Climbing & Hiking Trails - 16 min read

15 Best Hiking Trails in Houston (Popular Urban and Scenic Hikes)

Town and Tourist

Town and Tourist, Updated September 26, 2022

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As the fourth most populous city in the United States, Houston may not be immediately synonymous with a vast array of hiking trails. Don’t let this southern city fool you though; Houston is loaded with trails that are guaranteed to fit in with your time frame and ability level.

If you’re looking for a quick hiking option within the downtown limits of Houston itself, you’ll be impressed by the number of options available. Long, well-maintained paved trails meander throughout the city’s center and intersect through numerous parks that are found throughout the downtown. Those seeking a secluded hike will find ample opportunity to escape into nature in various spots around the city’s limits.

Regardless of where you choose to hike, you can be assured that you’ll experience all that Houston’s natural landscape has to offer including wildlife, beautiful plant life, and shimmering rivers, bayous, and ponds.

Let’s check out some of the 15 best hiking trails found near and around Houston.

Best Urban Hiking Trails in Houston

1. Heights Hike and Bike Trail

Credit: Houston Chronicle

The Heights Hike and Bike Trail is an extensive concrete paved trail that follows the White Oak Bayou and crosses through the historic Heights downtown neighborhood. This trail is extremely spacious which accommodates its multi-use nature. The average trail width is an impressive 10 feet and is divided by a painted line to separate traffic. This trail is frequented by training cyclists and runners, so walkers and hikers should be mindful of keeping a passing lane accessible.

Trail visitors can expect long paved straightaways with a gentle slope the entire way, making it excellent for families. There are multiple road crossways throughout the trail, so always exercise caution when coming to these sections.

Various points of the trail offer scenic views of the cityscape of downtown Houston and there are multiple connection points along the trail that meet up with the White Oak Bayou Trail and various city parks. Hikers will also take in some of Houston’s oldest residential architecture.

Old cottages and Victorian homes are common sightings, giving you a blast to the past of some of the city’s original residents. This historic neighborhood is offset by the various peeks at downtown Houston you can witness on the trail, each portraying a little bit of Houston’s modernity.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 8.7 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 226 Feet

2. Rice University Running Trail

Credit: Tony Gonzales / Trail Run Project

If you’re seeking an established running route in the Houston area, the Rice University Running Trail is the perfect spot for endless laps. It’s a 3-mile loop trail that surrounds the Rice University campus, so runners can feel free to run for as long or as little as they want without the trail coming to an end. Runners can also link up with other trails from this location if they desire an alternate route.

Most of the trail is well paved, and runners and walkers will be refreshed by the scenery. Nearly the entire trail is encompassed by arching elm trees that cover the trail above, making it feel like a picturesque, forested tunnel within downtown Houston.

This trail does tend to be extremely popular during peak hours and is a preferred location for college students and downtown workers alike. Expect moderately crowded trails, but solitude can be found if visiting early in the morning or later in the evening. Parking is conveniently located along Main Street, Hermann Park, or any of the paid lots found on campus.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 3.0 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 13 Feet

3. Marvin Taylor Exercise Trail

Credit: Danny Perez / All Trails

The Marvin Taylor Exercise Trail is a beautiful, flat, mostly dirt trail that winds through the sprawling Hermann Park in downtown Houston. Named after Marvin Taylor, a community advocate who led volunteer efforts to clean up Hermann Park, this park and trail is open year-round and is dog friendly, although they must be leashed.

Visitors can experience much of Hermann Park’s beauty while walking the Marvin Taylor Exercise Trail, such as the towering oak trees, pristine bubbling fountains, ample waterfowl activity, and numerous bird species that call the park home. They will also experience multiple wooden footbridges that make for nice transition points.

Much like any urban park trail, this one is extraordinarily popular so visitors should expect plenty of other people while enjoying it. Overall, it is a wonderful easy level trail best enjoyed by those looking for a location to exercise, or families looking to take an afternoon stroll.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 2.0 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 9 Feet

4. Brays Bayou Hike and Bike Trail

Credit: Shutterstock

The Brays Bayou Hike and Bike Trail is a quite long urban trail that follows Brays Bayou. In total, the park runs 19.3 miles from point to point and takes an average of 7 hours to complete, making it a complete day excursion for individuals looking to walk. Because of its length, the trail is particularly popular with endurance runners and cyclists, so hikers should be aware of their passing surroundings as they enjoy this walk.

This trail runs between the Zoo area near the University of Texas Medical Center and the intersection of Bissonnet St. & Gessne. A large portion of the trail passes industrial business sections, making it one of the more urban trails on the list. Visitors will not find serene solitude in nature here, but they will find a well-maintained and expansive trail for longer adventures.

