Though Houston may not have the outdoorsy reputation of our sisters-in-magazines, Portland and Seattle, the truth is that the Bayou City has plenty to offer those brave enough to buck the driving-everywhere trend. Our trails and streets offer a supreme slice of outdoor life if you know where to go.
My favorite place, hands down, is the Brays Bayou. While Houston always has adventure around a corner, Brays is the perfect to place to take a beat for walkers, joggers, cyclists and wanderers.
Tucked just behind University of Houston campus, the opening stretch of the Brays Bayou trail runs through some old real-estate: You start with an older apartment complex on your right and a much newer one across the Bayou on your left, with UH’s Greek housing at your back. But then everything melts into a scenic realm. The slim trail is well-paved asphalt that cuts through the fecund landscape. Trees dot the surrounding area, filled with lush grass and, at times, oodles of wild flowers.
On the inside of the trail is the gentle but steep curve downwards, to the running stream (or river, depending on the rain). There’s the occasional bench and trashcan along the trails edge.
As you take the curve further, the surrounding imagery envelopes you. You seem to see green everywhere alongside magnificently maintained two-story houses of every shape and size. No matter how many runs you've made on the trail, you may wonder where you’re going every time. Are you even in a city? Or have you somehow been transplanted to suburban Narnia?
But soon, the Scott Street intersection comes into view and your horizon is swallowed up by the Houston skyline—your one-mile marker. There are few things more satisfying and alluring than the sudden shift of scenery.
The trail curves on ahead. The heart of Houston and bright Texas sky are all around you. There will be a couple bridges connecting the trails on each side of the bayou, in case you want to turn around and finish the run as a big loop like I do. Your next roadway intersection isn’t until Ardmore (which is your rough two-mile marker, though technically you hit two miles at Sampson Street).
For you middle- to long-distance runners, this is just another mile marker (assuming you want to run a full loop), and the greater fun is yet to come. In about half a mile the trail dips underneath Highway 288. The roar from the overarching freeways is riveting. Behold the beat and thrum of Houston.
In less than .3 miles, the trail dissects into an underpass/tunnel that connects to Hermann Park (which is roughly your three-mile marker). It’s the icing on the cake and an easy way to extend your run. Hermann Park offers two miles of shaded, scenic running as it abuts the Medical Center, Museum District, the Houston Zoo and Rice University.
Here you will face the greatest challenge of your run: take a lap or more at Hermann, explore the surrounding area (like Miller Outdoor Theater), keep going on the Brays and see what the Med Center looks like on the bayou level, or turn around and run the three-mile Brays stretch backwards.