There's more to life than work and executive time, and one solution to summer's oppressive heat is by taking a road trip to some of the pools, water holes, lakes and state parks around Texas. We can't think of anything more opposite of Houston's concrete jungle — with all that traffic and road construction — than the natural wonders found in and around the Lone Star State.
We've broken our list down to short impulse trips, others that require a bit of planning, and a few more where an overnight stay is probably in order. We've also updated this list with information about closures and repairs.
Hey, Let's Hop in the Car
These public and state parks are close enough to Houston that not much planning is required to make fun happen. Throw some beverages in the cooler, grab a few sandwiches from your favorite eatery (our food writers have tons of suggestions) and get going.
Twin Lakes RV Resort and Scuba Park (20.6 miles south of Houston)
Amenities: Fish, swim and SCUBA. This diver's paradise is located on 25 acres of private lakes and has five sunken fishing boats, a school bus and an Airstream trailer for underwater discoveries. Good news: It also was our winner for "Best Swimming Hole" in 2011.
19400 Highway 6, Manvel, Texas 77578, 281-489-4225, campnative.com/campgrounds/usa/tx/manvel/twin-lakes-rv-resort
Galveston Island State Park (57 miles from Houston)
Amenities: Swim (Gulf of Mexico and Galveston Bay), fish and paddle (multiple paddling trails). A fish cleaning station and also canoe and kayak launches are available. Good news: The average temperature in July is a balmy 85.9 degrees. Galveston also has a fireworks show planned each Sunday evening during the summer. Bad news: The Beach side area of the park is closing for renovations on July 15, for about three years. During this time the entire park area south of FM 3005 will be closed. The area north of FM 3005 (Bayside) will remain open.
14901 FM 3005, Galveston, Texas 77554, 409-737-1222, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/galveston-island
Quintana Beach County Park (65.5 miles from Houston, near Freeport)
Amenities: Swim, fish and surf along the Gulf of Mexico. Good news: Named our first pick for "Top Swimming Spot" in 2013. The water always seems more blue here (compared to Galveston Island) and it's a great spot for finding small shells and driftwood.
330 5th Street, Quintana, Texas 77541, 979-233-1461, brazoriacountytx.gov/departments/parks-department/quintana-beach
Huntsville State Park (67 miles from Houston, north of Conroe)
Amenities: Swim, fish and paddle, plus rent a canoe, kayak or paddle boat on Lake Raven. Bad news: Some of the trails are still undergoing repairs and construction. When they get too busy (weekends, holidays, school breaks), they'll close the park when capacity is reached. Good news: You can buy a "Save the Day" pass a month in advance.
565 Park Road 40 West, Huntsville, Texas 77340, 936-295-5644, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/huntsville
Lake Livingston State Park (74 miles from Houston, east of Huntsville)
Amenities: Swim, fish and boat on Lake Livingston, one of the largest lakes in Texas. Bad news: Alligators live in the area.
300 Park Road 65, Livingston, Texas 77351, 936-365-2201, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/lake-livingston
Village Creek State Park (93 miles from Houston, north of Beaumont)
This park is still on the mend from Hurricane Harvey. Good news: Most launch and takeout points on Village Creek, outside the park, are open. Bad news: Some of the trails are closed. The Primitive campsites, Cabin, Pavilion, and canoe/kayak launch are closed for repairs due to flooding.
8854 Park Road 74, Lumberton, Texas 77657, 409-755-7322, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/village-creek
With a Little Bit of Planning
Anything that requires more than a 90-minute drive needs a little bit of planning. Leaving the house early is critical for maximum fun, so make all your preparations the night before so you're ready to just hop in the car and go.
Matagorda Bay Nature Park (98.6 miles southwest of Houston, along the Gulf Coast)
Amenities: Swim, fish, kayak and boat at this 1,333-acre park and nature preserve at the mouth of the Colorado River with two miles of Gulf of Mexico beachfront.
