The Texas coastal plain surrounding Houston and Galveston contains a surprising variety of natural landscapes — along with a number of parks, preserves, and other opportunities to enjoy said landscapes. Late spring is a good time for getting out into nature, before temperatures start to melt pavement in the parking lots.
At places with visitor centers, take the time to stop in for maps, trail guides, and general advice from the staff. And be sure to check the weather forecast.
Armand Bayou Nature Center
One of the largest urban wilderness preserves in the U.S., this 2,500-acre property in Pasadena has more than five miles of hiking trails, including three through forested wetlands to the bayou: the 1.32 mile Martyn Trail, 1.4-mile Karankawa Trail, and 1.5-mile Lady Bird Trail. Guided hike offerings include night hikes, birding tours, and alligator viewing. The Center also has pontoon cruises, guided canoe tours, and an 1800 style farm site.
Buffalo Bayou Paddling Trail
A Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Paddling Trail, this route runs 26 miles from Highway 6 to Allen’s Landing Park in downtown Houston. Ten access points allow for a variety of trip lengths. Despite flowing through an urban setting, Buffalo Bayou has surprisingly diverse flora and fauna. Paddlers may see turtles, rabbits, herons, egrets, hawks, fish, and even alligators, along with a variety of types of trees lining the banks.
East End Lagoon
A 685-acre nature park and preserve on the eastern tip of Galveston Island, East End contains wetlands, ponds, upland prairie, and beaches — a rare piece of natural Texas coast. A work in progress, the park currently has trails, viewing platforms, and launch areas for canoes and kayaks, with plans for a pavilion and other amenities down the road. Artist Boat offers regular kayak tours at East End Lagoon, from two-hour guided tours to three- and four-hour outings that include watercolor demonstrations and painting.
Galveston Island State Park
Galveston Island State Park represents the only undeveloped land on the island with beach-to-bay public access that takes in coastal prairie and wetlands. Explore with its four miles of trails, observation platforms, bird blinds, and paddling trails. Staff lead regular beach and bay explorations for those who want to learn more about the critters and landscape, and a nature center is open on weekends. Stay overnight in beach or bay campsites or one of the park’s lodges.
Katy Prairie Indiangrass Preserve
The Katy Prairie Conservancy owns and manages 14 preserves covering more than 13,000 acres west of Houston, each with a unique history, geology, and wildlife community. Two of these preserves are open to the public, including Indiangrass Preserve, 55 acres of newly restored prairie with a 1.5 mile trail near Waller. The Conservancy has restored 3,000 acres of wetlands and now works to restore and improve grasslands on its properties, including Indiangrass Preserve. Grassland or prairie slows down floodwater, filters stormwater run-off, sequesters carbon, and provides habitat for hundreds of bird species and other wildlife. Dogs are not allowed.
Katy Prairie Matt Cook Memorial Wildlife Viewing Platform
Another of the 14 Katy Prairie Conservancy properties open to the public, this two-story viewing platform overlooks 140-acre Warren Lake, which teems with wildlife. The Conservancy’s properties have been designated a Global Important Bird Area (IBA) and Warren Lake is on the Katy Prairie Loop of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail - Upper Texas Coast (UTC). Bird checklists are available for download on the Conservancy website. The viewing platform is ADA accessible.