If you left the last Buffalo Bayou Regatta feeling inspired to do some paddling of your own, you're in luck: Though not always thought of as a city with ample outdoor recreation activities, there is actually plenty of canoeing and kayaking to be done in Houston.
In addition to the increasingly popular 26-mile Buffalo Bayou Paddling Trail—the first in the city, as designated by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, which takes you all the way from Highway 6 to Allen's Landing in the middle of downtown—Houston is home to a variety of kayak-friendly waterways.
Beginners and kids would enjoy the 4.8-mile Cooks Lake to Scatterman Paddling Trail in Beaumont, which offers plenty of wildlife along the cypress-lined Neches River. Those in search of something more epic should seek out the 35.4-mile Stephen F. Austin Paddling Trail in Brazoria County, comprised of four connected waterways: the Columbia Bottomland that begins the trail at the Brazos River County Park, the Old Settlement Passage, the Sugar Mill Stretch, and the Gulf Prairie Run that finishes in Freeport.
Most of us, however, don't have kayaks of our own nor the vehicles needed to haul them around. That's where these local companies come in, giving you all the training, instruction, life vests and watercraft you'll need to enjoy an afternoon on the water—sans commitment to purchasing a canoe.
Below, a round-up of four top spots for kayak and canoe rentals and tours:
Best known as the outfit that provides watercraft in Buffalo Bayou Park, this company also offers tours and rental across town, with everything from stand-up paddleboards in Discovery Green and surfing lessons in Surfside to private paddling tours of Green Bayou and Armand Bayou. You can even purchase season passes that get you unlimited rentals at both Discovery Green and Sugar Land Memorial Park, where Bayou City Adventures recently began offering kayak and paddleboard rentals along the Brazos River.
Since 1993, this Spring-area company has been renting all manner of watercraft and leading all manner of tours. If you don't need a guide—just the gear—they'll outfit you with carrying racks for your car as well as dry bags and other accessories. If you do need some help, SouthWest offers guided expeditions, classes ranging from QuickStart intros to more advanced forms of river and surf kayaking, and they can even show you how and where to go fishing on your kayak.
Up at Lake Conroe, you can careen across the water on a jet ski or, for one-quarter of the price at this outfitter, you can rent a kayak and glide your way past the pines. 1097 Watersports, which can tell you plenty of pretty paths to take around the lake, also offers canoe rentals and private boat rentals if you're planning a party. Best of all, you can book it all online.
At this operation on Clear Lake in Seabrook, you can learn to sail everything from a sailboat to a sunfish to a catamaran. But the aptly-named Let's Go Sailing also offers canoe and kayak rentals, picking you up and dropping you off at your request, which means all you have to do is sit back, relax and paddle. You'll also find tours of Armand Bayou and the lesser-known Jarboe Bayou, as well as special prices and discounts all around: twilight sessions between 5 and 7 p.m. cost less than half ($20 for a single kayak for two hours, as opposed to the standard $50) while rental fees are entirely waived for law enforcement, retired military and "ministers of all faiths."