The 15 Most Underrated Hikes in Houston

Lace up for scenic treks through the great outdoors, all within driving distance of Bayou City.

People don’t usually come to Houston specifically to hike. We get it—our city, while gorgeous, is flat AF. That doesn’t, however, mean there aren’t some pretty epic natural escapes within spitting distance. Our local topography is a vast network of marshes, forested land, swamps, and prairies just begging to be explored. So pack some water and hiking gear, pick up some Bucee’s jerky on the way if you know what’s good for you, and check out these 15 awesome nearby treks.

Looking for scenic trails to conquer within the city limits? We’ve got those, too.

ac_casa/Shutterstock.com
ac_casa/Shutterstock.com

Distance from Houston: 130 miles
Named for (most likely) the only Davy Crockett you know, this East Texas national forest spans over 160,000 acres within the Neches and Trinity River basins, rocking sky-scraping pines, boggy swamps, and primo hiking trails (including one for horseback riders). Gear up for the 20-mile-long Four C National Recreation Trail off Ratcliff Lake, or head out to the hardwood-draped Big Slough Wilderness area.

BNorris/Shutterstock.com
BNorris/Shutterstock.com

Distance from Houston: 135 miles
One of four national forests in the Lone Star State, Angelina offers more than 153,000 acres of gently rolling terrain right on the shores of the 114,500-acre Sam Rayburn Reservoir (fishing enthusiasts take note). Longleaf pine, loblolly, and shortleaf pine trees provide much-needed shade throughout the expanse. Stretch your legs along the 5.5-mile Sawmill Hiking Trail, where a spur near the middle leads to an abandoned sawmill site.

NataliaKuzmina/Shutterstock.com
NataliaKuzmina/Shutterstock.com

Distance from Houston: 45 miles
Cruise less than an hour southwest to find this diamond in the rough, known for the awe-inspiring George Observatory plus 37 miles of trails to rev you up for exploring the galaxy. A blend of marsh, prairie, and woodland topography provides the stage for a boatload of wildlife—which most definitely includes gators, so brush up on your safety tips before you go.

Texas Ranch Sales, L.L.C.
Texas Ranch Sales, L.L.C.

Distance from Houston: 180 miles
This East Texas national forest perches on the western slopes of the Sabine River, incorporating the massive Toledo Bend Reservoir along the Texas-Louisiana border. Hikers up to snuff will want to attempt to conquer the 28-mile Trail Between the Lakes—or at least some of it, anyway.

Texas Parks and Wildlife
Texas Parks and Wildlife

Distance from Houston: 75 miles
The East Texas Piney Woods are home to the 130-square-mile Lake Livingston and this surrounding 632-acre park. While fishing is an obvious pastime here, the leisurely trails offer equal amounts of serenity. Try the easy-peasy Oak Flat Trail, go deeper into the woods on the Fó:Si Trail, or hangout with the woodpeckers along the two-mile Bakba Trail.

Flickr/Daniel Ray
Flickr/Daniel Ray

Distance from Houston: 60 miles
Yes, that Galveston Island. The 2,000-acre state park replete with wetlands, sand dunes, and coastal prairies is actually quite beautiful. Plus, the resident wildlife—from armadillos and coyotes to an impressive mosaic of birds—is on fleek (because if eyebrows can be on fleek, so too can a marsh rabbit).

Flickr/Michellebsoto
Flickr/Michellebsoto

Distance from Houston: 50 miles
A mere 50 miles north of Houston lies this massive 163,000-acre national forest, stretching over three counties and showing evidence of human occupation dating back 12,000 years. Channel your inner Indiana Jones by hitting the winding 128-mile Lone Star Hiking Trail.

Bonnie Taylor Barry/Shutterstock.com
Bonnie Taylor Barry/Shutterstock.com

Distance from Houston: 190 miles
In 1960, four college students discovered two miles of cavern stashed under a 60-foot limestone bridge and, voila, Natural Bridge Caverns was born. Formed by an underground river that dissolved the limestone, the huge 180-foot below-ground passage and surrounding caves are now open to explore through guided hikes that are pretty cool, despite the fact that they’re bonafide tourist attractions.

National Park Service
National Park Service

Distance from Houston: 90 miles
Described as "one of the most biodiverse areas outside the tropics," this heavily forested area boasts over 100 species of trees and shrubs alongside 1,000 species of flowering plants and ferns. Head here to hike, bird-watch, and scare the crap out of yourself every time you step on a twig and think it’s a snake—the park plays host to all four groups of North American venomous snakes.

JBManning/Shutterstock.com
JBManning/Shutterstock.com

Distance from Houston: 250 miles
Pack a compass. This 5,000-acre oasis sports 32 miles of sinkhole, cave, and springside trails for you to get lost on. Don’t miss the rugged 1.5-mile trek to Gorman Falls, where you’ll be treated to a 60-foot-high waterfall cascading into a fern-covered grotto at the end.

Flickr/milpool79
Flickr/milpool79

Distance from Houston: 50 miles
For a bit of isolation without the travel, venture out to this peaceful 12-acre park located just outside of town on the Brazos River. The site is home to Texas’ first colony, where Stephen F. Austin—aka Big Daddy (okay, fine, aka The Father of Texas)—settled with the Old Three Hundred under a contract with the Mexican government. Relive fourth grade Texas history class on the six-mile hike and bike trail, then bounce over to a Taco Cabana to relive it all again on the way home.

DanielMullins/Shutterstock.com
DanielMullins/Shutterstock.com

Distance from Houston: 255 miles
The nation’s second largest granite dome, this massive pink batholith is about a half-mile to the top. Hike up at sunset or after dark to star-gaze amid the sexiest views. But be warned: Indigineous tribes once believed the rock to be haunted, giving it magical powers. Anyone who stays overnight is said to become invisible—which is actually way more awesome than it is scary.

Flickr/trektexas
Flickr/trektexas

Distance from Houston: 130 miles
This 660-acre getaway (which is literally rising from the ashes after sustaining forest fire and flood damage in recent years) is home to the famous Lost Pines. The 13-mile forest containing 18,000-year-old loblolly pines and hardwoods is over 100 miles from the Piney Woods, which covers nearly 55,000-square-miles of East Texas, Southern Arkansas, Western Louisiana, and Southeastern Oklahoma. Get exploring, and be sure to snag a few panoramic selfies at stunning lookout points like Fehr’s Overlook.

Flickr/champagne for monkeys
Flickr/champagne for monkeys

Distance from Houston: 142 miles
The closest you’ll get to the rainforest in Central Texas, the 500+ plant species blanketing this swampy park look impressively verdant after a nice rain. Head over to plant-scout and bird-watch, then cool down with a relaxing tube ride down the San Marcos River.

Flickr/BrandonLord

Distance from Houston: 190 miles
This gargantuan natural pool came to life when the dome over an underground river caved in thousands of years back. And while swimming is closed due to rough conditions for the foreseeable future, it’s still a pretty awesome place to check out on foot. There are only about 1.75 miles of steep hiking trails traversing the limestone grotto, but you won’t last much longer beneath the hot Texas sun, anyhow. Be sure to pack lots of water and make the required reservation before you go.

Brooke Viggiano is a Houston-based food and lifestyle writer. Share your tips with her on IG @brookiefafa or on Twitter @brookeviggiano.