One of the largest cities in the United States, Houston is chock-full of attractions, from excellent eateries to historic parks to entertainment venues to the Houston Space Center. If you’re a fan of outdoor adventures, you can also use Houston as a base for some epic national park exploration.
A Day in Houston
As one of America’s hubs of transportation, manufacturing, energy, and aerospace sciences, Houston has plenty to keep you occupied for several days. This bustling metropolis is said to be the most diverse city in Texas, a global and outward-looking city with also a strong focus on fun stuff, such as sports, media, and fashion. Houston’s Museum District alone draws in more than 7 million people each year.
In a nutshell, it’s a city that has much to offer — perhaps much more than you’d expect. Although you could easily spend several days here, it’s also possible to get a grasp of Houston in a day before exploring the greater region.
3 National Park Service Sites Near Houston
Houston is also the perfect base for some epic exploration. While there aren’t too many great national parks close to the city, you can reach a number of them within a day’s drive or less. This makes Houston an ideal arrival and departure point for a week or more of national park adventures.
Big Thicket National Preserve
The nearest National Park Service site to Houston is Big Thicket National Preserve. This is the only one that is a convenient day trip from the city, as it’s situated about an hour and 40 minutes away by car.
Big Thicket protects a long, narrow preserve lining the banks of a few meandering creeks. This kind of environment consists of multiple interrelated habitats that attract a wide variety of wildlife. Among the nine different ecosystems in the park are pine forest, bayous, and wetlands.
Popular activities here are kayaking, canoeing, and hiking. There are about 40 miles of hiking trails in the park.
Padre Island National Seashore
Four hours to the southwest of Houston lies Padre Island National Seashore, a superb place for anyone looking for a quiet beach getaway. This remarkable shoreline is the world’s longest undeveloped barrier island. It separates the Laguna Madre from the Gulf of Mexico.
With its 70-mile long coastline, nutrient-rich tidal flats, grasslands, and dunes, Padre Island is a wildlife haven. Go there for a couple of days of camping, sea kayaking, swimming, and bird-watching.
Big Bend National Park
One of the best natural attractions in Texas is Big Bend National Park. About a nine-hour drive west of Houston, this park requires a bit of advance planning but makes for a truly memorable time.
This is a wild place where the nights are pitch-black and rivers hew out deep limestone canyons. In this fertile wilderness, countless animal species seek refuge from the blistering Texas sun. This awesome park straddles the border with Mexico, at a place where to Rio Grande makes a big bend.
Home to many flowering cacti and one of America’s most biodiverse areas, Big Bend National Park deserves at least three days of exploration. There’s world-class hiking and camping while boat excursions and scenic drives are popular as well. And it wouldn’t be Texas if horseback riding weren’t an option, too.