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You might not think of Houston as a hot spot for outdoor adventures, but if you look hard enough, you can find plenty of them in and around the city. Whether you’re into running or biking, kayaking or climbing, there are tons of Houston outdoor activities that are perfect for you, no matter your skill level.

While we could come up with 100 ways to spend a day outdoors in Space City, we’ve created this list of 12 incredible outdoor adventures in Houston as a starting point for you to plan your own epic outdoor excursion!

Best Houston Outdoor Activities

Photo Credit: Patrick Feller (Flickr CC)

1. Kayak through Buffalo Bayou

The most stunning views of the Houston skyline can be found along the waters of Buffalo Bayou. While you can see the skyline along the bayou’s pathways, one of the coolest Houston outdoor activities is renting a kayak and paddling through Buffalo Bayou. Extending a whole 53 miles through Houston, there’s plenty of space in the bayou to go kayaking for just an hour or an entire day!

To rent a kayak and go paddling on your own, head to Lost Lake Visitor Center and visit the kiosk at Bayou City Adventures. There, you can get a kayak starting at $30 per hour, and if you rent before 3 pm, you can get an extra hour for free! If you’d prefer a guided kayaking excursion, Bayou City Adventures also offers lessons and tours, perfect for those just starting out or wanting an expert guide to lead the way.

Read More: 10 Incredible Places to Go Kayaking in Houston

2. Try Stand Up Paddle Boarding at 288 Lake

If you’re looking for another paddling alternative to kayaking, stand up paddle boarding is a fantastic outdoor activity in Houston. Perfect for sunny, warm days, there are tons of places to go stand up paddle boarding in Houston and the surrounding areas.

Our favorite spot for stand up paddle boarding in all of Houston is at 288 Lake. Situated south of downtown, it’s easy to get to and manageable for all levels of paddlers – even complete beginners! 288 Lake has its own paddle board rental service, and you can rent by the hour. While paddling there, you’ll find cool water clean enough for swimming, a spacious area to paddle around, and fellow triathlon trainers swimming alongside you.

Aside from 288 Lake, here are a few of our favorite Houston paddle boarding spots:

  • Lake Conroe
  • Clear Lake/Kemah
  • Buffalo Bayou

Read More: 8 Peaceful Places to Go Stand Up Paddle Boarding in Houston

3. Go surfing at Surfside Beach

We bet you didn’t think surfing was an activity you could do in Houston! However, it’s possible to hit the waves just an hour outside of the city at Surfside Beach. If you already know how to surf, it’s as easy as grabbing a board and hitting the waves!

There are a handful of surfboard rental spots in Surfside Beach, including Explore More, which rents surfboards, SUPs, and kayaks. Additionally, if you don’t know how to surf and want to learn, you can book a surfing lesson with Bayou City Adventures, which runs tours and lessons to Surfside Beach from Houston regularly.

Photo Credit: faungg’s photos

4. Run the Outer Loop at Rice University

One of the most beloved running trails in all of Houston is Rice University’s outer loop, which is a beautiful, oak-lined gravel path that spans approximately 2.7 miles in length. On a run around and into the campus, you can see iconic university sights like the Sallyport, Brochstein Pavilion, and its beautiful quad. Consistently rated as one of the most beautiful campuses in the country, taking a morning run through here is one of the best Houston outdoor activities.

While you can see other runners on the trail virtually any time of day, the best time to run at Rice is in the early morning, before the Houston sun gets too hot and muggy. The shade of the oak trees provides a nice, cool spot for a run well into the morning.

If you’d like to extend your run, head into the campus to see the sights, or onward across the street into Hermann Park. During a run in Hermann Park, you can see the Japanese Garden, the Houston Zoo, and the park’s expansive golf course. For the runners out there, Rice and the surrounding areas are arguably the best spots in the entire city to get some miles under your belt.

Read More: 15 Awesome Trails for Running in Houston

5. Climb at the largest bouldering gym in the country

One of the most interesting additions to Houston’s climbing scene is Momentum Indoor Climbing. They’ve got two locations in the Houston area, in the Heights and in Katy.

