Donovan Park should be called Donovan Land. The sprawling wooden kid-world could make even the most unimaginative tyke imagine he's the ruler of a vast kingdom. Turrets, bridges and secret compartments link the more typical playground accessories: slides, jungle gyms, climbing nets, swings and the like. The park is surrounded by trees and grassy hills; shaded areas with benches will please parents. But they won't be so happy when it's time to collect the children. There are many hiding places at the playground, and it's no easy task to talk the little kings and queens down.
Each spring, avid birders from around the globe make a pilgrimage to High Island to see one of the most famed birding spots in the world. And Houstonians are lucky enough to have it (almost) in our backyard. Located about 80 miles from the city on the Gulf Coast, High Island serves as a rest stop for the exhausted neotropical birds that fly across the Gulf of Mexico each spring. If you visit then, you may be lucky enough to spot a hooded warbler, a red-eyed vireo or a red-breasted grosbeak (they're much prettier than they sound). Sanctuaries are maintained by the Houston Audubon Society, and several grandstands have been erected for easy birding. Although March through May is peak visiting season, there's almost always a feathered friend to spot in the lush foliage.

Each spring, avid birders from around the globe make a pilgrimage to High Island to see one of the most famed birding spots in the world. And Houstonians are lucky enough to have it (almost) in our backyard. Located about 80 miles from the city on the Gulf Coast, High Island serves as a rest stop for the exhausted neotropical birds that fly across the Gulf of Mexico each spring. If you visit then, you may be lucky enough to spot a hooded warbler, a red-eyed vireo or a red-breasted grosbeak (they're much prettier than they sound). Sanctuaries are maintained by the Houston Audubon Society, and several grandstands have been erected for easy birding. Although March through May is peak visiting season, there's almost always a feathered friend to spot in the lush foliage.

Sick of cutting your feet on shells? Annoyed by the inevitable close encounters with jellyfish? Tired of wading through brackish water that looks like it was just churned out of the treatment plant? Head to Moody Gardens. The Galveston Island attraction/resort has created a new, improved beach, and it's charging guests a fee to enjoy it. The three-acre Palm Beach accommodates up to 2,500 people and features freshwater lagoons, white sand beaches, palm trees, lifeguards, paddleboats, Jacuzzis and regulation sand volleyball. Fooling yourself into enjoying a fake beach (at the beach) makes for an ironically amusing escape possible only in Galveston. The downside is that it's open only during the summer.
Sick of cutting your feet on shells? Annoyed by the inevitable close encounters with jellyfish? Tired of wading through brackish water that looks like it was just churned out of the treatment plant? Head to Moody Gardens. The Galveston Island attraction/resort has created a new, improved beach, and it's charging guests a fee to enjoy it. The three-acre Palm Beach accommodates up to 2,500 people and features freshwater lagoons, white sand beaches, palm trees, lifeguards, paddleboats, Jacuzzis and regulation sand volleyball. Fooling yourself into enjoying a fake beach (at the beach) makes for an ironically amusing escape possible only in Galveston. The downside is that it's open only during the summer.
Brazos Bend State Park
Brazos Bend is only a 30-mile drive from downtown, but once you get there you'll feel hundreds of miles away. This peaceful, 4,900-acre state park is located where the Big Creek and Brazos River meet, and it offers up to 20 miles of easy walking trails. (There are no changes in elevation, so don't come expecting a tough workout.) You'll loop throughout marshlands and enormous oak trees draped in Spanish moss, and without much trying you'll spot alligators sunning themselves, as well as a variety of birds. The park also offers the Creekfield Lake Nature Trail, a half-mile loop developed specifically for the disabled; it includes tactile exhibits and an audio tour for the blind, as well as a boardwalk accessible for those in wheelchairs.

Brazos Bend is only a 30-mile drive from downtown, but once you get there you'll feel hundreds of miles away. This peaceful, 4,900-acre state park is located where the Big Creek and Brazos River meet, and it offers up to 20 miles of easy walking trails. (There are no changes in elevation, so don't come expecting a tough workout.) You'll loop throughout marshlands and enormous oak trees draped in Spanish moss, and without much trying you'll spot alligators sunning themselves, as well as a variety of birds. The park also offers the Creekfield Lake Nature Trail, a half-mile loop developed specifically for the disabled; it includes tactile exhibits and an audio tour for the blind, as well as a boardwalk accessible for those in wheelchairs.

It's hot. Damn hot. Unbearably hot. So put your kids in those swimsuits with the built-in floaties, pile them in the back of the minivan and head out to Splashtown. The 45-acre park is filled with opportunities to get drenched. Kids can get their feet wet in the fountain before flying down one of the swirly, whirly, twirly water slides. If you're not really the upside-down-roller-coaster type, rent an inner tube anyway and pretend you're tubing on their faux river. Sure, one of the key aspects of tubing -- beer -- is missing. But at Splashtown you don't have to worry about catfish or chiggers or other critters creeping into your suit.

It's hot. Damn hot. Unbearably hot. So put your kids in those swimsuits with the built-in floaties, pile them in the back of the minivan and head out to Splashtown. The 45-acre park is filled with opportunities to get drenched. Kids can get their feet wet in the fountain before flying down one of the swirly, whirly, twirly water slides. If you're not really the upside-down-roller-coaster type, rent an inner tube anyway and pretend you're tubing on their faux river. Sure, one of the key aspects of tubing -- beer -- is missing. But at Splashtown you don't have to worry about catfish or chiggers or other critters creeping into your suit.

Why suffer the crowded, choppy waters of lakes Conroe and Livingston? If you're willing to drive a little farther, you can head to the Hill Country for a far superior skiing experience. The man-made Lake McQueeney is just outside Seguin in Guadalupe County (near New Braunfels) and has its own exit off I-10 West. Because of its calm, glasslike water and serene setting, the lake has been called the waterskiing capital of Texas. Local ski schools (like Lake Breeze Ski Lodge, 830-557-5736) offer classes year-round, and it isn't uncommon to catch trick-skiers practicing their acts and daredevils launching off the ramp and maneuvering through the slalom course.

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