The Most Beautiful Running Paths in Houston

Don’t get too distracted on these runs with a view.

houston runs
Buffalo Bayou Park | Photo by Jonnu Singleton/SWA Group/Courtesy of Buffalo Bayou Partnership
Buffalo Bayou Park | Photo by Jonnu Singleton/SWA Group/Courtesy of Buffalo Bayou Partnership

While Houston doesn’t exactly have a reputation as the nation’s most beautiful city, it is plenty pretty. And it’s plenty joggable, too. Of these 13 scenic running trails, we’ve got bayouside pathways with views of the downtown skyline, treks winding through some of Houston’s most attractive parks, and a three-mile loop that can end in you smashing a juicy burger, if you so please. Here’s where to get some aesthetically pleasing miles under your belt in Houston.

memorial park

Memorial Park

Whether you’re a marathon runner, a casual jogger, or a power walker who really just wants an excuse to grab a Becks Prime burger afterward, we’re sure you’ve hit Memorial Park’s uber-popular three-mile loop. But we bet you didn’t know its real name is The Seymour Lieberman Exer-Trail, because it’s likely no one really knows that and the Three-Mile Loop is so much easier to say. Lined by big, beautiful Texas oaks, the recently reimagined, 24/7 crushed granite trail makes for a pretty, if not pretty packed run during the park’s peak hours. If you want to escape the crowd and get one with nature (we’re talking bayou streams, a lake, and the Houston Arboretum), veer off to the 30 miles of trails on the south side of the loop. Run fast enough and you’ll still have time for Becks Prime.

MKT Trail

With part of its route stretching along the bed of the abandoned Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railroad, this popular, revamped route is more commonly known as the Heights Hike and Bike Trail, stretching from West 26th in the Heights all the way to the edge of UH Downtown. There’s a lot to pass along the way (including local watering holes like Onion Creek and EZ’s Liquor Lounge, where you can pop in for a drink before getting your second wind).

buffalo bayou park
Photo by Jonnu Singleton/SWA Group/Courtesy of Buffalo Bayou Partnership

Buffalo Bayou Park

The downtown skyline beams in the background of this crown jewel 160-acre urban park, providing you both motivation to dig deeper and something pretty to look at. Its running trails wind along the Buffalo Bayou, with lush woodlands and pockets of wildflowers, eye-catching pedestrian bridges, cool art installations, fountains and trickling waterfalls, a lake, a dog park, and an entire restaurant that looks like a glass treehouse set along the way.

Get foot loose on the 10-feet-wide Sandy Reed Memorial trail, which allows cyclists, walkers, and joggers to share the path, or dip down to the Kinder Footpath, a five-feet-wide asphalt walking and jogging trail that runs along the bayou’s banks. At night, an innovative lunar-cycle lighting system designed by artist Stephen Korns illuminates the trail, fluctuating from blue to white along with the phases of the moon.

buffalo bend
Silvio Ligutti/Shutterstock

Yolanda Black Navarro Buffalo Bend Nature Park

Over on the eastern trailhead of the Buffalo Bayou, you’ll find this 10-acre park located near the Port of Houston turning basin. The former industrial area began its metamorphosis into a rad-looking greenspace and wildlife conservation area back in 2009. It officially opened in 2016, and with it came enhancements like 10,000 wetland plants, rock walls, and winding hike and bike trails where you get to hangout with ducks. The serene park is only open for “passive recreation,” so you won’t find any pesky tennis or basketball games getting in the way of your runner’s zen.

rice university
Flickr/Ed Schipul

Rice University Loop

Right across the street from Hermann Park, this 2.92 mile loop through the scenic Rice University is the way to go for architecture buffs, with public art and gorgeous buildings popped up all around campus and ivy-covered homes dotting the outskirts. Even better? It’s one of the shadiest runs in town, as towering oak trees offer a striking respite from the scorching Houston sun the entire way. Even better than better? The gravel path is flat enough to save your knees from yourself.

