Urban Outdoor Adventures in Texas

Lower McKinney Falls
••• Lower McKinney Falls. TPWD

Outdoor recreation is central to life in (and visits to) Texas, so much so that even the state’s largest cities offer a variety of great ways to spend time outside. And, make no mistake about it, these are major urban areas – Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio. Yet, each of Texas’ four largest cities offer some great urban outdoor adventures.

Austin has long been known as a “green” city. The scenic Colorado River winds its way through the city and provides a platform for much of its most popular outdoor recreational activities.

Two of the Texas Hill Country’s “Chain of Lakes,” which are formed by a series of dams along the Colorado River, are located within the city of Austin. Lake Austin, on the city’s northern edge, and Lady Bird Lake (formerly known as Town Lake), combine to offer a myriad of outdoor recreational opportunities, including fishing, swimming, paddle boarding, kayaking, canoeing, jogging, hiking, birding and more. State parks also abound in and around Austin, with popular parks such as McKinney Falls State Park being located within the city.

Dallas, on the other hand, has always been seen as a cultured, moneyed urban center. Few people realize just how many outdoor recreational opportunities are offered in and around the DFW (Dallas/Ft Worth) Metroplex. The reason Dallas has such an amazing outdoor recreational scene is largely due to the tremendous number of lakes in and around the city. No fewer than a half dozen major reservoirs in the city or within a very short drive.

Grapevine Lake, Lake Lewisville, and Lavon Lake are all just a quick drive outside of Dallas, while Eagle Mountain Lake and Lake Worth are located on the outskirts of Ft Worth. Lake Arlington, White Rock Lake, and Mountain Creek Lake are smaller reservoirs located within the Metroplex. But, even with all of those watery options, the biggest draws in the DFW area are Lakes Joe Pool and Lake Ray Hubbard, two major reservoirs located on the outskirts of Dallas.

Each of these lakes offers a wide variety of outdoor recreation, including fishing, swimming, hiking, jogging, camping, kayaking, canoeing, boating, birding, mountain biking and more.

Houston is also known as the “Bayou City” because of the numerous bayous that criss-cross the city limits. Most notably of these is Buffalo Bayou, which eventually drains into the Galveston Bay system. Kayaking and canoeing along these bayous is popular pastime for outdoor lovers spending time in Texas’ largest city. Sheldon Lake State Park offers a variety of outdoor activities, such as fishing, swimming, paddling, hiking and birding. The Houston Arboretum and Nature Center is situated on 155 acres of natural habitat located right in the heart of the city. The Center is a popular place for walkers, joggers, and birders. The Armand Bayou Nature Center is even larger – sprawling over 2,500 acres. A boardwalk and extensive trails are in place for those who wish to walk or hike throughout the complex, while guided canoe and boat tours are also available to help visitors spot the myriad of wildlife which calls the Armand Bayou Nature Center home.

San Antonio has so many tourist attractions that its natural features are often missed altogether.

Two reservoirs – lakes Braunig and Calaveras – are located within San Antonio’s city limits. Each of these lakes offer great access for fishing, canoeing, boating and kayaking. San Antonio is also located right next to several of the state’s most popular caves and canyons. Tours of Natural Bridge Caverns and Cascade Caverns are always a great way to get some outdoor activity.  

So whether it is business or pleasure that pulls you go one of Texas’ four largest urban areas, there is no excuse not to spend some time enjoying some outdoor recreation.