A good family-friendly first stop is Brazos Bend State Park, an easy 40-minute drive south of downtown offering 5,000 acres of ever-changing terrain, including coastal prairies, forests, and wetlands. Alligators often lounge mere feet from the paths that wind around the park’s several lakes (which you should consider either a recommendation or a warning). Otherwise, the park offers flat, gentle hiking that all ages will enjoy, although a morning arrival is highly recommended, especially during the searing summer months. Adult passes are $7, though children 12 and under get in for free.
Memorial Park’s Houston Arboretum and Nature Center, a sanctuary for native plants and animals, is a consistent delight, its grounds open every day from 7 a.m. to dusk and boasting five miles of scenic trails. The specialty gardens are especially charming, with the Sensory Garden and Hummingbird & Butterfly Island offering insightful looks at insect life and botanical riches. There’s something for everybody here, even the shall-remain-nameless family member who’s always on his iPhone: the Discovery Room features touch-screen exhibits. Oh, and admission is free.
Several miles west of the Arboretum, along a six-mile stretch of Buffalo Bayou, lies Terry Hershey Park. There, cyclists will love the “Anthills”—as the bike trails are called—cutting through dense forests along the bayou. Not a two-wheeling kind of family? There are also paved walking paths, a boat launch, exercise stations, picnic areas, playgrounds, and gardens flush with classic Texas bluebonnets, though only in spring.