6430 FM 2031, Matagorda, Texas 77457, 979-863-2603, lcra.org/parks/Pages/matagorda-bay-nature-park.aspx
Sea Rim State Park (99.8 miles from Houston, southeast of Beaumont)
Amenities: Swim, fish, canoe, kayak, surf and paddle at this unique coastal park that has more than five miles of Gulf shoreline and 4,000 acres of marshlands. Paddle the easy 1.79-mile trail or the advanced 9.59-mile trail. Bad news: Alligators live in the park, and the Gambusia Nature Trail Boardwalk is closed for safety reasons.
19335 S Gulfway Drive, Sabine Pass, Texas 77655, 409-971-2559, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/sea-rim
Fort Boggy State Park (120 miles from Houston, on I-45 halfway to Dallas)
Amenities: Swim, fish, boat, canoe and kayak on the 15-acre lake that is kept stocked.
4994 Highway 75 South, Centerville, Texas 75833, 903-344-1116, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/fort-boggy
Martin Dies, Jr. State Park (124 miles from Houston, near Jasper and the Louisiana border)
Amenities: Swim, paddle the waters of the Neches and Angelina rivers or fish in the B.A. Steinhagen Reservoir. Good news: It looks like the wooden fishing piers have been replaced.
634 Park Road 48 South, Jasper, Texas 75951, 409-384-5231, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/martin-dies-jr
Bastrop State Park (136 miles from Houston, southeast of Austin)
Amenities: Swim, fish and marvel at how the Lost Pines are recovering from forest fires and recent floods. Good news: The historic swimming pool (built in 1937) just reopened after major renovations and remains open until September. Bad news: Until further notice, the Purple Trail east of Harmon and the Orange Trail are both closed. Construction continues at the Group Barracks, so expect some noise in the Piney Hill and Deer Run camping areas. The worst news of all: The ten-acre lake is gone, due to dam failure.
100 Park Road 1A, Bastrop, Texas 78602, 512-321-2101, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/bastrop
River Trail Park (145 miles west of Houston, near San Marcos)
Amenities: Swim, kayak, paddle and canoe along the San Marcos River. Boats and watercraft are available for rent. Bad news: Life guards are not on duty.
100 Paddling Trail, Luling, Texas 78648, 830-875-5515, cityofluling.net/facilities/facility/details/River-Trail-Park-3
Boykin Springs Recreation Area (146 miles from Houston, north of Beaumont between Jasper and Lufkin)
Amenities: Swim, fish and boat (non-motorized). This area is the trailhead for the Sawmill Hiking Trail.
From Zavalla, travel east on Highway 63 for 10.5 miles, turn south on Forest Service Road 313 for 2.5 miles. 936-897-1068, fs.usda.gov/recarea/texas/recreation/hiking/recarea/?recid=30208&actid=71
Palmetto State Park (152 miles from Houston, south of Austin)
Amenities: Swim, tube, fish and canoe in the flowing San Marcos River, then explore the lake, artesian well and swamps in this small park with tropical vegetation. The San Marcos River has a steady current but no rapids. Bad news: The park is open, but the low water bridge in the park is closed due to flooding.
78 Park Road 11 South, Gonzales, Texas 78629, 830-672-3266, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/palmetto
Perhaps an Overnight Stay is in Order
We already spend way too much time in the car, commuting back and forth from home to work or school. For water holes, lakes and parks that will take more than two and a half hours in the car, why not treat yourself to an overnight stay?
Camp Tonkawa Springs (163 miles north of Houston, north of Nacogdoches)
Amenities: Swim in the clear, cool waters of the rejuvenating spring-fed pond in the Piney Woods.
4675 County Road 153, Garrison, Texas, 936-564-8888, camptonkawa.com
Fairfield Lake State Park (164 miles from Houston, southeast of Dallas)
Amenities: Swim, boat, water ski, jet ski and fish on the 2,400-acre Fairfield Lake, kept warm by TXU Big Brown power plant. Bad news: The Big Brown Creek Trail and Primitive Camping area are both closed.
