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Top Running Spots in Houston

Pooja Salhotra
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Buffalo Bayou Park

Buffalo Bayou Park is one of Pooja Salhotra's favorite places to run in Houston. (Photo: Pooja Salhotra)

I started running long-distance when I lived in New York City. By entering the winding Central Park loop or following the East River from the Upper East Side all the way down to Brooklyn, I found an escape from the nonstop stimulation that’s symptomatic of NYC life. Through the rhythmic one-two-one-two of my steps, the expansive water views in my periphery and the sounds of familiar tunes beating in my ear drums, I let go of all of the deadlines and presentations on my to-do list and forgot about the buzzing on my cell phone. 

Life feels slower here in Houston – people are in less of a hurry and conversations proceed without a constant push to get to the point. Even so, it’s easy to feel over-stimulated, as though you have to constantly be “on” and ready to absorb new information. I’ve found that running outdoors can almost be a form of meditation – it helps me reset and stay physically healthy in the process. To encourage myself to run with more discipline and to check an item off my bucket list, I recently signed up to run a marathon. 

I’ve therefore been exploring Houston’s parks and trails, finding the best running (and walking) spots for my training. Below I share favorite spots for runners, or for those simply looking for a quiet escape or stroll. 

Memorial Park
Memorial Park’s Lieberman Exer-Trail is a destination for runners and walkers of all levels. It’s a busy 3-mile loop, but because the path is wide, you’re sure to have plenty of room on your run. Parts of the path are shady, and there are water fountains and even a clean bathroom along the gravel trail. And the trail is well-lit so it’s a safe place to go if you’re a night-runner. The park also features various trails if you’re looking to get away from the crowds. And free parking is available along the loop and in several parking lots in the park. 

Buffalo Bayou Park
If you haven’t checked out this park, you are missing out! You truly feel like you’ve entered some kind of oasis, and unlike the rest of Houston, which is fairly flat, you can get some hill workouts in here. The park offers a 5.2-mile loop from downtown to Shepherd Street Bridge to the west, running along the Buffalo Bayou and offering “insta-worthy” shots of downtown Houston. Paths feature one lane for bikers and one for pedestrians, and there’s several water fountains along the route as well. Also, if you go before the end of this month, you can spot these uplifting Rain Poems created by three Houston teens. Public parking is available (see the map here.) 

River Oaks Neighborhood
Experts say that running on concrete or other hard surfaces can be damaging for your knees and joints, so I try to avoid hard surfaces when possible. But every once in a while, it’s nice to run in the River Oaks neighborhood, where you can admire the beautiful homes and wave to neighbors on the route. I enjoy starting behind St. John’s School (my alma mater) at Westheimer and River Oaks Blvd.. From River Oaks Boulevard, I weave in and out of streets like Chevy Chase Boulevard, Del Monte Dr. and Inwood. You can even take Inwood to Kirby and make your way all the way to the Waugh Dr. Bat Colony! 

TC Jester Park
I had my first cross-country race here back in high school (when I survived one season of the sport). I don’t come back often – perhaps because it reminds me of how much better shape I was in high school – but when I do, I get a great run in. Located in the Oak Forest/Garden Oaks neighborhood, there’s great biking/jogging trails, a dog park and plenty of parking. Note that there isn’t too much shade along the trails so bring a hat and sunscreen if you’re there in the afternoon.

Mason Park
This park is truly a hidden gem, located in the East End of Houston. And if you’re looking for a short but quiet stroll/jog, this is the spot. There’s a 1.4-mile long trail that includes a 10-station exercise circuit. There’s also tennis courts, a swimming pool and playground equipment so you can even turn this into a fun family outing. 

Heights Blvd.
I was recently driving on this street and discovered that there’s an amazing running trail in a center esplanade. Called the Paul Carr Jogging Trail, this is a popular spot for runners and dog walkers who live in the Heights neighborhood. While running or taking a stroll, be sure to check out True North, an outdoor art installation featuring eight giant sculptures by regional artists, which were installed in March and will stay up through December. Also along the esplanade, you’ll pass by the historic Heights World War II Memorial. Parking is available along Heights Boulevard. 

Terry Hershey Hike and Bike Trail
Located in West Houston, this park offers a great east-west running/biking route along the Buffalo Bayou. This is a perfect place for a long run – the trail runs about 12 miles and connects to George Bush park, so you can easily extend your run by another few miles if you’re trying to prep for a marathon! Lighting is limited, so I wouldn’t go here at night. The main trail is pavement, though you can find some dirt trails if you’re a little more adventurous. 

Rice University Loop/Hermann Park 
I love the 2.92 mile loop around Rice University because it’s one of the prettiest parts of Houston, in my opinion, and with oak trees lining the path, you will be shaded the entire way around. The trail is crushed granite, so it’s easy on your joints. When I’m looking for a longer run, I cross over to Hermann Park to get a couple more miles in a nice green space. Parking can be a challenge here, as Rice’s visitor lot charges a fee, and the streets right around the trail are no-parking zones. You can sometimes find parking off of Greenbriar, and there’s also free parking at Hermann Park.

Bellaire Neighborhood – Outside the Loop
Last, but certainly not least, is Bellaire. I live outside the loop in Bellaire, so when I’m short on time, I simply walk out onto Pine Street and start running. I enjoy going North on Ferris Dr., weaving in and out of tree-lined streets such as Braeburn Drive, Pocahontas and Patrick Henry. I then go past the Bellaire City Library on Jessamine, loop around the Bellaire Zindler Park and run South on S. Rice. Many of Bellaire’s streets don’t have sidewalks, so Holly St. – with a center esplanade – is a popular street for runners.  

Where are your favorite places to run or walk? Comment below. 

For more ideas on places to run, check out Haley Kurisky’s list from 2016 on her favorite places to run in Houston.  

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