Total zen at Bay Area Park.

Ah, nature. It’s the perfect antidote to the election madness, is it not? Thanks to its myriad mental health benefits—nature can lower our blood pressure, stress and anxiety, and even improve our mood—we highly recommend you head outdoors this week to escape the ... well, you know. We get it though. Some of our popular inner loop parks can get mighty crowded. 

Here now are five ways to enjoy the great outdoors without having to bump elbows with anyone, except maybe a cool bird or two.

Sunset is when Bay Area Park is a true charmer.

Find a meditation spot (and a gator) at Bay Area Park.

If a scenic overlook is your jam, this low-key 64-acre park on Armand Bayou is just for you—complete with an Insta-worthy waterway, tons of bird life, and a resident gator or two.  There's no entry fee, and you don't even have to do much walking to find a serene spot to enjoy the water (some folks bring camping chairs and park them right on the water's edge). It’s just a splendid meditation spot, though folks also come here to launch kayaks and take their squad to the popular dog park. There's also a small, peaceful Oasis Garden that's perfect for zoning out. Do bring a picnic and blanket (the grass here is lush), or hit up the The Snoball & Popcorn Hut (about a five-minute drive) beforehand for snow cones to bring with you—they have the biggest selection of flavors in the Houston area and tasty gourmet popcorn blends too. 7500 Bay Area Blvd

Go birding at the Matt Cook Memorial Wildlife Viewing Platform.

On a backroad seemingly in the middle of nowhere, you’ll see the birding platform rise out of the countryside. Or you might entirely miss it and have to do a U-turn at a salt plant—no biggie. Any way you come by the Katy Prairie Conservancy's birding sanctuary, you'll have a fine time walking out into the tall grass of the Shrike Prairie, climbing the platform, and listening to the wind in your ears. It's so majestic; it's ... Houston? Bring your binoculars to spot the various water fowl attracted year-round to the 140-acre Warren Lake in the near distance. Located on Warren Ranch Rd

Walk the trails at Challenger Seven Memorial Park.

Opened in 1986 in honor of the Challenger Space Shuttle crew, this spacious park in Webster is home to miles of trails that wind through woods—beware, feral hogs—and over pristine prairie (you will see deer). There's a fishing pond, a steep hill that’s great for runners looking to do some short repeats, a natural Mother Earth sculpture, and even a launch-ramp for canoes and kayaks on Clear Creek. The park is a treasure, but do bring bug spray. 2301 W NASA Blvd

A new greenspace destination awaits at the Houston Botanic Garden.

Learn about our native (and non-native) plant species at Houston Botanic Garden.

The massive 132-acre property (formerly the Glenbrook Park Golf Course) has 2.5 miles of trails and six brand new "gallery" spaces (i.e. gardens) to explore as part of its launch. Yes, it's brand new. Yes, there is much more to come in the decades ahead as part of the 30 year master plan.  But it's worth the trip now to see the start of something wonderful—this will be one of the city's finest green spaces destinations—along with some very interesting plants (rare skutch maples, African grasses, and more oddities) and an enchanting Discovery Garden built for the kids. Single day tickets are $12.50 for adults and $8 for students (with current ID) and kids (3 and up), Monday–Thursday; $15 for adults and $10 for students and kids, Friday–Sunday. 1 Botanic Ln

Discover our Bayou Greenways ...

... at Mason Park:

The 108-acre greenspace situated along Brays Bayou in the East End is home to a 485-foot pedestrian bridge and 2-plus miles of waterfront greenway trails. You’ll spot numerous birds, a wetlands area, and great views of downtown in the distance. 541 S 75th St

... at Thomas Bell Foster Park:

A half-mile segment of Greens Bayou Greenway now connects Thomas Bell Foster Park to Normandy Street. The new linear park includes the addition of a 10-foot wide concrete multi-use trail and access to nearly 14 acres of green space along Greens Bayou Drive. 12895 Greens Bayou St

... along new stretches of Sims Bayou:

Sims Bayou Greenway is bustling these days, with a new park and trailhead in Southeast Houston at the northeast corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Airport Boulevard, with its own parking lot and solar lighting, seating areas, picnic tables, signage, trash cans, and recycling bins.  There’s also a nearly 4-mile out-and-back segment of Sims Bayou Greenway in the Park Place area that connects Milby Park to the Houston Botanic Garden.  

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