123 State Park Road 64, Fairfield, Texas 75840, 903-389-4514, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/fairfield-lake
Lake Tejas (166 miles northeast of Houston)
Amenities: Billed as the "best little swimmin' hole in East Texas," this family water park and campground has diving towers, a kiddie area and canoeing on the lake. Life jackets and tubes are available for rent.
FM 256 East, Colmesneil, Texas 75938, 409-837-2063, laketejas.net
William & Eleanor Crook Park (166 miles west of Houston, between Austin and San Antonio)
Amenities: Swim, canoe, kayak and tube in this six-acre park along the San Marcos River. Good news: It's got a rope swing and is ranked as one of the top five free spots in Texas by the authors of The Swimming Holes of Texas.
430 Riverside, San Marcos, Texas 78666, sanmarcostx.gov/Facilities/Facility/Details/William-Eleanor-Crook-Park-49
McKinney Falls State Park (166 miles from Houston, in Austin)
Amenities: Swim and fish in Onion Creek, but call ahead because the creek can flood after rainfall. Bad news: The Smith Visitor Center is closed for repairs and the Rockshelter Trail is closed due to safety issues caused by flooding. The park will close to new visitors when capacity is reached on good-weather weekends and holidays. Good news: Purchase a "Save the Day" pass up to a month in advance for guaranteed entry.
5808 McKinney Falls Parkway, Austin, Texas 78744, 512-243-1643, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/mckinney-falls
Stokes Park (167 miles west of Houston, in San Marcos)
Amenities: Swim, kayak or paddle at this beautiful five acre park with natural stone, a mini waterfall and lush landscaping along the San Marcos River.
600 Cape Road, San Marcos, Texas 78666, sanmarcostx.gov/Facilities/Facility/Details/Stokes-Park-47
Lockhart State Park (167 miles from Houston, south of Austin)
Amenities: Swim (pool only), fish in Clear Fork Creek and admire the waterfall on Park Road 10. Good news: Nearby Lockhart has been designated the "Barbecue Capital of Texas."
2012 State Park Road, Lockhart, Texas 78644, 512-398-3479, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/lockhart
Sewell Park (168 miles west of Houston, in San Marcos)
Amenities: Swim in the crystal clear waters of the spring-fed San Marcos River on the grounds of Texas State University Campus. The water stays a comfortable 72 degrees year round.
1011 Academy, San Marcos, Texas 78666, 512-245-2940, campusrecreation.txstate.edu/outdoor/sewell-park.html
Rio Vista Park (168 miles west of Houston, southwest of Austin)
Amenities: Swim in the deep watering hole or paddle, tube and kayak along the river. Good news: The jewel of the park is the Rio Vista Falls Dam that has become a favorite place to tube, kayak and stand-up paddle board.
555 Cheatham, San Marcos, Texas 78666, 512-393-8400, toursanmarcos.com/attractions/outdoors/rio-vista-park.html
Fort Parker State Park (170 miles from Houston, east of Waco)
Amenities: Swim, fish, kayak and canoe on Fort Parker State Park Lake. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent during the busy season.
194 Park Road 28, Mexia, Texas 76667, 254-562-5751, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/fort-parker
Barton Springs Pool (172 miles from Houston, in Austin)
Amenities: Within Zilker Park is this three-acre, man-made pool that offers plenty of people-watching and swimming, all fed by a natural spring that keeps the temperature at a cool 68-70 degrees.
2201 Barton Springs Road, Austin, Texas 78704, 512-974-6300, austintexas.gov/department/barton-springs-pool
Deep Eddy Pool (172 miles from Houston, in Austin)
Amenities: This 600,000-gallon concrete freshwater swimming pool is cleaned out and replaced with fresh well water every other day. Surrounded by grass and trees, it's also the oldest swimming pool in Texas (established in 1915). Good news: Great people watching.
401 Deep Eddy Drive, Austin, Texas 78703, 512-472-8546, austintexas.gov/department/deep-eddy-pool
Barton Creek Greenbelt (172 miles from Houston, in Austin)
Amenities: Located in south-central Austin, the Greenbelt offers more than 12 miles of trails with multiple access points to Barton Creek: Spyglass Access near Campbell's Hole (1601 Spyglass) and Gus Fruh Access (2642 Barton Hills Drive), among others. The water levels rise and fall, so it's hit or miss, and parking is sometimes tricky.