While the Katy location has both top rope/lead climbing and bouldering, the Silver Street location is unique because it’s a bouldering-only gym, and they claim that it’s the largest in the country! Yep, that means no harnesses are necessary there – just shoes, chalk, and a sense of grit.

With over five enormous walls and climb-over boulders in the gym, you are sure to never get bored in this gym. One part of the gym gets new routes every week, with the whole gym getting a turnover every month or two. Additionally, Momentum has excellent training facilities for cross-training, including a weight room and yoga. The gym also offer a moon board, hang bars, and pegs to improve your climbing skills.

If bouldering scares you, don’t worry – the Silver Street location has thick pads under all climbing areas to cushion your fall. Monthly memberships are available for locals who want to come regularly and improve their climbing skills.

Read More: 7 Epic Places to Go Rock Climbing in Houston

6. Take a Houston city walking tour

If you’re hoping to learn more about the city and its history, a walking tour is an excellent option for outdoor activities in Houston. While it does get pretty hot in the city, a walking tour is best done during the fall, winter, and spring (as in, during the milder times of year!).

Luckily, there are tons of Houston walking tour options that can keep you occupied no matter what you’re interested in. Houston has some fascinating historic sites, as well as some of the best and most underrated food options in the United States – all which you can experience on a city walking tour. Here are a couple of the most interesting Houston walking tours we’ve got on our radar:

Book Now: Houston City Walking Tours

Photo Credit: faungg’s photos (Flickr CC)

7. Hike in a Different Biosphere

While you might see Houston as a giant, daunting concrete sprawl, there are actually several great nature areas to explore nearby if you look for them. From alligator conservation areas to coastal nesting grounds, you can find a ton of plant and wildlife diversity in the Houston area. Hiking is a great way to get out of the city and immerse yourself in some of these underrated spots. In fact, it’s one of our absolute favorite Houston outdoor activities!

There are several places to go hiking that have different terrain than the swampy, dusty grounds of Houston. Here are a few options for hiking trails not far from downtown Houston:

  • Big Thicket Park – Tropical forests and plant life meets Houston swamps at Big Thicket, a large park and nature conservancy located near the Louisiana border. Here, you can see a variety of reptiles like alligators and turtles, as well as tropical carnivorous plants and mosses.
  • Galveston Island State Park – For coastal marshes and the opportunity to see various bird species, head to Galveston Island State Park. Here, you can enjoy birds like herons along the seaside, crossing through wooden bridges and along sandy shores.
  • Natural Bridge Caverns – For an incredible and unique subterranean experience, head to Natural Bridge Caverns, where you can admire giant stalagmites and stalactites from a well-lit, paved pathway.

Read More: 15 Stunning Places to Go Hiking in Houston

Photo Credit: Mike Lapidakis (Flickr CC)

8. Join a bike ride with Critical Mass

Houston is a fantastic city for cyclists and people who enjoy biking. Not only are there tons of miles of open roads, but there are also several bike-friendly trails to enjoy and explore around the city.

For bikers of any experience level, Critical Mass is a local social biking organization aimed at promoting biking throughout the city of Houston. They organize monthly free night-time rides starting in downtown, as well as other biking-related social events all over the Houston area. People usually deck out their bikes in lights and reflective material, and there are typically dozens of bikers that travel in the Critical Mass pack. The monthly Critical Mass rides range from 18-25 miles in length and are typically taken at a leisurely (read: not very fast) pace.

Read More: 14 Paved and Gravel Trails for Biking in Houston

9. Watch the bats fly at Waugh Bridge

For nature enthusiasts, there’s an incredible phenomenon that happens most summer nights around sunset at Waugh Bridge: the bat colony comes out to play. What this means is that typically, hundreds of bats will fly out from their home under the bridge simultaneously, flapping into the pink and orange sky in hordes to catch their night-time meals.

