May represents a sweet spot for Houston outdoor enthusiasts — generally warm and sunny (well, usually), but not yet so hot that a hike can turn into a sauna treatment.
Also, many local landscapes look their best this time of year, with the woods and prairies greened up by spring rains and many plants still in bloom. Take advantage of the timing by hitting these scenic Houston-area trails now.
Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge
The 44,413 acres of this refuge contain salt and freshwater marshes, sloughs, ponds, coastal prairie, and bottomland forest, offering great wildlife watching from alligators to waterfowl. Hiking trails include the half-mile Big Slough, with boardwalks over the slough and wildlife observation platforms, and the two-mile Middle Bayou elevated trail following an abandoned railway through rare bluestem coastal prairie. Brazoria also has a 7.5-mile driving trail that circles large ponds. Stop at the Discovery Center for guides to the hikes and drive.
Brazos Bend State Park
This state park southwest of Houston has 37 miles of trails. Start at the parking lot for the Pilant Slough Trail and combine the Elm Lake and 40 Acre Lake Trails for a scenic four miles around two of the park’s shallow lakes. The route passes three observation decks, with alligator sightings practically guaranteed. The park also has campsites, screened shelters and cabins, as well a Nature Center and the George Observatory, a facility of the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Check the website before visiting, as the park can flood after heavy rains.
Houston Arboretum Ravine Trail
A new trail in the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center near Memorial Park, 4501 Woodway Dr., crosses a riparian ecosystem and two bridges over an actual ravine created by a tributary of Buffalo Bayou. A concrete section provides ADA accessibility to the north bridge for views across the ravine. The park has a number of other trails currently undergoing renovation as part of its master plan, so keep it in mind for future hikes.
George Mitchell Nature Preserve, The Woodlands
This preserve in The Woodlands includes three miles of single-track bike trails and a two-mile hiking loop through wetlands, bottomland, and forest. Access at the Flintridge Drive Trailhead in the Village of Indian Springs, 5171 Flintridge Dr. Another five miles of “rustic” trails (i.e. expect some obstacles) can be reached via the Creekside Forest Drive trailhead in The Woodlands Village of Creekside Park.
Lake Houston Wilderness Park
This 4,786-acre wooded parkland north of town off Highway 59 has cabins, campsites, kayaking, and 20 miles of trails for hiking and biking plus 13 more for equestrians. (BYO bike, kayak, or horse.) Combining the Forest, North River, and South River Trails creates a seven-mile, out-and-back hike to the San Jacinto River, over Peach Creek and through woods containing pines, magnolias, and other trees, along with American beautyberry and hummingbird vine.
Lone Star Hiking Trail
This 129-mile National Recreation Trail winds through the Sam Houston National Forest from its eastern edge near Cleveland to its western edge near Richards. Bite off the more manageable 27-mile section from a trailhead on FM 1725 north of Cleveland to one on National Forest Road 2126 off FM 945 north of Magnolia. Multiple trailheads on this route make it possible to choose even shorter hikes. Camping is permitted anywhere along the trail (except hunting season, September 15-February 1 each year), and a full-service campground at Double Lake Recreation Area makes for an easy overnight.