If connecting trails are of interest, there are a variety of options available near the bridges and MacGregor and Hermann Park. Hikers can also pass some of Houston’s best outdoor art collections. By veering off just slightly, you can experience the unique art landmarks found at Smither Park and The Orange Show, both sure to spark your mental creativity as you continue the rest of your hike.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 19.3 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 324 Feet

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Best Nature Trails in Houston

5. Houston Arboretum and Nature Center Outer Loop Trail

Credit: Shutterstock

The Houston Arboretum is a tranquil 155-acre nature center located within Memorial Park in Houston. It is an excellent location for people looking to take a more nature-focused walk, as none of the city’s main bustle is visible from here. There is audible noise from neighboring I-610, but this traffic can easily be ignored and replaced with the chirping calls of local birds.

This secluded wooded trail is intended only for walking, with running and biking being forbidden. While you may not be able to exercise on this trail, it is the perfect location for long leisurely strolls through a hidden downtown oasis.

Visitors can expect to witness a teeming variety of natural life in the arboretum, such as birds, small mammals, and pond life. Families with children who are looking for shorter, kid-friendly hikes are best off sticking to the inner trails of the arboretum. These trails are less than a mile long and keep you close to the nature center for access to facilities.

Most of the trail is comprised of natural materials such as dirt and woodchips, although there are a variety of boardwalks found throughout. Access to the Arboretum is free, but parking is not so be prepared for some level of payment.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 2.6 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 39 Feet

6. Memorial Park Purple and Red Loop

Credit: Memorial Park Conservancy

This trail section located in Memorial Park is a popular, but nature-surrounded walk that weaves throughout the park. There is a vast array of trails in Memorial Park, and signage is not always instantly clear, so be sure to double-check which trails you are headed for.

The Purple and Red Loop is a combined hike that encompasses mountain bike trails, so always be aware of other trail visitors. This trail is generally considered moderate when compared to most easy trails found around Houston, but it is still quite doable at only 2.5 miles. The trail is primarily dirt, so good footwear is recommended.

Various parts of the trail have the tendency to suffer washouts, so maintaining good footing is an absolute must when hiking these portions. There are multiple exercise stations available along the trail as well, making for excellent stopping points to take a break and do some stretching.

Additionally, dogs are always welcome on the trail, but they should be leashed to prevent any accidents with passing mountain bikers or pedestrians.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 2.5 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 39 Feet

7. Memorial Park Purple and Green Loop

Credit: Carrack Class / MTB Project

The Purple and Green Loop at Memorial Park is extremely similar to the Purple and Red Loop, except that the green trail passes through a more secluded, strenuous portion. Like the other trail, hikers should expect frequent passing mountain bikers as the purple trail is quite popular with them. There is also a moderate amount of construction work that is ongoing throughout the trail, so be prepared to take some additional short detours.

Hikers can expect short, but very steep verticals on the Green Trail, and most of the trails are dotted with exposed roots, making the walk slightly more adventurous than the Red Trail. If you’re bringing a bike, be prepared to dismount and walk your bike up the steeper sections as they are impassable otherwise. Due to it being off the beaten path, there is much more birding available on the Green Trail so be sure to bring your field guide if this is of interest to you.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 4.7 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 75 Feet

8. Mercer Arboretum Loop

Credit: Shutterstock

The Mercer Arboretum and Botanical Gardens lie just 23 miles north of downtown Houston in the suburb of Humble, TX. It spans 250 acres and is a very scenic hike for someone looking to get out of the city for the day. This trail is far less crowded than downtown Houston trails because of its distance from the city, but you can still expect crowds on weekends. The Arboretum and parking are entirely free, so be sure to check out the manicured gardens after you’re done with your hike.

The loop begins in Mercer Peril Park and passes through various shaded tree portions where a variety of species can be identified. Common landmarks include Oxbow Lake and Hickory Swamp, where a diverse selection of local wildlife can be spotted including birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles.

Numerous benches are located along the hike for resting, so feel free to take your time and stroll through. This hike is best done in the months of September through June and is considered easy at only 2.4 miles.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 2.4 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 32 Feet

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9. Green Ridge Trail

Credit: Blake Marvin / All Trails

The Green Ridge trail is another looping trail located with Memorial Park in Houston. It is just far enough from the city that it feels secluded, while still being very accessible.  This is considered a moderately challenging route, mostly due to the terrain, as most of the trails can get quite muddy.

This trail is popular with mountain bikers, so as with other trails always be on the lookout. Considered moderate, this trail features fun elevation drops at certain points that make for an interesting hike down. Exposed roots are commonplace, almost serving as makeshift ladder rungs to descend the steep dirt banks.

The trailhead can be difficult to locate, but it’s found near the gates at the eastern entrance of Memorial Drive. The trail is almost entirely dirt, and because of the mud, proper hiking shoes are recommended. The trail consistently follows a creek bed the entire way and while it may be a less scenic trail than others, it nonetheless serves as a fantastic nature recluse from Houston.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 2.5 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 52 Feet

10. Sheldon Lake State Park Nature Loop

Credit: Texas Parks & Wildlife

Just 15 minutes from downtown Houston, Sheldon Lake State Park is a picturesque park with wetland and prairie ecosystems. It is a prime location for those looking to experience raw nature and wildlife. The Nature Loop trail brings you through a winding selection of hatchery ponds where you can witness coastal habitats.

