mountain Bike in Jack Brooks Park
Despite Houston’s notoriously flat terrain, the area has a few decent mountain bike trails for both beginners and experts. Jack Brooks Park, located about an hour south of Houston in Galveston County, has one of the best trails in the metro area. The trail is challenging enough for avid mountain cyclists but still accessible for those just starting out. Best of all, the trail is one-way, allowing riders to go quickly around curves and down hills without worrying about colliding with oncoming traffic.
If you’d rather not venture that far outside the city, the Anthills Trail along Buffalo Bayou is also a good bet.
Camp in Brazos Bend State Park
About an hour's drive south of the city, Brazos Bend State Park is one of the best camping areas in the Houston metro. The park has 37 miles of hike and bike trails — including some that are wheelchair accessible —that circle through lush forest and around lakes. Visitors can also fish or visit the nature center or observatory.
Besides the scenic views, the park is known for its alligators. Officials estimate that more than 250 alligators longer than 6 feet live in the park. While the 'gators tend to leave humans alone, it's a good idea to read up on the park's safety tips before coming to the park.
Premium campsites include restrooms, electricity, and water hookups. More primitive campsites in the park are available.
Camping is also available north of the city in Sam Houston National Forest.
Go Horseback Riding at Cypress Trails Ranch
Depending on your skill level, an afternoon of horseback riding can be either relaxing or a thrill. At Cypress Trails Ranch in Humble, Texas, guides tailor the trail rides to match the experience of the riders.
The ranch offers a wide selection of rides, ranging from an hour to the entire day, as well as individual and group riding lessons.
Shoot Sporting Clays
For those comfortable with shooting a shotgun, sporting clays can be a great way to spend an afternoon. Unlike skeet or trap shooting, sporting clays is set up where every station presents the targets — known as "clay pigeons" — in slightly different ways, mimicking the patterns of birds in flight. The targets don't just fly up in the air. They arc, roll along the ground, or are released two at a time. Like in golf, every course is different.
Shooters rack up points by hitting each of the targets, and the shooter or team with the most points wins. Courses typically have 10 to 15 stations with a total of 50 to 100 targets per person.
There are several sporting clays courses around the Houston metro, including the Greater Houston Gun Club and American Shooting Centers. Note: A paid membership at the club is sometimes required to shoot sporting clays, but not always. Call ahead before visiting a location to verify if non-members are able to access the courses and at what price.
Go Soaring Over the Countryside
Gliding — or "soaring" — is a type of motorless flight that relies only on lift forces to keep you in the sky. It works by using a tow plane to pull small plane-like carriers, known as gliders, high enough into the air to ride thermal and lift forces. Once there, gliders can stay thousands of feet in the air and travel hundreds of miles without using an engine or power. The result is a breathtaking view of the Texas countryside and the thrill of soaring through the air with no engine propelling you.
To go alone, you have to be an experienced glider pilot. But introductory flights for novices are available at places like the Greater Houston Soaring Association. These rides are typically 20-30 minutes. Note: Weight restrictions apply, and taller riders might feel a little cramped inside the glider.