Houston has one of the most unpredictable climates in the country and a 90% vehicle ownership rate, but that doesn’t stop people from getting out and hitting the trails, especially considering the dangers of riding your bike on the roads. Last October, Mayor Parker signed an executive order that will create a citywide Complete Streets executive order, a plan that aims to make streets safer and more convenient for drivers, public transit riders, pedestrians and bikers.
In the meantime, whether you prefer to travel by bike or foot, Houston’s trails offer respite from its fast-moving city streets. If fitness is your forte, there are plenty of trails devoted to jogging. If you like to ride your bike, there are trails ranging from beginner to expert levels. Maybe a casual stroll with your sugar plumb is your thing; there are plenty of spots for that, too.
Here are our picks for the top Houston Walking or Biking Trails:
#1 Memorial Park
6501 Memorial Dr, Houston, TX 77007
Jogging: This flexible park is great for runners and offers a 2.93-mile crushed granite and packed earth running path, and a quarter mile asphalt track where runners can time themselves. See the Seymour Lieberman exercise trail here ).
Biking: Memorial Park boasts seven miles of dirt trails that range in difficulty level from intermediate to advanced skill levels. Most of the trails are identified by color, with the exception of “The Triangle” which riders say is the most difficult trail in the park. For beginners, stick to the green trail, but if you want to test your skills with fast turns and quick drops, check out the red or orange trails—they’re guaranteed to make your stomach flutter. Because of the exposed terrain, we recommend riding a sturdier mountain bike.
Why you will love it: Memorial Park is the best way to truly escape the urban aura without having to leave the city. It’s also centrally located and offers the greatest variety of trails inside the 610 Loop. Many fitness groups meet and hold classes here so it’s a great place to make friends with similar interests. Be especially cautious on all trails; because of its popularity, Memorial Park is always packed with riders and runners.
#2 Terry Hershey Park
15200 Memorial Drive, Houston, TX 77079
Biking and Running: Terry Hershey Park, AKA The Anthills, offer more than nine miles of trails. For bikers, difficulty level ranges from intermediate to expert levels. The trails are fine for running as well, but there are lots of hills that can be hard on your knees. If you’re looking for hill training though, this is the best park.
Why you will love it: The Anthills top the list in trail length. Runners and riders say it offers the most beautiful scenery considering how close it is to downtown. There are even several streams and plenty of small wildlife making their rounds, which is rather unusual for Houston. If it’s your first time at the park, or you’re meeting up with friends, be sure to plan a specific location to meet. Terry Hershey Park has several trail entrances and lots of parking options. The best places to park are 1) the lot at the southeast corner of the Dairy Ashford and Buffalo Bayou intersection, and 2) the lot off of Memorial, west of Eldridge.
#3 Rice University Track
6100 Main St., Houston, TX 77005
Running: The path is just less than three miles long and comprises mostly of crushed granite with some paved stretches. If you’re looking to extend your run though, you can always connect with the Hermann Park trails directly across the street. Bikers are welcome too, but don’t expect anything too exciting in terms of terrain. Also, make sure you bring plenty of H20 since there aren’t water fountains on site. Some runners said they had success exploring campus for a vending machine. The same goes for bathroom facilities.
Why you will love it: The Rice University running trail is perfect for residents who live near or around the Medical Center. Plus, many locals say that it’s the safest place to run in the area. Even though the trail is simply a loop around the campus, it’s lined with endless sprawling oak trees that provide excellent scenery and shade.
If you like running AND making new friends, join the Brian O’Neill (BON) Running Club (http://bon.ffprunningclubs.org). They begin and end their runs every Tuesday night at Brian O’Neill’s Pub in Rice Village. Runners can check in to track the number of times they have hit the trail, and can even earn prizes with different checkpoints and number of checkins, including an official Runners Club shirt and even a free beer for every run! Who doesn’t love a free beer?
All of this goes without mentioning the other great features of Rice Village, including the array of locally owned restaurants, boutiques and bars. Check out how Rice Village sized up on our list of Houston’s Ten Most Walkable Neighborhoods. (http://urbanleasing.com/blog/ten-walkable-neighborhoods-in-houston-part-2/)
#4 Hermann Park 6001 Fannin Houston, TX 77030
Walking, running, biking and much more: Hermann Park is a perfectly good place for an afternoon walk, run or bike ride, but as Houston’s go-to park for family fun the opportunities are truly limitless. Parking is free, but the lot fills up fast so it’s best to arrive in the morning or early afternoon. You can see a full size map of Hermann Park here (http://www.houstontx.gov/parks/pdfs/2010/HermannParkMap2010.pdf).
