Winter Road Trips

Day Trips to Take Out of Houston in 2.5 Hours or Less

Wine tasting, antiquing, alligators, and more.

By Geneva Diaz and Ana Garcia Published in the Winter 2022 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Image: Sunny Eckerle

Texas is so big we've made a slogan out of it. But for those of you who aren't interested in driving across the state for days, we’ve gathered some fun short trips that will have you back home in your cozy bed the same night.


 

George Observatory

Image: Courtesy HMNS

1. George Observatory

Brazos Bend

Brazos Bend State Park is not only great for hikes and bird watching, it’s also the home of the George Observatory and its three domed telescopes, including the 36-inch Gueymard Research Telescope, one of the largest in the United States.

2. Lake Houston Wilderness Park

Lake Houston

Just an hour’s drive from the city is Houston’s only park that allows overnight camping. Book an A-frame cabin and escape to nature for a day or two. There are more than 20 miles of trails perfect for hiking, mountain biking, and running. The most popular trail is Peach Creek Trail, a 4.2-mile out-and-back trail that follows the creek and takes about 1.5 hours to complete.

 

Newman’s Castle in Bellville.

3. Newman’s Castle

Bellville 

Did you know there’s a castle located an hour from Houston? Mike Newman custom-built his own European inspired castle, like the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany. Book a tour online, check in at Newman’s Bakery, and grab some fresh pastries before exploring this hidden gem in Bellville.

4. Cast Iron Winery

Sealy

Sit back on the patio, watch chickens, and beautiful sunsets while swirling a glass of their Petite Sirah. Make a day of it and go on a self-guided tour through the Texas Independence Wine Trail that features eight award-winning wineries, all located one hour from Houston in places like Sealy, La Grange, and Bellville. 

Gruene is home to the oldest dancehall in the state.

5. Foodie Town in Gruene

New Braunfels

Explore this German-Texan historic district of New Braunfels. As one of the most unique dining spots in Texas, Gruene is home to the oldest dancehall in the state, and rests in the ruins of an 1878 cotton gin overlooking the Guadalupe River. Head to the Gristmill River Restaurant & Bar for some of the best chicken fried steak and chicken fried chicken you’ve ever had.

6. San Marcos Glass Bottom Boat Tour

San Marcos

Go on a glass-bottom boat tour of a crystal clear spring lake in San Marcos. The tour used to be one of the most popular attractions at Aquarena Springs, one of the first amusement parks in Texas back in the ’50s. 

 

Texas State Railroad in Palestine.

7. Texas State Railroad

Palestine

Sit back, enjoy a drink, and relax as you lose yourself on a four hour round-trip, 25-mile rail journey through the Piney Woods of East Texas, located between the quaint towns of Palestine and Rusk.

8. Antiquing

Round Top

Go shopping at Rancho Pillow in Round Top, a whimsical vintage boutique and gallery with Latin folk art treasures. Ask owner Sheila Youngblood about her collection of curiosities!

9. Boot & Hat House 

Huntsville

If you’ve already checked out the famous Beer Can House in the Heights, created by artist Dan Phillips, take a drive up to Huntsville to snap a selfie in front of the Boot and Hat House! Both houses sit side by side and are made from recycled and donated material. 

10. Gator Country Sanctuary 

Beaumont

“Quick hands or no hands” is the slogan at Gator Country in Beaumont. If you dare, wade in the water with gators and interact with crocodiles, snakes, lizards, tortoises, caimans, and over 450 other reptiles. Co-owner Arlie Hammonds’ demonstrations are both educational and highly entertaining.

11. Fishing

Port Arthur 

Aside from being home to legendary singer Janis Joplin, Port Arthur offers an ideal place for anglers to reel in a personal best in the vast marshy wetlands surrounding Sabine Lake. People travel from all around the nation for access to some of the best brackish-saltwater fishing with a chance to catch redfish, flounder, and trout. 

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