The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Swimming Spots

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We have to come clean, there aren't really any natural swimming spots inside the Houston city limits, so we've gone a little farther looking for places to take a dip. These spots might not be in Houston, but they are the most popular with Houstonians. Some are just 30 minutes away, one requires more than six hours drive, but most are just an hour or two away, easily doable in one day. We've got beaches, rivers and lakes on our list. See if your favorite spot made it into the top 10.

10. Garner State Park / Rio Frio 234 RR 1050, Concan 830-232-6132

The furthest destination that makes our list is Garner State Park / Rio Frio, some six hours drive away. There's lots of traffic at Garner, so plan your trip accordingly. But even with the crowds, the ice cold water of Rio Frio is too tempting to resist. Swimmers and inner tube riders share the river, while canoeing is also popular.

9. Village Creek State Park Lumberton 409-755-7322

Village Creek State Park is a low-key destination and perfect for families. Along with swimming, there's fishing, hiking, camping, picnicking and bird watching. Canoe and kayak rentals are nearby. Check with the ranger's station for info on activities, including night hikes.

8. Porretto Beach 10th and Seawall Blvd, Galveston 281-808-3431

A privately owned beach that's open to the public, Porretto Beach has on-the-sand parking making it especially convenient for families who want to spend the day swimming.

7. Port Aransas

The pretty beaches of Port Aransas make for great swimming. On the tip of Mustang Island, some 30 minutes from Corpus Christi, the beaches are also known as great places for sea shell hunting. Locals call Port Aransas "the best kept secret on the Gulf Coast." It's not exactly unknown, but even during the busy season there's plenty of space on the beach for visitors.

6. Sea Rim Park 19335 S Gulfway Dr., Sabine Pass

The five miles of open beach at Sea Rim Park make for a low-traffic area that offers an alternative to busy Galveston beaches. Here swimming in the Gulf of Mexico waters is only one of the attractions. There's also camping, birding, beach combing, walking the Gambusia Nature Trail (an elevated boardwalk that snakes through the marsh), canoeing and kayaking.

5. Matagora Bay Nature Park 6420 FM Farm to Market 2031, Matagorda 979863-2603

You'll get your choice of swimming spots at Matagorda Bay Nature Park is a 1,600-acre park and preserve at the mouth of the Colorado River on the Matagorda Peninsula, the park has about two miles of Gulf of Mexico beaches, two miles of river frontage and hundreds of acres of coastal marshes and dunes.

4. Huntsville State Park 40 Park Lane, Huntsville 936-295-5644

Huntsville State Park is only about 90 miles north of downtown, but a world away in terms of the pace of life. Skyscrapers are replaced by towering pines, and the sound of traffic gives way to birds and the rustling of leaves. This fairly small, heavily wooded state park is heaven in the warmer months, thanks to the swimming area at Lake Raven (named after Sam Houston, whose nearby likeness almost resembles a skyscraper) and the tree cover, which gives plenty of shade. The park offers activities such as horseback riding, paddle boating, canoeing and hiking. The park is open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. There's a $5 admission fee for adults; kids under 12 years old free.

3. Crystal Beach

If your idea of paradise is a long, secluded beach with gently rolling waves and miles of sand to dig in, you won't find a better place than this. Besides sunning and swimming, fishing is popular at Crystal Beach -- both surf (wade out into waist-deep water on the second sandbar) and jetty fishing (you can walk two miles out on the rocks). There are plenty of bait camps and charters that can point you in the right direction. There are plenty of beach house rentals and low-cost motels, in case you want to spend the night.

2. Twin Lakes 19230 Morris Ave., Manvel 281-914-3482

Though it's better known as a training spot for scuba divers, Twin Lakes is the perfect place to cool off without having to fight the traffic, and the crowds, in Galveston. Just 20 minutes south of downtown off the farm roads of 288, this aquifer-fed pool is clear enough for the aforementioned training and features five sunken fishing boats, a school bus and an Airstream trailer. Above ground there are floating docks, picnic tables, overnight campsites and a snack bar. Bass, catfish, turtle and perch live in the water, and if you're not there to dive admission is only $5.

1. Quintana Beach County Park 330 5th St., Quintana 800-872-7578

When Galveston Island gets overrun with tourists, one of the best and easiest things to do is hop on over the San Luis Pass to the tiny hamlet of Quintana, a wonderful summertime Gulf haunt. Just south of Freeport and its factories, Quintana Beach Park has picnic facilities, hook-ups for RVs, cabins, camping facilities and other amenities, but it's the swimming you're here for. The beach is "unmaintained," meaning the park officials don't comb the sand other than to remove trash, so you'll often find small shells, driftwood and more along the water. Speaking of the water, for some reason it always seems bluer here than in Galveston. That's not to say it's clear -- but it is more private, more quiet and more convenient than nearly any place else nearby.

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