Why you will love it: In 1914 George H. Hermann donated 285 acres of land, and so began Houston’s iconic Hermann Park. A year later, the city purchased an additional 122 acres, and today Hermann Park houses the Houston Zoo, the Miller Outdoor Theatre, the Museum of Natural Science, the Japanese Garden and McGovern Lake—all conveniently connected by an adorable miniature train. In comparison to Memorial Park or The Anthills, Hermann Park is, by far, the most family friendly park in Houston. Where else can you watch a Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) performance, meet more than 900 animal species and go for a paddleboat ride all in one day? Also, every child deserves the chance to roll down the hill at Memorial Park at least once. To learn more about Houston’s favorite park, check out Five Great Ways to Spend a Saturday in Montrose. (http://urbanleasing.com/blog/nice-spots-in-houston-five-great-ways-to-spend-a-saturday-montrose/)
#5 Brays Bayou Trail
Meyerland, TX 77096
Bikers: This trail is perfect for commuters traveling from the west side of Houston into the center of the city. Use it with caution though; while it’s great for getting from point A to point B, you will have to cross the street several times and crosswalks aren’t always well marked.
Why you will love it: One of the greatest things about Braes Bayou trail is that you can actually use it to commute, especially if you’re headed to the Medical Center. On your way into the city you can stop by Planetary Cycles, one of Houston’s favorite bike stores that boasts 9000 square feet of bicycle heaven. One of our favorite coffee shops, Fioza Cafe , is right around the corner too. Their patio is inviting and perfect for an evening (or early morning) coffee date. The Meyerland area was recently featured on our list of the Ten Most Walkable Neighborhoods in Houston .
#6 White Oak Bayou Park and Heights Bike Trail
Bikers: If you live in the Heights and work in downtown trail was tailor made for you. It’s an easy, sheltered, direct route into downtown Houston. If you want to really get a long ride in from downtown, take this trail up to 11th Street and then head west to the TC Jester bike trail where you can hop on and ride all the way northwest along a well-maintained cement trail for approximately another 10 miles.
Why you will love it: The city has recently updated the White Oak Bayou Park so that it is a really beautiful open green park with steel art sculptures, various sports fields, and a nice trail to meander along, with park to your south and quaint bungalows to your north. Both the Heights Bike Trail and the White Oak Bayou Park (and it’s trail) make it easy for pedestrians and bikers to move through all the incredible coffee shops, boutiques, restaurants, and bars along White Oak Dr to 19th St. Start off with a cup of coffee at Boomtown and meander along 19th St window shopping at stores like Langford Market. Then head south down Heights Blvd for lunch at Revival Market where you will find local food made with a LOT of love. After you’re full, walk through the mix of large newly built homes and classic renovated bungalows filling the Ivy League streets. Enjoy the afternoon in White Oak Bayour Park and then have your pick of relaxed bars with great patios (heading from East to West): Lucky’s Pub, Little Woodrows Heights, or Onion Creek. After the refreshments, grab some Tex Orleans cooking at BB’s Cafe for your stroll back home.
#7. Buffalo Bayou Park Trail and Eleanor Tinsley Park
Bikers: This is one of the top maintained concrete paths in Houston. It is an excellent east-west route along the Buffalo Bayou. The city recently completed (and is continuing to finish) a runners path so bikers have more freedom to test their rpm max.
Runners: This is a great trail for quick 2-4 mile loops given the bridges that allow for easily controlling mileage. If you are looking for a longer loop in your marathon or ultra training, I like to tie Memorial Park into the trail via the southern sidewalk/trail along Memorial drive which can be picked up at Shepherd Blvd for 1.3 miles until the Memorial loop connects at the Crestwood intersection.
Why you will love it: This trail and the entire green space between Allen parkway and Memorial Drive has seen and continues to see drastic change through the cities renovation efforts. (The Buffalo Bayou Partnership is a great organization to get involved with the park if you’d like.) “Every time I’m down along the bayou trail I’m amazed at how I can be so close to the hustle and bustle of Houston but feel lost in a jungle of vines, trees, and wildlife (I see rabbits, birds, and foxes regularly),” Jessica St. John. If you time your evening stroll right, you’ll catch the bat colony at the Waugh Bat Bridge. While the trail is mostly popular west of downtown, it continues all the way east to Lockwood Dr. Though this is a walking and biking article, we have to mention that you can canoe the bayou, as well!