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Hiking Houston

Exploring our city on foot

Meg Scott
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Houston Arboretum & Nature Center

The refurbished Ravine Trail at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center features new decking and overlooks, perfect for little feet to explore.

A new year can bring fresh motivation to explore our city. In the cool winter, it feels great to bundle up and take easy hikes on tucked-away trails in the Houston area. Here are some of my favorites.

Ravine Trail at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center

4501 Woodway Drive or 120 West Loop North, Memorial Park

Hours: 7 a.m. to dusk

Parking: Hourly fee to park, free on Thursdays

Restrooms: Available with exterior access at the Nature Center building

Distance: Half-mile loop, includes stairs and uneven terrain

Dog-friendly: Yes, on leash only

Use: Walking, but no running or cycling

Access this trailhead from the 120 West Loop North parking lot at the Arboretum, and step onto a trail featuring a stunning blend of architecture and nature, with a broad staircase winding down into the ravine.

Standing on the newly refurbished bridge over the waterway, I have watched snakes swimming in their natural habitat and looked up to observe birds nesting in the treetops. While not stroller- or wheelchair-friendly, this path is comfortable for a gentle hike for all ages with its deep and wide steps between tiered decks. The grand finale of the trail is a breathtaking mural, bringing you face to face with a great horned owl, a native species, by Houston-based artist Anat Ronen. 

Houston Arboretum

Field stations scattered around the Houston Arboretum offer educational signage, a place to rest, and a spyglass to hone your birdwatching skills. 

Couch Birding Trail at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center

4501 Woodway Drive or 120 West Loop North, Memorial Park

Hours: 7 a.m. to dusk

Parking: Hourly fee to park, free on Thursdays

Restrooms: Available with exterior access at the Nature Center building

Distance: In conjunction with the Outer Loop trail, 2-mile loop with uneven terrain in some places; minimal elevation gain

Dog-friendly: Yes, on leash only

Use: Walking, but no running or cycling

Following the broad Outer Loop Trail (accessible from either parking lot) around the outskirts of the Arboretum leads to a small side trail called the Couch Birding Trail. This detour from the main path offers benches to take a deep breath and observe the migratory birds traveling through Houston at this time of year as they take a respite over the Buffalo Bayou.

Along the route, take a minute to stop at the field stations scattered throughout the Arboretum, offering informative photos and descriptions of the animal and plant life you might find on your journey.

This route is enjoyable year-round. The day after Thanksgiving last year, we brought my out-of-town family to this location to enjoy the leaves changing. In summer, the otherworldly mushrooms growing on fallen tree trunks on either side of the path are a sight to behold.

As you journey back to the Nature Center and parking lots, be sure to stop by the Meadow Pond to scout for the resident young alligator, often found sunbathing on a log.  

Frank Kelly

OUT AND ABOUT Frank Kelly, a longtime Tanglewood resident, visits the Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary. Frank and his wife Lynda enjoy walking daily, whether to the grocery store, around their neighborhood or at local trails. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary 

440 Wilchester Blvd., near I-10 and Beltway 8

Hours: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; currently opens at 12:30 p.m. Tuesdays for maintenance

Parking: As a Covid-19 precaution, the only entrance is at the east gate in the Memorial Drive United Methodist Church parking lot, where parking is available.

Restrooms: Not open due to Covid-19

Distance: 1-mile loop; some uneven terrain with minimal elevation gain

Dog-friendly: Dogs not permitted

Use: Walking, but no running or cycling

The Edith L. Moore Sanctuary and its trails through the woods are quietly tucked away in a neighborhood off Memorial Drive. The trails have been restored in recent years with new decking, and the path follows along the high banks of Rummel Creek, offering multiple overlooks. Watch out if visiting with young children, though; the overlooks are not all well-fenced.

Doubling as the home base for the Houston Audubon Society, the sanctuary also features an active scene with bird feeders for all varieties of Houston birds. Sit a while and watch for hummingbirds in spring and fall.

This trail is a favorite destination for taking my young boys out for an easy brush with nature. The parking lot is near the trailheads, and you are immediately rewarded with a pond for watching tadpoles and turtles in the shallow water. The historic log home of the land donor, Edith L. Moore, stands near the pond, so this path has earned the nickname “the cabin trail” among my youngsters. Learn more about this beautifully restored cabin and Edith L. Moore at the Houston Audubon website.  

Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary

Shallow marshes at the entrance to the Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary are home to bullfrogs, turtles and tadpoles, as well as a wide deck to stroll through the trees. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

Cullen Park North Trail from the Bear Creek Methodist Cemetery

Texas Highway 6 at Patterson Road, near I-10

Hours: Dawn to dusk 

Parking: Free parking in lot adjacent to Bear Creek Methodist Cemetery 

Restrooms: None

Distance: 7.9 miles out and back, paved asphalt, minimal elevation gain

Dog-friendly: Yes, on leash only

Use: Walking, running, cycling

Slightly farther afield but providing a deeper sense of escape, the Cullen Park North Trail is accessible from Highway 6 at Patterson on the north edge of the Addicks Reservoir. This paved asphalt trail permits cyclists – and in my case, kids on scooters – but it is far less populated than other cycling trails in Houston.

Within steps from the road, you immediately feel like you've crossed into another world as the forest stretches as far as the eye can see. Be aware the path can flood, so plan your visit accordingly. After some recent heavy rains, the path was laden with large puddles, but my boys had no problem racing through the water on their scooters. (I, however, wished I’d worn my rainboots, as I chased after them in sandals.)

The path continues for nearly 8 miles to Cullen Park, passing the West Houston Airport. While walking the path, you will be treated to the sight of small, and sometimes historic, planes as they take off and land. Parking is simple at the lot adjacent to the Bear Creek Methodist Cemetery, a Texas Historical Commission site dating back to the late 1800s. 

Buffalo Bayou Park Trail at Spotts Park

401 S Heights Blvd., Memorial at Waugh

Hours: Lighted areas 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.; all other areas dawn to dusk

Parking: Free parking in lot adjacent to Spotts Park

Restrooms: At Lost Lake, on south side of bayou, 3422 Allen Pkwy.; Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark, Eleanor Tinsley Park, 103 Sabine St.

Distance: 20 miles of trails with various routes

Dog-friendly: Yes, on leash only

Use: Walking, running, cycling

If you seek a view of the Houston skyline while you stretch your legs, look no farther than the Buffalo Bayou Park trail system. There are many ways to access the trail, but my favorite is at Spotts Park on Heights Boulevard. Here you can wander down the hill from the parking lot and walk toward the towering skyscrapers with the bayou on your right. Pedestrian bridges cross the water at several points, or you can walk all the way into downtown to turn around and head west again from the foot of the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts.  

This trail is paved throughout, so it’s great for scooters, strollers and bicycles. However, it is a popular trail system in a densely populated area of the city, so try to come outside of peak exercise times for easier social distancing.

If you want to bring your puppy companion, the beautiful Johnny Steele Dog Park is found along the south side of Buffalo Bayou Park at 2929 Allen Parkway.

You can find trail maps at park websites or the AllTrails phone app (alltrails.com).

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