Watching the Waugh Drive Bat Colony is one of the most unique outdoor activities in Houston, as there are few urban environments that give rise to such a spectacle. Some say that the Waugh Bridge colony is the largest of Mexican free-tailed bats in Texas as a whole, and lives in Houston year-round. For more tips on viewing these Houston bats, head to this guide.

Photo Credit: Shiva Shenoy (Flickr CC)

10. Explore the Houston bay area by water or land

Kemah is on the far eastern side of Houston, and is most famous for its buzzing boardwalk that has tons of rides, shops, and restaurants. Located on the bay, it’s a waterfront entertainment zone that’s great for a day trip or a weekend getaway (without actually leaving the city!).

One thing that locals don’t know is that Kemah is also a fabulous place to go kayaking in Houston. With several bay areas to explore, it’s a paddler’s paradise, and there’s enough to see and do there to fill an entire day. You can pair your day at Kemah with a fun kayaking excursion or tour in Clear Lake.

In the Kemah area, you can rent a kayak or stand up paddle board from nearby Kayak Shack, which offers rentals starting at $25 an hour. They also offer guided tours of the various landmarks in the area – two of the most fun ones are their Friday night fireworks tour and their sunset tour (both available for booking on their website).

Photo Credit: Trey Perry (Flickr CC)

11. Enjoy a boat ride at Lake Conroe

Lake Conroe is Houston’s most popular lakeside getaway, and it’s a perfect short trip to go boating for a few hours. We’ll admit it – Lake Conroe isn’t quite within Houston city limits, but it’s a very easy day trip that’s popular among Houston locals!

The lake is 21,000 acres, and is full of people in pontoon boats, jet skis, paddle boards, and more. Boasting plenty of docks and green spaces along its shores, Lake Conroe a lovely place to escape the downtown area, go kayaking or boating, and soak up the summer sun.

In the Lake Conroe area, there are a few places to rent a boat if you don’t have your own. Boat rentals at 1097 Watersports start at $22 per hour, and they have both non-motorized and motorized boats. 

Don’t forget your sunscreen and hat (two of the most important kayaking gear essentials), since there isn’t much shade in the area. Additionally, be careful on especially crowded days, as there are often lots of people all over Lake Conroe speeding around on motor boats and jetskis.

Photo Credit: itsdorian (Flickr CC)

12. Explore Buffalo Bayou Park

Buffalo Bayou Park is one of Houston’s most iconic parks, and is located just outside of downtown. The park boasts fabulous skyline views of the city, and is the perfect place for an outdoor adventure in Houston.

Underneath the park, visit a unique underground cistern you can visit that has many years of history. The park offers daily tours of the cistern that you can book in advance. Frequently, there are unique art installations in the cistern, such as a light show that uses the pillars and walls to create a mesmerizing and hypnotic effect.

There’s a 4.8-mile loop in the park that’s popular with runners, bikers, and hikers, that offers up beautiful skyline views and lots of greenery. Additionally, the Buffalo Bayou Trail extends through the park for 15 miles, and is a popular spot for hikers, bikers, and runners. Filled with industrial bridges, tons of trees and plants, and the flowing Buffalo Bayou, it’s a perfect spot for urban hiking in Houston.

Outdoor Activities in Houston: Additional Resources

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Deep dish pizza, baseball games, and stunning architecture…all things that typically come to mind when people think of Chicago. As the third largest city in the United States, brutal winters and a budding food scene mean there are tons of things to do indoors here. What is perhaps more surprising is the abundance of Chicago outdoor activities to try.

With the Chicago River, Lake Michigan, and tons of green spaces at the city’s disposal, Chicago is a fantastic and totally underrated city for outdoor enthusiasts. Here are 10 of the most unique and fun outdoor activities in Chicago.

Want to explore the outdoors in Chicago? Check out our Chicago adventure guides:

Chicago Outdoor Activities: Best Things to Do in Chicago, Illinois

1. Go kayaking on the Chicago River

There’s really no better way to explore Chicago than from the water, and the Chicago River is a great place to start. While you can take the iconic architecture tour or a riverboat city tour, one of our favorite ways to see the city is by kayak.

