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Whatever Floats Your Boat!: Fun Houston-Area Boat Rides

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I love riding on boats, especially in the summer. The feeling of being on the water and soaking in the unique and often surprising view of the scenery is exhilarating. Getting my aqua-fix isn't always easy since we don't have a boat.

Luckily, there are numerous ways to sneak in a boat ride without having to go too far from home. Many of these Houston aquatic adventures (many educational) have recently reopened after not operating during the pandemic last year. Hop on board and enjoy the ride! 

Buffalo Bayou Waugh Bridge Bat Boat Tour 

Who needs a Jungle Cruise when you can go on a bayou cruise?! Hop aboard the Buffalo Bayou Partnership pontoon boat to discover a world of nature in the middle of Houston. 

Allen’s Landing
$30 per person; Children under 4 are not permitted
Boat departs 30 minutes before sunset (1½ hour boat rides)
Aug. 20, 21, 27, 28 
Enjoy viewing 250,000 Mexican free-tailed bats emerge at dusk from Waugh Drive Bridge. 

Buffalo Bayou Twilight Tours 
Allen’s Landing
$7 for adults and $5 for children (ages 4–12); Children under 4 are not permitted
Boat departs between 5:30 – 8:30 p.m. each half hour. (30-minute boat rides)
Aug. 19, 26 
Escape from the city and enjoy the cool breeze as you glide along Buffalo Bayou’s waters. Look for graceful herons, jumping fish, and even an occasional alligator on the banks.

Buffalo Bayou History Boat Tour of Allen's Landing
Allen’s Landing
$40 per person; Children under 4 are not permitted
Boats depart between 10 a.m.-11:30 a.m. 
Sept. 11, Oct. 9, Nov. 6 
Look back at Houston’s history while cruising Buffalo Bayou with a local historian. Your guide will share stories of the Allen brothers and provide historical information about the people, places, and events along the bayou that helped shape Houston. 
Armand Bayou Nature Center Morning on the Bayou Cruises 

Armand Bayou Nature Discovery Center offers a variety of pontoon boat tours including sunrise and sunset. Just 25 miles south of Houston, it’s a great way to take a peek behind the scenes of Houston wildlife.

8500 Bay Area Blvd. Pasadena
$30 for members and $35 for Non-Member; Children under 5 are not permitted and an adult is required to accompany children under 18
Boat departs at 8 a.m.
Aug. 22, 29, Sept. 4
Start your Saturday morning observing wildlife searching for their breakfast as you leisurely drift down the bayou.

Sunset Cruise
8500 Bay Area Blvd. Pasadena
$30 for members and $35 for Non-Member; Children under 5 are not permitted and an adult is required to accompany children under 18
Boats depart between 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.
Aug. 21, 22, 28, 29
Twilight is the most active time of day for many animals. Sunset on the water is a peaceful experience with amazing opportunities to glimpse an abundance of wildlife. 

Sam Houston Boat Tour - Port Houston 

Port of Houston

Most Houstonians probably don’t know that the Port of Houston has been giving free 90-minute boat tours of the Ship Channel. Maybe it’s time to be a tourist in your own city!

7300 Clinton Drive, Gate 8, Houston
Free, but reservations are required
90-minute boat rides
Tuesday - Saturday at 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Friday has an additional 6 p.m. boat tour.
Port Houston has offered free, educational cruises along the Houston Ship Channel since 1958 and has welcomed over 2 million visitors over the last 60 years. Passengers can enjoy passing views of international cargo vessels. The boat has air-conditioned lounge seating and additional standing room on the boat's rear deck. 

Hermann Park Pedal Boats

Generations of Houstonians have fond memories of riding in the pedal boats at Hermann Park. 

Hermann Park
$12 per person
30-minute rides
Open daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
All riders must wear life vests. Buy your tickets from the Kinder Train Station Gift Store and jump on the boats by the Pinewood Cafe. If you didn’t bring your own Cheerios or breadcrumbs, stop by the cafe for some crackers for the ducks. Pedal out by the fountain to get soaked. 

Woodlands Swan Boats - Woodlands Township

Visitors to the Woodlands Waterway will feel elegant pedaling their swan boats.

Riva Row Swan Boat House at 2101 Riva Row, The Woodlands
$25 per boat with 4 riders for the first hour and $5 for each additional hour
Open daily from 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; Closed Wednesday
Take a leisurely trip from Town Green Park along the Upper Waterway to the edge of Lake Robbins in a pedal boat shaped like an elegant white swan.

Lynchburg Ferry

A fun outing is taking the Lynchburg Ferry to the San Jacinto Monument and Battleground to visit the sites and enjoy a meal at the Monument Inn.

1001 Independence Pkwy N, Baytown
Monday – Friday from 4:30 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
The Lynchburg Ferry crosses the Houston Ship Channel to connect North and South Independence Parkway and the San Jacinto Battleground Monument. Since 1888, Harris County has provided the ferry service for free.

Galveston Ferry

A scenic boat ride adventure is taking the Galveston Ferry to Bolivar Peninsula and waving at dolphins along the way. And the price is!

1000 Ferry Road N., Galveston, TX 77550
Open daily and in operation 24 hours; ferries leave on the hour. Find the schedule here.
Enjoy the nice breeze and sightseeing while riding the ferry ride over to Port Bolivar and Crystal Beach. View giant tankers and barges as they travel to and from the port. Watch the shrimp boats and look for dolphins as they follow the shrimp boats looking for a free dinner. There’s plenty to see on the Galveston-Bolivar Ferry. Get a glimpse here.

Galveston Historical Foundation - The Seagull II Historic Harbor Tour and Dolphin Watch Daily 1-hour Tours 

Climb aboard Galveston’s Seagull II on the Historic Harbor Tour and Dolphin Watch. With the captain’s funny jokes and smiling dolphins, the kids will not even realize they are learning!

2200 Harborside, Galveston 
$12 per person and children (under 3) are free
Open daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
One-hour tour
The Galveston Historical Foundation presents daily tours of the harbor, highlighting historic sites and dolphins and sea bird sightings in the waters surrounding Galveston.

Ivory Bill Tour Neches River Adventures - Big Thicket National Preserve

The Neches River Tour includes a little bit of a road trip from Houston but is a very unique pontoon boat ride in the Big Thicket National Reserve.

5390 Pine St. Beaumont
$20 for adults, $15 for seniors, and $10 for children
Saturdays from 10 a.m. – Noon
Enjoy a leisurely trip on the ecologically diverse Neches River. The Neches has a unique ecosystem with dense bottomland forests of hardwoods and pine trees and more than 200 tree species, 47 mammals, 300 birds and many reptiles and amphibians.

KEMAH Shortest Ferry - Parking Ferry
Hwy 146 Kemah Bridge
It is a short trip, just 65 feet which might make the Kemah Boardwalk's shuttle the shortest ferry ride in the world. Opened on weekends only to ferry guests from the complimentary parking to the boardwalk. A cheap thrill and it saves guests from having to pay for parking. (Shuttle Boat parking lots are free). Directions: Exit Hwy 146 turning on 6th Street at the stop light, turn right. Once on 6th Street make a quick left on Texas Ave - you'll see the Shuttle Boat parking lots just down the road.

Happy sailing.

Editor’s note: Please check individual websites for any weather- or Covid-related updates or restrictions. 

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