Throughout the hike, there are interesting sustainable landmarks including solar panels, water collection tanks, and recycled steel pipes that break up the environment. If you enjoy fishing, you can even extend your hike into a day-long excursion. The state park allows fishing without a license, so feel free to bring a rod and try your hand at fishing in the 1200-acre Sheldon Lake.

If hiking near water, always be alert. This is alligator country, and they can often hide in plain sight. Hikers can also enjoy panoramic views of the park and the Houston skyline from the John Jacob Observation Tower located within the park.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 1.8 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 6 Feet

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Long Hiking Trails Near Houston

11. The Anthills Trail

Credit: Pinterest

Not known for literal anthills but the various mountain biking jumps found throughout the trail, this hiking trail is primarily used for biking. The repeated use by mountain bikers has resulted in a trail that consists of hard-packed dirt that is easy to walk on. Hikers can still find great use out of this trail as it is one of the longer options in the Houston area.

The trail follows a river throughout its entirety and is primarily accessed off the San Houston Tollway or from the Terry Hershey trailhead. Across the river lies another popular long trail, the Buffalo Bayou trail, and various points allow for cross-river access. Due to its length, this hike is rated as moderate and it is best enjoyed when it hasn’t rained in a while, as moisture makes the trail quite muddy.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 10.4 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 360 Feet

12. The Quail Trail from San Houston Tollway

Credit: Rodolfo Rivera / MTB Project

The Quail Trail follows the same river as the Anthills trail, but this one is primarily paved with asphalt throughout. Frequented by runners and road cyclists, this trail is much more hiker friendly as it isn’t often visited by mountain bikers.

Hikers looking to check out the Anthills trail can do so by accessing it from here. There are several entrances to this trail with the most accessible being located at the parking lot off West Sam Houston Parkway North. It starts out on the Mockingbird Trail going east, so don’t be confused if the signs don’t immediately indicate the Quail Trail.

While a long trail at 11.7 miles, it is an easy hike with gentle grades throughout the duration. It is an out-and-back trail, however, so be prepared to return the way you came. If looking for a looping trail in the same area, Buffalo Bayou Loop would be a better option. All along the trail hikers can find picnic tables, drinking fountains, benches, and exercise stations making it an ideal day-long excursion.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 11.7 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 272 Feet

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13. Basin Loop

Credit: Maria Ochoa / All Trails

The Basin Loop is a mid-distance trail that takes you around the entirety of Joseph Fiorenza Park. The entire trail is paved either with asphalt or concrete, making it an easy, cruising hike. This trail is shared by runners and cyclists, and access to the trail can be found at the parking lot just off Eldridge Parkway at Westpark Drive.

The trail meanders through various watershed ponds and passes the Fiorenza Low Water Bridge. If this bridge is ever closed to high water, it can be circumvented by crossing north at the parking lot. In fact, there are several shortcuts found on the trail that are helpful for shortening your hike if you desire to do so.

Plenty of wildlife can be spotted along this hike, particularly birds of all varieties. Bald eagles, blue herons, and ducks are common sightings. This hike is very exposed and offers little sun protection, so be sure to bring lots of sun screen with you on your outing.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 5.5 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 42 Feet

14. Mockingbird Trail

Credit: Cat Dunn / All Trails

The Mockingbird Trail is one of the lengthier trails on this list, but don’t let that fool you. It’s rated as an easy hike and is even wheelchair and stroller friendly, making it accessible to even the most movement-impaired individuals.

This is an out-and-back hike, so prepare to have to turn around once you reach the end, and plan accordingly if you can’t make it that far. With an average completion time of 3 hours and 45 minutes, it makes for an excellent day hike broken up by a midday lunch.

This trail follows the Buffalo Bayou starting at Memorial Drive and ending at Barker Access Road. There are several access points along the trail with plenty of parking, so you can always shorten the hike if you want. The trail is typically seven feet wide in all locations leaving plenty of room for passing cyclists and runners, but always be alert to your surroundings. Like every other trail on this list, dogs are allowed but must always remain on a leash.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 10.8 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 118 Feet

15. Buffalo Bayou Loop

Credit: Visit Houston

As one of the most popular trails in Houston, the Buffalo Bayou Loop sees a massive amount of visitation, and for good reason. This gorgeous well-maintained trail follows the Buffalo Bayou and crosses through numerous city parks that are found along the water. Also known as the Sandy Reed Memorial trail, this paved trail cuts right throughout Houston and encounters many popular tourist locations.

The western portion of the trail is the most popular and offers the most amount of shade. Along this section, you’ll even discover a live bat colony that has made its home under the Waugh Drive Bridge. For hikers that are looking for aquatic action, you can launch canoes and kayaks at various locations along the trail, particularly near Sabine Street Bridge and City Lot H.

Additionally, there are plenty of picnic areas and breakpoints along the trail making it ideal for families looking to make frequent stops.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 4.8 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 206 Feet

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