IF YOU LEFT THE LAST BUFFALO BAYOU REGATTA feeling inspired to do some paddling of your own, you’re in luck: Although Houston is not always thought of as a city with ample outdoor recreation activities, there is actually plenty of canoeing and kayaking to be done.
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 can 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, which begins the trail at 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 roundup of top spots for kayak, SUP, canoe and pedal boat rentals and tours:
Best known as the outfit that provides watercraft in Buffalo Bayou Park, this company also offers tours and rentals 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.
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 that 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 waived for law enforcement, retired military and “ministers of all faiths.”
Hermann Park Conservancy has a fun and easy way to get out on the water with a hands-free and less conventional paddle ride (you still have to use your feet to pedal!). Take the family out for a day to McGovern Lake to see fish, ducks and waterfowl that call Hermann Park’s 8-acre lake home. Open seven days a week, from 10 to 5 p.m., this makes it a great midweek destination. The cost is $12 per boat for 30 minutes. Boats accommodate up to four people. For hours and information about riding the pedal boats, visit the website.
Head north of the city to Lake Woodlands to Lakes Edge Boat House, located in Hughes Landing and open to the public. The new facility offers kayak and paddleboard rentals that are just a short walk from Restaurant Row, Whole Foods and the boardwalk on Lake Woodlands. Rental options include single kayaks, tandem kayaks and stand-up paddle boards. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, they have a second location at Riva Row Boat House, located on the lower waterway, and it takes about 20 to 25 leisurely minutes to reach Lake Woodlands by watercraft from the docks. Prices range from $20 to $30 for one to four hours of paddling. Hours of operation for Lakes Edge Boat House are Thursday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to sunset. The last chance to rent a boat is an hour before sunset.
If you’re looking for a peaceful and more nature-driven kayak experience, drive 30 minutes north of the Woodlands to North Lake Conroe Paddling Co. Located on the northeast side of Lake Conroe, also known as the low-key side with less boat traffic, you’ll find a serene view, perfect for paddling in peace. Plus, the north side of Lake Conroe is the gateway to Sam Houston National Forest. Fees and services vary, but prices have remained the same for 19 years, according to owner Lawrence "Larry" Mason. Services include solo, tandem, youth and fishing kayak rentals, as well as SUP boards. Prices start at $30 for two hours of kayaking and include all fees, the kayak, paddling and safety gear, complimentary area maps and dry bags. Reservations are required.
Discover the wildlife you didn't know existed in the Houston area by paddling the lesser-known Armand Bayou watershed and its surrounding waterways. Pinky’s Kayak Rentals starts your wildlife adventure at Bay Area Park, where you can paddle to five different areas: Big Island Slough, Spring Gully, Armand Bayou, Horsepen Bayou and Lake Mark Kramer. Services include single, tandem (two people) kayaks and three self-guided tours a day: 8 a.m., 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Prices vary from $45 per single kayak for three hours, $55 per tandem kayak for three hours, and group rates of five or more have a 20% discount. Pinky’s Kayak Rentals is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Reservations are required for all services and can be made over the phone or from the website. The website even has a few tips for alligator safety, just in case you end up paddling past one.