White Oak Bayou Greenway

Connecting with the Heights Hike and Bike Trail, the lengthier, mostly scenic White Oak Bayou Trail hits nearly 17 miles of the city. We say mostly scenic because you may see a warehouse or two and some highway along your trek, but you’ll also pass through picturesque greenspaces like the GOOF area’s Watonga Parkway Park and T.C. Jester Park, Heights gems Stude Park and White Oak Park, and Hogg Park, just north of Downtown.

terry hershey park
Flickr/Jean RUAUD

Terry Hershey Park

There’s a damn butterfly garden in this westside park, so it can’t not be beautiful. There’s also lighted walking trails, tree-lined hike and bike trails, and convenient runner’s showers which could be quite hot depending on who’s using them. For a rugged run, hit the heavily wooded Anthills Trail, an off-road trail frequented by bikers thanks to its rollercoasterlike route.

hermann park

Hermann Park

The 445-acre Hermann Park is a masterpiece in the center of Houston; a prize that plays home to the Houston Zoo, Miller Outdoor Theatre, Japanese and McGovern Centennial Gardens, Jones Reflection Pool, and, most importantly for the purposes of this whole thing we’re doing here, the 2-mile Marvin Taylor Jogging Trail. Run the loop around the golf course or zig and zag your way through the park’s entirety to find hidden lakes, bridges, and gardens. Either way, you’ll be treated to wonderfully-kept, eye-pleasing grounds surrounded by nearly 10,000 Texas trees, some of which are nearly a century old.

george bush park

George Bush Park

Political affiliations aside, this truly massive, 7,800-acre park on the west side of town is pretty damn attractive. Inside, you’ll find a slithering system of jogging trails, looking all fine alongside forest, bayous, and ponds, and strangely beautiful swamps, reminding you that ugly is in the eye of the beholder. That’s how the saying goes, right?

houston heights
Flickr/Ed Uthman

Paul Carr Jogging Trail

Running from just north of I-10 to 20th Streets, this roughly two-mile strip down the historic Heights Boulevard will make you want to house hunt the second you get home. Lined with stately mansions and quaint Victorian-style homes with wrap-around porches that you wish you had, plus seriously cool, rotating art installations along the way, the only thing not pretty about this run is the ugly cry you do when you remember what’s in your bank account.

Brays Bayou Greenway
Photo by Tom Flaherty/Courtesy of Brays Bayou Greenway

Brays Bayou Greenway

There’s a reason we’re called Bayou City, and this 31-mile bayou is one of them. The naturally formed park flows eastward from Fort Bend County, through the Texas Medical Center and to the Houston Ship Channel. Along it, you’ll find a popular bayou-side running trail, which can be easily accessed from both the Hermann Park and the University of Houston campus. It was already pretty sweet, and then the Houston Parks Board’s Bayou Greenways 2020 Project amped things up through an uninterrupted ribbon of green space, complete with hike and bike trails along the bayou within the city limits.

George Mitchell Nature Preserve

Up north in The Woodlands, this rustic nature preserve covers nearly 1,700 acres, but you’ll want to hit the picturesque 2-mile trail loop if you want to make it home for dinner, or like, ever. On top of the naturally surfaced, forest and wildflower-lined jogging loop, the Flintridge Dr trailhead has three miles of bike trails at which to get your exercise in.

seawall boulevard
Flickr/Clintie P

Galveston Island

For a beautiful beachside run, head straight for the sand, or jog along the island’s famous Seawall Blvd, which offers a 10-mile urban park with beaches, ocean views, and the nation’s longest continuous sidewalk. The people watching may be even more entertaining than the scenery.

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Brooke Viggiano is a Houston-based writer whose work has been published across the internet and in print with Thrillist, Chron, Houstonia, Houston Press and 365 Houston. When not searching every corner of Houston for the unicorn cool-but-not-too-cool patio bar, you can find her sharing her breakfast on Instagram @brookiefafa or on Twitter @brookeviggiano.