5 Texas State Parks You Can Visit From Houston

We are a family of avid campers that started falling in love with the system of Texas state parks almost as soon as we moved to Houston from Indiana nearly six years ago.

While there are at least ten Texas State Parks within a two-hour drive from central Houston, these five parks are less than 90-minutes from most Houston area neighborhoods and offer a variety of activities for the whole family, whether you are planning to go for just a few hours or for a full weekend.

Sheldon Lake State Park

5 Texas State Parks You Can Visit From HoustonSheldon Lake State Park is a small state park, located right in the Houston metropolitan area, offers a complete escape from the city. The 0.76 mile Prairie Trail and Wetland Loop takes visitors on an elevated boardwalk through prairie grasses and flowers and over a marsh. Visitors can then follow about one and a half miles of trails around 28 naturalized ponds with a wide variety of plants and animals. Once past the naturalized ponds, there are a couple ponds for catch and release fishing, as well as several picnic tables in shaded areas.

The park is also dedicated to alternative green energies and green building techniques, using recycled oilfield pipes and rods to build bridges that offer shade during the heat of the day and open-air buildings to help keep visitors cool without air-conditioning.

For families that are looking for a close state park that provides educational opportunities as well as outdoor recreation, it is a perfect place to spend a couple of hours.

Brazos Bend State Park

5 Texas State Parks You Can Visit From HoustonWe have discovered that Brazos Bend is one of the most difficult Texas state parks in the area to get a camping spot for the weekend, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t spent some time hiking along the miles of trails available to visitors. Living in southeast Texas means living in close proximity to alligators in their natural habitat, but you don’t have to wait until a flood pushes one onto your street to see them up close and personal.

With over 10 miles of trails available for both hiking and biking, families can explore a diverse ecosystem with birds, turtles, fish, and yes, alligators. If you’re lucky, you’ll see them sunning themselves on the bank opposite from you on the trail. If you are not so lucky, you will find it difficult to maintain the 30 feet of distance recommended on warning signs located throughout the park. Thankfully, the natural predators appear to be well-fed in their natural habitat and are used to the human visitors walking past and taking pictures of them just trying to sleep.

When the visitor center is open, it provides a host of information about the habitat and the animals. Park rangers and volunteers provide opportunities to get up close and personal with young {and therefore very small} alligators so that young and old alike can learn more about these fascinating creatures. The George Observatory is also on the state park grounds and is open for visitors. If you are planning to visit the observatory, which is run by the Houston Museum of Natural Science, check their website before you finalize plans.

Like Sheldon Lake, Brazos Bend is part of the Houston Metropolitan area and is a pretty easy day trip for families that need to get out of the house, get some exercise, and possibly learn something while exploring.

Sea Rim State Park

While Galveston State Park is a closer location for those wanting to dip into the Gulf of Mexico, Sea Rim State Park is an excellent alternative. It is a small state park located closer to the Louisiana border and offers swimming from its sizable shoreline and kayaking and canoeing in the marshlands. For those who want to get away from the busyness of the city, the state park also has 15 camping spots with water and electric, primitive camping along the beach, a cabin, and for the really adventurous, a floating primitive site located two miles from the boat ramp in the middle of the marsh.

We spent a weekend camping at the state park and were able to do pretty much everything that we wanted to do in 24 hours. While it is a bit further away than Galveston, if you are looking for a quieter spot to enjoy the beach and swim in the Gulf, this is a perfect family day-trip. A kayaking trip through the marsh will take you through a lush ecosystem with plenty of wildlife, but just watch where you put your oars; our daughter almost hit an alligator on the head with hers and couldn’t understand why I was hissing at her to get her oar out of the water.

Thankfully, we got back to the shore without further incident.

Lake Livingston State Park

Lake Livingston has become one of our favorite Texas state parks for camping and exploring in East Texas. It has over five miles of hiking trails through woods and prairie, open roads for easy biking to locations within the park, a small but informative nature center with plenty of learning available to children under the age of 12, and weekly ranger programs that range from crafts to ranger-led hikes.

The fishing dock by the visitor center provides an excellent place to spread out during any time of day to catch some fish. While there isn’t a beach in the state park, swimming is allowed in the inlet right outside of the visitor center with several ladders for access in and out of the water. If your family has flotation devices, they can safely take a cooling dip in the water and then ride a canoe or kayak around the inlet for a better view of the whole lake.

Huntsville State Park

Huntsville is also one of our favorite close weekend getaways from Houston. The state park has 21 miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking, two of which are over six miles round trip. As a Civilian Conservation Corps built state park, it offers lessons in history and architecture in addition to plants and animals. There is a small beach for swimming, docks for launching canoes and kayaks, and plenty of locations for fishing. At least one fishing dock, in the Prairie Branch camping loop, has resident alligators that frequently swim underneath the dock, waiting for fishing hobbyists to throw their caught fish back into the water, something our daughter quickly learned as she tried to free one of the catfish that she caught during a night outing.

The fish went right into the alligator’s mouth.

Still, it is one of our favorite parks for camping, hiking, and fishing and is also an easy park to access for a day trip.

Like many people who move from one region of the country to another, we had a lot of misconceptions about the Texas landscape, completely unaware of just how much natural variety there is in the Lone Star State. What we’ve discovered has been incredible biodiversity maintained by a skilled staff of park rangers. Even more surprising is just how much of that biodiversity is available to Houston residents who are able and willing to drive an hour or more out of the city.

Our Texas state parks are doing excellent work preserving natural habitats and state history for future generations. Visiting these parks shows support for those efforts by providing our presence and funds. It’s a worthwhile investment in our state, our relationships with our families, and our children’s relationship with the planet.

About Sarah S.

Sarah S. is a teacher and mom to two quickly growing kiddos. She and her family live in north Harris County, love exploring the Texas state parks, and spend as much time as possible exploring the outdoors. When she’s not working to balance life as a working mom, she writes about the wonderful complexities of life as a wife, mother, and teacher, as well as her family’s camping adventures, at acceptingtheunexpectedjourney.com. You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.


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  1. Hi there,
    Love this list! I’m a Houston mom myself, and I love day-tripping to Lake Livingston State Park and Huntsville State Park so much that we bought a little cabin in the woods nearby both of them. I AirBnb it out to folks from time to time- if anyone read this post and is interested- message me back. I’d love to share my little slice of nature with your family too.


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