A guide to 7 beautiful state parks 100 miles or less from Houston
Houston is home to numerous scenic parks to picnic in or hiking trails to explore. But if you're looking for a place to see local wildlife, mountain bike through the woods, or fish in a lake or pond, there are several beautiful state parks near Houston that are worth a visit.
From Brazos Bend State Park to Village Creek State Park, read on for our top tips for fun on the trails, in the water, watching wildlife and more.
Sheldon Lake State Park & Environmental Learning Center
Located: 20 miles from downtown Houston
Sheldon Lake State Park is just a 15-minute drive from downtown Houston and offers everything from wildlife viewing, boardwalk walks, boating and fishing.
For starters, hike the half-mile or so Pond Loop Trail, which takes you past 28 breeding ponds teeming with wading birds, frogs, alligators and other aquatic creatures. If you don't take advantage of the free catch-and-release fishing in two ponds, you can also keep your catch if you fish in shallow Sheldon Lake, the park's namesake body of water. Before you pack your bags, be sure to stroll along the 3,000-foot Prairie/Wetland Boardwalk and head to the 82-foot John Jacob Observation Tower for sweeping views of the park and the Space City skyline in the distance.
Good to know: All trails are ADA accessible. Also, LEED-certified facilities showcase “green architecture” and alternative energy use.
Find it: 14140 Garrett Road, Houston, TX 77044
Brazos Bend State Park
Located: 45 miles from downtown Houston
There's plenty to see at Brazos Bend State Park, touted as a "nature lover's paradise." We recommend starting with a snack in the shade of the Spanish moss-covered oaks in the park's picnic areas before checking out some of the nearly 5,000 acres of lakes, prairies and forests.
The park offers nature programs and hikes throughout the year. But you can also explore on your own the more than 30 miles of multi-use trails by bike or on foot. Along the way, you can spot some 300 species of birds, alligators and white-tailed deer (keep your binoculars handy!). There's also a meandering, tree-lined creek for fishing and six small lakes on the property. If you bring your own horse, you can also ride on the 13 miles of multi-use trails.
Find it: 21901 FM 762, Needville, TX 77461
Stephen F. Austin State Park
Located: 50 miles from downtown Houston
You may be an hour outside of Houston, but welcome to Austin, folks. Well, to Stephen F. Austin State Park. Located along the Brazos River, you can observe wildlife, hike and bike to your heart's content on 473 acres of scenic, mossy bottomland hardwoods and towering cottonwoods. On these grounds, you'll find the pileated woodpecker, white-tailed deer, and barred owl, among others.
Want to stay overnight? The park has 30-amp electric hookups, water hookups and basic campsites, sheltered shelters, cabins and group facilities. History buffs take note: Mexico gave this land to Stephen F. Austin, the "Father of Texas," and it became the starting point for the first Anglo-American colonies in the state in the early 19th century.
Find it: Park Road 38, San Felipe, TX 77473
Galveston Island State Park
Located: 60 miles from downtown Houston
Another of the best state parks near Houston is Galveston Island State Park. The postcard-worthy site offers some of the most beautiful views along the Texas Gulf and encompasses 2,000 acres from ocean to bay side. The bay side of the park is open to visitors. Here you can explore the coastal prairie, freshwater ponds and salt marshes, and observe wildlife, hike, kayak (BYO boat) or fish.
If you want to stay longer, reserve one of the campsites on the beach or in the bay (cabins can also be rented) for the night. On the bay side, you have a choice of historic cottages, tent and multi-purpose campsites with restrooms and showers nearby. The park is scheduled to open its redesigned beach-side facilities this summer with new campsites, picnic areas and restrooms.
Find it: 14901 FM 3005, Galveston, TX 77554
Huntsville State Park
Located: 60 miles from downtown Houston
Fir trees? Yes. Wildflowers? Checked off. Fishing in the lake? Checked. If all that and more appeals to you, head to idyllic Huntsville State Park, which has 21 miles of hiking trails, a playground, a bird observatory and a nature center. When you're not swimming in the 210-acre Lake Raven, you can rent a kayak, fish for crawdads, bass, catfish, and perch, or just enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Sam Houston National Forest.
It is worth highlighting that the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), established by President Franklin Roosevelt, helped build parks across the country. In 1937, one such company, made up of African American veterans, built Huntsville State Park.
Good to know: The CCC-built group hall can be rented for weddings and events.
Find it: 565 Park Road 40 W., Huntsville, TX 77340
Lake Livingston State Park
Located: 73 miles from downtown Houston
Catfish, bass, crappie and white bass abound at Lake Livingston State Park, which sits on the shores of an 83,000-acre lake. Thanks to a fishing pier and three boat ramps, two fish cleaning stations and shore fishing, the lake is a true haven for anglers. Once you've put down your fishing gear, you can hike along the Pineywoods Nature Trail Boardwalk, which features two ponds, a native pollinator garden and a bird feeder. Numerous free ranger programs are offered, and the nature center has several interactive exhibits (there's even a live beehive).
The park store sells food, souvenirs, and offers watercraft rentals. If you want to stay overnight, the park offers numerous campsites, including sites with full hookups and 10 screened shelters (some are ADA compliant).
Find it: 300 Park Road 65, Livingston, TX 77351
Village Creek State Park
Located: 95 miles from downtown Houston
About an hour and a half drive from Houston, Village Creek State Park is located on Village Creek, one of the few free-flowing creeks in the entire Lone Star State. Enjoy the fresh air and serenity while picnicking, fishing, hiking or mountain biking. Or watch to see if you can spot bobcats, rabbits, white-tailed deer, opossums and more among the loblolly pines, white oaks, beeches and magnolias.
The wetlands are also home to beavers, river otters, fish, turtles, snakes and frogs. For an overnight stay, campsites are available for tents and RVs or a cabin for six people.
Find it: 8854 Park Road 74, Lumberton, TX 77657
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