The 12 Best Houston Outdoor Activities for Adventurous People
By Kay Rodriguez
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Updated September 15, 2021
You might not think of Houston as a hot spot for outdoor adventures, but if you look hard enough, you can find plenty of them in and around the city. Whether you’re into running or biking, kayaking or climbing, there are tons of Houston outdoor activities that are perfect for you, no matter your skill level.
While we could come up with 100 ways to spend a day outdoors in Space City, we’ve created this list of 12 incredible outdoor adventures in Houston as a starting point for you to plan your own epic outdoor excursion!
Best Houston Outdoor Activities
1. Kayak through Buffalo Bayou
The most stunning views of the Houston skyline can be found along the waters of Buffalo Bayou. While you can see the skyline along the bayou’s pathways, one of the coolest Houston outdoor activities is renting a kayak and paddling through Buffalo Bayou. Extending a whole 53 miles through Houston, there’s plenty of space in the bayou to go kayaking for just an hour or an entire day!
To rent a kayak and go paddling on your own, head to Lost Lake Visitor Center and visit the kiosk at Bayou City Adventures. There, you can get a kayak starting at $30 per hour, and if you rent before 3 pm, you can get an extra hour for free! If you’d prefer a guided kayaking excursion, Bayou City Adventures also offers lessons and tours, perfect for those just starting out or wanting an expert guide to lead the way.
Note: The kayak tours are temporarily closed due to COVID. Check here for updates.
If you’re looking for another paddling alternative to kayaking, stand up paddle boarding is a fantastic outdoor activity in Houston. Perfect for sunny, warm days, there are tons of places to go stand up paddle boarding in Houston and the surrounding areas.
One of our favorite spots for stand up paddle boarding in all of Houston is at The Woodlands. This suburb is home to a large lake with surrounding waterways and tributaries that are perfect for a refreshing dip. It’s also a great beginner friendly spot, as there are no tides or crazy currents.
Aside from The Woodlands, here are a few of our favorite Houston paddle boarding spots:
We bet you didn’t think surfing was an activity you could do in Houston! However, it’s possible to hit the waves just an hour outside of the city at Surfside Beach. If you already know how to surf, it’s as easy as grabbing a board and hitting the waves!
There are a handful of surfboard rental spots in Surfside Beach, including Explore More, which rents surfboards, SUPs, and kayaks. Additionally, if you don’t know how to surf and want to learn, you can book a surfing lesson with Bayou City Adventures, which runs tours and lessons to Surfside Beach from Houston regularly.
4. Run the Outer Loop at Rice University
One of the most beloved running trails in all of Houston is Rice University’s outer loop, which is a beautiful, oak-lined gravel path that spans approximately 2.7 miles in length. On a run around and into the campus, you can see iconic university sights like the Sallyport, Brochstein Pavilion, and its beautiful quad. Consistently rated as one of the most beautiful campuses in the country, taking a morning run through here is one of the best Houston outdoor activities.
While you can see other runners on the trail virtually any time of day, the best time to run at Rice is in the early morning, before the Houston sun gets too hot and muggy. The shade of the oak trees provides a nice, cool spot for a run well into the morning.
If you’d like to extend your run, head into the campus to see the sights, or onward across the street into Hermann Park. During a run in Hermann Park, you can see the Japanese Garden, the Houston Zoo, and the park’s expansive golf course. For the runners out there, Rice and the surrounding areas are arguably the best spots in the entire city to get some miles under your belt.
5. Climb at the largest bouldering gym in the country
One of the most interesting additions to Houston’s climbing scene is Momentum Indoor Climbing. They’ve got two locations in the Houston area, in the Heights and in Katy.
While the Katy location has both top rope/lead climbing and bouldering, the Silver Street location is unique because it’s a bouldering-only gym, and they claim that it’s the largest in the country! Yep, that means no harnesses are necessary there – just shoes, chalk, and a sense of grit.
With over five enormous walls and climb-over boulders in the gym, you are sure to never get bored in this gym. One part of the gym gets new routes every week, with the whole gym getting a turnover every month or two. Additionally, Momentum has excellent training facilities for cross-training, including a weight room and yoga. The gym also offer a moon board, hang bars, and pegs to improve your climbing skills.
If bouldering scares you, don’t worry – the Silver Street location has thick pads under all climbing areas to cushion your fall. Monthly memberships are available for locals who want to come regularly and improve their climbing skills.
If you’re hoping to learn more about the city and its history, a walking tour is an excellent option for outdoor activities in Houston. While it does get pretty hot in the city, a walking tour is best done during the fall, winter, and spring (as in, during the milder times of year!).
Luckily, there are tons of Houston walking tour options that can keep you occupied no matter what you’re interested in. Houston has some fascinating historic sites, as well as some of the best and most underrated food options in the United States – all which you can experience on a city walking tour. Here are a couple of the most interesting Houston walking tours we’ve got on our radar:
While you might see Houston as a giant, daunting concrete sprawl, there are actually several great nature areas to explore nearby if you look for them. From alligator conservation areas to coastal nesting grounds, you can find a ton of plant and wildlife diversity in the Houston area. Hiking is a great way to get out of the city and immerse yourself in some of these underrated spots. In fact, it’s one of our absolute favorite Houston outdoor activities!