Multiple addresses due to several access points, Austin, Texas, austinparks.org/barton-creek-greenbelt
Red Hills Lake Recreational Area (177 miles northeast of Houston, near the Louisiana border)
Amenities: Swim and fish in this 19-acre lake. Just like Dirty Dancing, this park had its heyday in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, but it keeps on keepin' on. Bad news: At least one alligator has made the lake its home. The park will close for the season on September 3, 2019.
Highway 87 north of Milam in Sabine County, 409-625-1940, fs.usda.gov/recarea/texas/recarea/?recid=30266
Hippie Hollow (179 miles from Houston, in Austin)
Amenities: Swim in Lake Travis at this clothing optional park. Exhibitionists might want to add their own photos to the Hippie Hollow member picture area. Good news: Alcohol, outdoor grilling and photography are permitted. Bad news: No pets, fireworks, weapons or glass containers.
7000 Comanche Trail, Austin, Texas 78732, hippiehollow.com
Blue Hole Regional Park (182 miles from Houston, southwest of Austin)
Amenities: The City of Wimberley stepped up to the plate to save Blue Hole from encroaching residential development, so props to them. Swimming in this 126-acre park is only permitted during the swimming season, May through September.
100 Blue Hole Lane, Wimberley, Texas 78676, 512-660-9111, cityofwimberley.com
City Tube Chute (185 miles from Houston, south of San Marcos)
Amenities: The fun begins with this water slide carved into the side of the city's dam on the Comal River, making it the longest of its kind in the world. Bad news: No canoes, kayaks, alcohol or styrofoam.
100 Liebscher Drive, New Braunfels, Texas 78130, 830-608-2165, nbtexas.org/1438/City-Tube-Chute
Mansfield Dam Park (187 miles from Houston, in Austin)
Amenities: Swim, boat and SCUBA dive in Lake Travis. It has the deepest and most accessible boat ramp on Lake Travis with an adjoining wheelchair-accessible courtesy dock. Good news: Divers will find a dive lift, underwater dive platforms, underwater compass course and sunken boats.
4370 Mansfield Dam Park Road, Austin, Texas 78732, austintexas.org/listings/mansfield-dam-park/4722/
On the Disabled List
Lake Somerville State Park and Trailway (108 miles from Houston, between Houston and Austin)
Many park facilities are closed due to flooding and flood damage. No new reservations are being accepted for arrivals before August 1, 2019. Birch Creek Unit is open but with limited trail access, Nails Creek Unit is closed for camping until at least May 19, 2019. The Trailway is closed. Equestrian use is not currently allowed anywhere at the park or Trailway. The boat ramp and day use areas at both units are closed.
Birch Creek Unit, 14222 Park Road 57, Somerville, Texas 77879, 979-535-7763; Nails Creek Unit, 6280 FM 180, Ledbetter, Texas 78946, 979-289-2392, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/lake-somerville
Going the Distance
Because it seems to take at least an hour just to get outside the city limits, we've pared our lists down to those within 187 miles of downtown Houston. But cast that net a little wider, perhaps within 240 miles, and you'll find some true gems: Hancock Springs Free Flow Pool, Jacob's Well Natural Area, Krause Springs, The Slab, Hamilton Pool Reserve, and Magee Beach Park, as well as these amazing state parks: Blanco, Choke Canyon, Guadalupe River, Inks Lake, Lake Corpus Christi, Lake Whitney, Lyndon B. Johnson, Martin Creek Lake, Meridian, Mustang Island, Pace Bend, Pedernales Falls, Purtis Creek and Tyler.
If you're really itching to head out on the highway, and you've got some extra PTO days to burn, read Road Trip: 50 Best Water Holes Near Houston for the 411 on all these great spots between 187 and 240 miles from downtown Houston.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.