Houston
Mountain biking, trail running, saltwater kayaking, and one of America's biggest marathons
When to come?: 

Houston is close to the Gulf of Mexico and can get very humid year-round. The summers are hot, but the winter is very mild. Come during spring for some of the best weather. Houston can be very rainy, but it usually comes down as brief downpours, not as soaking rains or drizzle.

What to do if you have a sunny Saturday?: 

Start by joining what seems like everyone in Houston at Memorial Park for a 3-mile jog on the crushed stone trail - shaded by piney woods, the Memorial Park running trail is even lighted. The only problem will be parking, so get up early.

Head over to Terry Hershey Park to use the 10 mile paved hike and bike trail for bike riding. The asphalt path stretches along Buffalo Bayou, and is the best uninterrupted bike riding in the Houston area - Houston is choked with traffic until you get far outside the city. The hike and bike trail is a shared trail though, so look out for kids, walkers, and dogs.

Where can I go to get out away from the city, without driving too far?: 

Armand Bayou Nature Center is the opposite of Houston's concrete jungle. Before Houston became the nation's fourth largest city, the area along Galveston Bay was a mix of wetlands, prairie, and piney woods forest. Go for a walk along the trails at the bayou for a glimpse of how it must have looked.

Huntsville State Park, one hour north of Houston, has great hiking, trail running, and mountain biking in the piney woods, surrounding a lake. The best trail in Huntsville State Park is the singletrack Chinquapin trail - the CCC trail is similar in length but has a lot of open jeep/dirt road. The lake is very inviting to swim in, but like all of East Texas, watch out for alligators!

Brazos Bend State Park is another world altogether. A low-lying area along the Brazos River, Brazos Bend State Park is a guaranteed place to see alligators. The trails in the park are great for leisurely mountain biking - nothing too technical makes them great for families (except for the gators).

What mountains/hills can I hike nearby?: 

Unfortunately, the whole Gulf Coast really doesn't have any hills. You'll have to head west 600 miles to Guadalupe Mountains National Park or Big Bend National Park or Davis Mountains State Park for real mountains.

About an hour away, Huntsville State Park has a few rolling hills, but nothing major and certainly no scenic views or anything. You'll have to head west to the Texas Hill Country, or at least Bastrop State Park.

What outdoorsy stuff is way overrated in this town?: 

The Galveston beaches near the city are not exactly the greatest beach destination. The gulf water near Galveston can be very muddy, and the sand is usually a dingy brown. Don't go all the way down there for a relaxing day at the beach - many visitors thinking of the crystal clear water and white sand beaches of the Florida Gulf coast end up disappointed. Instead head about ten miles west to Galveston Island State Park, where the beach is wider, and there are showers and restrooms.

The Rice University running trail is narrow and can get very crowded.

Swimming
Swimming Groups, Classes, and Coaches: 
Open Water Swimming: 

One of the nicest areas to swim in Houston is 288 Lake - http://288lake.net/ - it is a spring fed lake open to scuba divers, triathlon swimmers, and kayakers.

Similar is Scuba Park at Twin Lakes - http://www.scubapark.net/

Parks: 

Huntsville State Park

Description: 

Huntsville State Park is a piney-woods park an hour north of Houston and two hours south of Dallas. Huntsville has 15 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails surrounding Lake Raven, a small reservoir.

Huntsville hosts some of the best trail running races in Texas, including the Rocky Raccoon 100-mile and 50-mile race in February, the Rocky Raccoon 50 km and 25 km race in November, the Hogs Hunt 50 km and 25 km race in April, and the Texas Trails 50 km and 12.5 mile run in December.

Memorial Park

Description: 

Memorial Park is Houston's Central Park. Located west of downtown (south of I-10, east of I-610), Memorial Park is the place to go for outdoors recreation inside the loop. Some days it feels like everyone in Houston is out on the jogging trail, mountain biking, playing tennis, or just enjoying the day.

Memorial Park has the best public golf course in Houston, tennis courts, baseball fields, volleyball courts, picnic areas, and the Houston Arboretum.

Galveston Island State Park

Description: 

Galveston Island State Park stretches from the beach to the bay, 10 miles west of the city of Galveston. Most come to the state park for the wide, sandy beach on the Gulf of Mexico, and then stay to camp at either the beach side campground or the bay side campground.

NOTE: The park was damaged by Hurricane Ike two years ago, but has recovered quite well - the facilities are still not completely back to where they were, but restrooms and showers are now available within the park.

There are 4 miles of hiking and biking trails within the park on the bay side.

The State of Texas has also established several paddling trails for canoes and kayaks on the bay side, the Dana Cove trail, the Oak Bayou trail, and the Jenkins Bayou trail. The best description of these paddling trails is on the Galveston Island Paddling Trails web site.

The state park has an excellent, color, trail map of the hiking/biking trails and the paddling trails, but it does not appear to be online yet. The map we link to here has the trails on it, but it's not as clear. Ask for the paper map at the park headquarters.

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