Renting a kayak in Chicago is a stress-free way to see the city at your leisure. Take in sights like the iconic bridges, the architecture, and the Chicago Riverwalk while enjoying a day on the water.

Kayak rentals in Chicago typically start at $20 per person per hour, and you can rent at several places along the river. Read our Chicago kayaking guide to learn more about the best places to rent a kayak and explore in the city.

If you’d prefer a guided excursion, there are lots of awesome and unique kayaking tours in Chicago. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Chicago River Kayaking Tour – This classic 2.5-hour kayaking tour of the city, led by a local guide, will take you past historic sights and architectural marvels.
  • Ghosts & Gangsters Kayaking Tour – For a spooky paddling adventure, there’s no tour more unique or active than the Chicago Ghosts & Gangsters Kayaking Tour. Learn about the city’s haunted past while paddling down the historic Chicago River in the dark.

2. Take a free walking tour

Chicago locals take great pride in the fact that their city is such a walkable one, and it’s true! Between the many lines of the “L” train and good old-fashioned walking, you can basically get anywhere in the city without a car.

One of our favorite ways to explore Chicago is simply by walking everywhere. You can explore the various neighborhoods of Chicago on your own, grabbing a famous Chicago deep dish slice or hot dog along the way.

However, if you want to get a deeper glimpse into Chicago, we’d strongly recommend taking one of the city’s free walking tours. If you don’t know how these work, you basically don’t have to pay for your tour, just tip the guide what you thought the tour was worth at the end! Chicago’s free walking tours run every day during the warmer months of the year and cover topics like architecture, ghosts and legends, and the mafia history of the city.

Chicago locals (us included) love these tours as much as tourists do – it’s a great way to learn about the city whether you live here or not!

3. Explore Lake Michigan on a stand up paddle board

There are tons of ways to get out on Lake Michigan, but one of the best and most cost-effective is on a stand up paddle board. Paddle boarding is becoming an increasingly popular activity in Chicago, as the lake water is refreshingly cool in the summer and it’s a fun, active adventure you can have without leaving the city.

While there are lots of places along Lake Michigan that you can rent a stand up paddle board, two of the most popular are at Monroe Harbor (south of Navy Pier) and North Avenue Beach (east of Lincoln Park). Urban Kayaks and Chicago SUP have rental locations at these piers, respectively. Usually, you can simply walk up to either company and rent a paddle board on the spot.

We’ll be the first to admit that on especially windy days, paddle boarding on Lake Michigan isn’t always a walk in the park. However, it can be a wonderful way to get a workout while enjoying Chicago’s outdoors and catching some of the most epic views of Navy Pier and the Chicago skyline.

The Lakefront Trail is one of the most popular Chicago running trails.

4. Run along the Lakefront Trail

For those who want to get some miles under their belts, there’s no better place to go running in Chicago than on the Lakefront Trail. This 18-mile stretch of walking, running, and biking trail runs parallel to the shores of Lake Michigan, meaning you’ll have a great view of the water and the city’s many beaches for the duration of your run. You can also catch great views of Navy Pier, Grant Park, the Museum District, and the city skyline from the Lakefront Trail.

In our opinion, the best time to go for a jog on the Lakefront Trail is in the early morning, before it gets too hot and crowded with people. The trail doesn’t have a ton of shade or tree cover, so it can definitely get hot during the height of the midday sun. There are water fountains along the trail as well as a few snack shacks in case you’re craving a bite to eat or a cold drink.

If you’re planning to do a lot of running in Chicago, there are tons of great running spots you can check out. You can read our complete guide to running in Chicago below:

Photo Credit: Phil Roeder (Flickr CC)

5. Go rock climbing outdoors at Maggie Daley Park

Rock climbing outdoors might seem like a luxury reserved for rural areas and national parks, but there’s actually an opportunity to do it right in the heart of Chicago. Located in Chicago’s Loop, Maggie Daley Park boasts a 40-foot outdoor climbing wall, which has a total of 19,000 square feet of climbing space.

