10 Texas State Parks Within a Day's Drive of Houston

While we should all rightfully balk at the idea of “celebrating” Memorial Day, being that it is a holiday dedicated to honoring those who have died in war, the fact is that it's a three-day weekend on the cusp of summer. Therefore, most of us do use the opportunity to have mini-vacations, barbecues and camping trips. As I write this, the weather is slated to be awfully nice come this weekend, so I thought I’d offer some of the best state parks within driving distance of Houston to visit over the holiday.

10. Padre Island National Seashore
4 hours
Camp on the beach, fish for sharks or try out the windsurfing. Padre Island National Seashore is the perfect weekend getaway for those with the beach in mind. Call the Hatchling Hotline (361-949-7163) if you’re interested in seeing when the baby sea turtles might be making their journey from nest to shore.

Photo courtesy of Texas.gov

9. Washington-on-the-Brazos
Drive: 1 hour
If you're in a more historical mood, visit Washington-on-the-Brazos, where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed. There you can visit the Barrington Living History Farm and the Star of the Republic Museum, as well as sight-see, picnic and bird-watch. The walk along the Brazos River is particularly lovely.

Sam Houston National ForestEXPAND
Sam Houston National Forest
Bobby Ketchum via Flickr

8. Sam Houston National Forest
1 hour
There are a couple of full-service hook-up campsites available in Sam Houston National Forest, but it's really the sort of place to go when you want to get out into the woods and away from humanity. The hiking there is choice, though it can get very hot in the summer. You can also rent canoes and paddle boats at Double Lake. Fishing spots are available, particularly for black bass.

Huntsville State ParkEXPAND
Huntsville State Park
Photo courtesy of Texas.gov

7. Huntsville State Park
1 hour
With more than 21 miles of hiking trails, Huntsville State Park is a great place to put some steps on your Fitbit. They also have fishing and geocache hunts if that's more your bag. Alligators do live in the park, and you really should read their safety tips before going near the water. There are some nice, screened-in shelters for overnight stays.

Brazos Bend State ParkEXPAND
Brazos Bend State Park
Photo courtesy of Texas.gov

6. Brazos Bend State Park
Drive: 1 hour
Brazos Bend State Park is one of the more accessible parks for first-timers. There's a nice paved hiking trail with bronzed statues of woodland creatures, exhibits and plenty of rest stops. You can bring horses to ride if that's your pleasure, and a great deal of the park is wheelchair-accessible. As in Huntsville SP, please respect the alligators. Make sure you visit the George Observatory, a part of the Houston Museum of Natural Science most city dwellers don't get to see.

Sheldon Lake State Park
Sheldon Lake State Park
Photo by Jennifer Perigen

5. Sheldon Lake State Park
45 minutes
If nature observation is your idea of a good time, Sheldon Lake State Park is where you want to be. It's also one of the places closest to Houston. Fishing is available, but where this park really excels is in guided nature trails. The best thing is the 82-foot John Jacob Observation Tower, which allows a breathtaking view of the area. Again, because I know people, please watch out for alligators.

Colorado Bend State ParkEXPAND
Colorado Bend State Park
Photo courtesy of Texas.gov

4. Colorado Bend State Park
4 hours
There are two things you absolutely, positively need to do when you're at Colorado Bend State Park. One, the Gorman Falls Hike. It is beautiful beyond measure. Two, the cave tour. You will feel like you're in a grand adventure. There's camping and canoeing and all the other other, but make sure you do those, and you will thank me.

Big Bend State ParkEXPAND
Big Bend State Park

3. Big Bend Ranch State Park
10 hours
All right...I freely admit calling ten hours "driving distance" is stretching the definition quite a bit. But look at that view, y'all! It's an off-roader's dream, and that's exactly who will love this park. Whether by horse or ATV, this is the perfect place to wander off into the wilderness. Be advised the Sauceda Ranch House, where lodgings are usually available, is currently undergoing repairs. Plan your stop-off accordingly.

Inks Lake State ParkEXPAND
Inks Lake State Park
Photo courtesy of Texas.gov

2. Inks Lake State Park
3 hours
There is a little of everything at Ink Lakes State Park. You can hike, camp, canoe, geocache, scuba-dive, fish, kayak, the works. It's kind of a commercial destination, meaning that it looks exactly like a TV ad for the Great Outdoors, but that honestly makes it a perfect place to start a tradition of roughing it. Make sure you explore the Devil's Waterhole, which is, ironically, a paradise.

Balmorhea State ParkEXPAND
Balmorhea State Park

1. Balmorhea State Park
7 hours
It's a drive, but for oases in the desert, Balmorhea State Park can't be beat. Swimming and scuba are the things you should definitely be planning on doing, but there are nature hikes and the like as well. It's another geocache site, so there's that. It's also a rare opportunity to explore a cienegas (desert wetlands), for the naturalists among you.

Texas is big, but even within easy reach of Houston there are places where you can indulge your inner frontiersman. See you out in the woods!

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