From an actual castle to having tea with the Mad Hatter, there are some pretty wild and over-the-top parks in the Houston area you should really put on your bucket list!
I don’t know about you, but especially as a foster parent, “free” is my favorite budget line item. Did you know that most Child Placing Agencies require a certain number of hours per month of recreation for the children in your care? It’s true! And in most of those cases, you must keep a log of when and where you went and what you did while you were there.
Now, don’t get me wrong, a family walk around the neighborhood counts, but there are only so many of those they (and I) can stand. So, I started researching adventures that we could do in our own—very vast—backyard of Houston. Turns out, there are a number of themed and interactive parks just waiting to be explored! For the cost of gas and a few sack lunches, you can have quite the quest pretending to be a train conductor or getting lost with Alice in Wonderland.
Pack up some sunscreen, maybe a few towels, and let’s explore!
105 Sabine St, Houston, 77007
What we love: BFD is part of the larger Buffalo Bayou Park and boasts two stories of fun. Rush down the bank of the bayou on the 33-foot slide (yes, 33 feet) or climb the net to a multi-story treehouse. Don’t forget to explore the water table or climb the structure repurposed from telephone poles.
700 Heights Blvd., Houston 77007
What we love: It’s an actual castle. I mean, that’s enough, right? With an impressive entrance that is reminiscent of a 1920s zoo, the wooden structure with its colorful towers mimics the Victorian design of the surrounding neighborhood. Also, climb aboard the kid-sized train for even more imaginative play.
4400 Bellaire Blvd, Bellaire, 77401
What we love: There’s plenty to love at Evelyn’s including climbing, sand, and water play areas. However, the star of the place is the “Move One Place On” sculpture which recreates the famous tea party scene from Alice in Wonderland. A 10-foot table with eight-foot bronze characters welcomes visitors to picnic alongside Alice, the March Hare, the Cheshire Cat, the Dormouse, and the Mad Hatter. But also keep an eye on their calendar for fun things like “Bubbles and Board Games” or “Art in the Park.”
15020 Cinco Park Blvd., Katy 77450
What we love: Besides the delightful colors that fill Exploration Park, it is dotted with educational placards and interactive stations that teach visitors about conservation and water. It’s sensory inspired including a garden, musical bridge, slide tower, and hill slide.
4501 Woodway Drive, Houston, 77024
What we love: While not technically a public park, the Houston Arboretum is a 155-acre nature sanctuary that features hiking, nature scavenger hunts, exhibits, hands-on activities, and more! The Discovery Room is perfect for any of your lizard-loving friends and has facts on anything from butterflies to sidewinders. Grab a ‘hike map’ and set off on an adventure at your own pace! (While the Center is free of charge, donations are appreciated.)
201 New Harmony Trail, The Woodlands, 77389
What we love: First of all, I’ll admit that my favorite thing about this park is the “hidden” raccoons and squirrels in the play area. (You’ll just have to see for yourself!) Although this is technically a neighborhood park, it has some unique equipment such as fallen logs, a climbing rock, bucket swings, and a tree house. Especially when you have kiddos that aren’t big fans of the more crowded parks, Jagged Ridge is typically less crowded but still big on pretend play.
3801 Eastside St, Houston, 77098
What we love: Long hailed as a “hidden gem,” Levy Park is nested in the Upper Kirby area. It’s easy to plan hours of entertainment with the colorful playground, splash area, hills, tunnels, and climbing structures. But did you also know there is table tennis, foosball, and a putting green? Several areas for parents to have a play date as well!
5611 Gardenia Lane, Katy 77493
What we love: Considering many of the kiddos that come to our family have sensory or other special needs, Katy Play Station is pretty exceptional. It was intentionally built for children with impairments to be able to utilize the equipment the same way as anyone else—and it’s a beautiful thing. The 13,000-square-foot playground features a larger-than-life structure resembling a locomotive and has everything from slides to captain’s towers.
7112 Newcastle St., Bellaire, 77401
What we love: Anything hands-on is our jam and with materials like rocks, bamboo, sticks, sand, logs, and pinecones to build and create, NDC is the place to be! Discovery Rooms, where you’ll find themed specimens and displays, are changed out monthly. You’ll find skins, skeletons, and more that are all touchable and accessible to kids as well as a variety of resident live animals that you can observe and sometimes encounter up close!
9995 Creekside Forest Drive, The Woodlands, 77389
What we love: We are big game people (hello Enneagram 3), and the entire sidewalk surrounding the park is a life-size board game. What?! Start with the merry-go-round where you’ll find a numbered spinner then advance around the board. If that’s not enough, there’s also a zip line and Ninja Warrior-style obstacle course. (Warning: there are no restrooms so plan accordingly.)
914 W Hart Ave, Pasadena, 77506
What we love: The first thing that attracted me to this park is it looks like it was sponsored by Crayola—so many bright colors! It’s a maze of ramps, tunnels, and slides that caters to children of all cognitive and physical abilities. Plus, there’s a splash pad that looks like something out of Seussical the Musical.
3311 Beauchamp St., Houston, 77009
What we love: It’s a dinosaur park! I mean, stop it. But the best thing about this park has to be that kids designed it! The highlight is the large triceratops structure that allows kids to climb on dinosaur bones and possibly discover their love for paleontology. Other ways to wear out your littles are a sandpit, rock wall, spinning area, and play structure. (Note: Since the park is on school property, it is only open to the public on weekends and during school holidays.)
5200 Burke Rd., Pasadena, 77504
What we love: Specifically designed as an adaptive recreation center, Verne Cox is a playground for all abilities! There are several climbing areas, slides, and hands-on activities featuring both a horse and train theme. There’s also a large sandpit so come prepared if you have excavators on your hands.