Visitors to Houston are spoiled for choice when it comes to green spaces. There are a staggering 582 parks in the city that cover over 66,000 acres of land – and there are plans to add even more in the next ten years.
We’ve gathered a selection of parks that allow visitors to experience Houston in a whole new way, whether that’s engaging in wildlife spotting, kayaking on bayous under the shade of the downtown skyline, or admiring public art amidst leafy surrounds. Here’s our pick of Houston’s best parks.
Hermann Park is filled with some of Houston’s biggest attractions like the McGovern Centennial Gardens, Houston Zoo, and Japanese Garden. It’s no wonder the 445-acre park welcomes about 6 million visitors a year.
Children love taking a ride on the Hermann Park Railroad or playing in the Buddy Caruth Playground for All Children, which is wheelchair accessible. When you’re not exploring parts of the urban forest or pedal boating on McGovern Lake, join runners on the Marvin Taylor Trail or catch a live show at the Miller Outdoor Theatre.
Established in 1924 in memory of the soldiers who trained at Camp Logan (a WWI training facility that once occupied this site), Memorial Park is what it is today thanks to Miss Ima Hogg, a benefactor who protected the historic park from oil wells and construction.
The landscape here is wilder than other parks in Houston, and there are over 30 miles (48km) of trails for hiking, running, and strolling among trees and across small creeks. While there are outdoor activities like a playground, croquet, tennis, and volleyball, the Memorial Park Fitness Center is especially popular for those who want to lift weights and swim indoors. Free yoga classes, nature walks, and historical tours are on offer year-round, as are delicious meals from the park’s fleet of food trucks, which are parked seven days a week near the Eastern Glades.
Emancipation Park is the oldest park in Texas. Originally purchased by four formerly enslaved people, the site was the only public park and pool in the city available to African Americans until the 1950s, making it an important social hub for Houston’s Black community.
This legacy continues today, with the 10-acre space hosting the city’s annual Juneteenth celebrations and serving as a Unesco Site of Memory, forming part of the Slave Route Project (which highlights important landmarks associated with the slave trade). The modern park features a creatively designed playground, outdoor pool, and various sports fields. Meanwhile, the Recreation Center has a gym, basketball court and hosts several events and classes.
Evelyn’s Park may only be five acres, but it packs a lot in, including a busy events calendar that features everything from Tai Chi and Zumba classes to live music performances and bingo.
That said, the park is still great for those looking to unwind. The Great Lawn is a wonderful space to have a picnic, with take-out orders available from the park’s café, Betsy at Evelyn’s Park. Walk along the trails to see the Wildflower Hill & the Native Meadow or sculptures that recreate the Alice and Wonderland tea party scene. Parents can watch their kids explore the Children’s Play Area, which has sand and water features or show them the Butterfly Wall, a colorful mosaic of bugs and butterflies.
Levy Park has something for every kind of park-goer. The Children’s Park is at the heart of the green space and is home to a climbing wall, tunnels, a seven-foot-wide slide, and a water feature to cool off on super hot days. Above the park is the Overlook, a boardwalk that meanders through the oak canopy and offers wide-reaching views of the entire area, from the dog parks to the community garden.
Not feeling active? Join the crowds kicking back on the Activity and Event Lawns, often with food-to-go from the two restaurants – the Love Shack and Woodshed – that anchor the park on either side. Community offerings like free Wi-Fi and carts with art supplies, books, and games are available. Be sure to check the calendar for free fitness classes, children's storytimes, and musical events running at this Houston outdoor hotspot.
Buffalo Bayou Park
At 3.7km-long, Buffalo Bayou Park follows Buffalo Bayou near Downtown Houston. In addition to trails and shady areas for a picnic, the 160-acre park is a destination for leisure activities of all kinds.
The Water Works is one of the hottest spots in the park as it often plays host to live performances. Skaters of all levels catch air at the ginormous Lee & Joe Jamail Skatepark while children explore boulders and waterfalls at the Barbara Fish Daniel Nature Play Area. As the sun sets, nature lovers show up to see the large Waugh Bridge Bat Colony swarm from the Waugh Drive Bridge as part of their nightly search for food.
Be inspired by more than nature at Smither Park, a creative urban space designed by innovative builder Dan Phillips and arts patron Stephanie Smither in memory of Stephanie’s late husband, John H. Smither.
The half-acre plot is filled with public artwork created by self-taught artists from across Houston, with pieces ranging from mosaic-covered sculptures to a 400-foot memory wall made of recycled and found materials. Visitors here can also size up the Lindley Fish Amphitheater (which looks like the inside of a fish’s mouth), stroll through the stark-white Marilyn Oshman Meditation Garden, and find their inner child on the Hinton & Mathre Swings. On Saturdays at 10am, you can watch artists at work who are creating new masterpieces for the park.
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