There are several places to go hiking that have different terrain than the swampy, dusty grounds of Houston. Here are a few options for hiking trails not far from downtown Houston:
Big Thicket Park – Tropical forests and plant life meets Houston swamps at Big Thicket, a large park and nature conservancy located near the Louisiana border. Here, you can see a variety of reptiles like alligators and turtles, as well as tropical carnivorous plants and mosses.
Galveston Island State Park – For coastal marshes and the opportunity to see various bird species, head to Galveston Island State Park. Here, you can enjoy birds like herons along the seaside, crossing through wooden bridges and along sandy shores.
Natural Bridge Caverns – For an incredible and unique subterranean experience, head to Natural Bridge Caverns, where you can admire giant stalagmites and stalactites from a well-lit, paved pathway.
Houston is a fantastic city for cyclists and people who enjoy biking. Not only are there tons of miles of open roads, but there are also several bike-friendly trails to enjoy and explore around the city.
For bikers of any experience level, Critical Mass is a local social biking organization aimed at promoting biking throughout the city of Houston. They organize monthly free night-time rides starting in downtown, as well as other biking-related social events all over the Houston area. People usually deck out their bikes in lights and reflective material, and there are typically dozens of bikers that travel in the Critical Mass pack. The monthly Critical Mass rides range from 18-25 miles in length and are typically taken at a leisurely (read: not very fast) pace.
For nature enthusiasts, there’s an incredible phenomenon that happens most summer nights around sunset at Waugh Bridge: the bat colony comes out to play. What this means is that typically, hundreds of bats will fly out from their home under the bridge simultaneously, flapping into the pink and orange sky in hordes to catch their night-time meals.
Watching the Waugh Drive Bat Colony is one of the most unique outdoor activities in Houston, as there are few urban environments that give rise to such a spectacle. Some say that the Waugh Bridge colony is the largest of Mexican free-tailed bats in Texas as a whole, and lives in Houston year-round. For more tips on viewing these Houston bats, head to this guide.
10. Explore the Houston bay area by water or land
Kemah is on the far eastern side of Houston, and is most famous for its buzzing boardwalk that has tons of rides, shops, and restaurants. Located on the bay, it’s a waterfront entertainment zone that’s great for a day trip or a weekend getaway (without actually leaving the city!).
One thing that locals don’t know is that Kemah is also a fabulous place to go kayaking in Houston. With several bay areas to explore, it’s a paddler’s paradise, and there’s enough to see and do there to fill an entire day. You can pair your day at Kemah with a fun kayaking excursion or tour in Clear Lake.
In the Kemah area, you can rent a kayak or stand up paddle board from nearby Kayak Shack, which offers rentals starting at $25 an hour. They also offer guided tours of the various landmarks in the area – two of the most fun ones are their Friday night fireworks tour and their sunset tour (both available for booking on their website).
11. Enjoy a boat ride at Lake Conroe
Lake Conroe is Houston’s most popular lakeside getaway, and it’s a perfect short trip to go boating for a few hours. We’ll admit it – Lake Conroe isn’t quite within Houston city limits, but it’s a very easy day trip that’s popular among Houston locals!
The lake is 21,000 acres, and is full of people in pontoon boats, jet skis, paddle boards, and more. Boasting plenty of docks and green spaces along its shores, Lake Conroe a lovely place to escape the downtown area, go kayaking or boating, and soak up the summer sun.
In the Lake Conroe area, there are a few places to rent a boat if you don’t have your own. Boat rentals at 1097 Watersports start at $22 per hour, and they have both non-motorized and motorized boats.
Don’t forget your sunscreen and hat (two of the most important kayaking gear essentials), since there isn’t much shade in the area. Additionally, be careful on especially crowded days, as there are often lots of people all over Lake Conroe speeding around on motor boats and jetskis.
12. Explore Buffalo Bayou Park
Buffalo Bayou Park is one of Houston’s most iconic parks, and is located just outside of downtown. The park boasts fabulous skyline views of the city, and is the perfect place for an outdoor adventure in Houston.
Underneath the park, visit a unique underground cistern you can visit that has many years of history. The park offers daily tours of the cistern that you can book in advance. Frequently, there are unique art installations in the cistern, such as a light show that uses the pillars and walls to create a mesmerizing and hypnotic effect.
There’s a 4.8-mile loop in the park that’s popular with runners, bikers, and hikers, that offers up beautiful skyline views and lots of greenery. Additionally, the Buffalo Bayou Trail extends through the park for 15 miles, and is a popular spot for hikers, bikers, and runners. Filled with industrial bridges, tons of trees and plants, and the flowing Buffalo Bayou, it’s a perfect spot for urban hiking in Houston.
Outdoor Activities in Houston: Additional Resources
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