At Maggie Daley Park, there’s bouldering, top roping, and lead climbing for budding climbers, from beginners to intermediate enthusiasts. There are crash pads in the bouldering area and employees on staff to ensure a safe and fun environment. You can also hire a private belayer if you’re new to climbing or came without a belay partner.

For $30, you will get admission, a short lesson on belaying, and all of the necessary rental equipment – shoes, ropes, belay devices, helmets, and chalk. Also, Chicago residents get 20% off climbing admission (so you locals should definitely get on it!).

Photo Credit: Daniel Lobo

6. Take a hike on the 606

One of the most unique Chicago trails is the 606, an elevated urban trail that runs over former railroad tracks. Today, it’s a paved hiking, running, and biking trail that winds through green spaces, charming neighborhoods, and historic areas of Chicago. The 606 is a great place for an urban hike in Chicago, while experiencing some of the city’s iconic neighborhoods along the way.

The entire 606 trail spans 2.7 miles, beginning at Walsh Park and ending at North Ridgeway Ave. If you don’t want to hike the whole thing, there are multiple access points along the trail where you can enter and exit at your leisure. Because it’s paved and mostly flat, it’s one of the best hikes in Chicago and the surrounding areas for all levels of hikers.

To extend your adventure, you can get off at Humboldt Park, which is a peaceful recreation area located in the neighborhood of Wicker Park. Tackle the 2-mile loop trail or simply wander around and enjoy the escape from the bustle of the Loop and downtown Chicago.

For more information on hikes in and around the Chicago area, don’t forget to check out our complete Chicago hiking guide:

7. Rent a Divvy bike and explore on two wheels

Biking is one of the most underrated Chicago outdoor activities – it’s one of the best ways to see both the city’s amazing green spaces as well as its varied neighborhoods. Chicago locals love to bike, and you’ll usually see throngs of bikers on popular trails like the Lakefront Trail and the 606.

To rent a city bike, you can simply go up to any Divvy kiosk (the baby blue bikes) and use your credit card and rent a bike for the day ($15 gets you unlimited rides for 24 hours), then return the bike to any Divvy kiosk when you’re done.

Some of the best trails in the city to bike along include the Lakefront Trail, the 606, and the North Shore Channel Trail. For those who prefer a guided excursion, there are a few really incredible bike tours available to book in Chicago:

If you’d like to get out of the city, there are tons of other nature preserves and mountain biking trails you can enjoy. You’ll need your own bike to leave the city, but it’s well worth it to experience some of the best nature areas in the Midwest.

Lincoln Park is the perfect place to go running in Chicago.

8. Enjoy a walk in Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park is one of the most popular neighborhoods in Chicago, and in the middle of it lies a large, green park area that houses many walking trails, a lake, and the Chicago Zoo. The Lincoln Park Trail winds through the park’s wooded areas provide an easy, leisurely, family-friendly recreational area to go for a walk in the city.

Within the park, you’ll find 1200 acres of green spaces and recreation areas to enjoy. Next to the trails, you’ll see gorgeous Victorian architecture, the Lincoln Park Conservatory, and the zoo. Nearby, the Lincoln Park pathways lead to the North Avenue Beach stretch of the Lakefront Trail, perfect for an extra-long urban hike if you’re wanting to extend your adventure.

9. Enjoy winter activities like skiing and ice skating

Chicago winters might make the bravest souls shudder, but if you’re a skiing or snowboarding enthusiast, there are some pretty awesome places to hit the slopes nearby. You might be surprised to learn that there are actually some slopes and hills to ski down in the middle of the Midwest Prairie, and many of them cater to skiers and snowboarders of all levels.

The bottom line? You can find snowboard and ski resorts as close as 30 minutes from downtown Chicago, and they’re absolutely amazing places to get outdoors during the cold winter months.

Additionally, Chicago is home to an outdoor skating rink in the winter in Millennium Park, where you can actually lace up your skates and speed across the ice…in the middle of the city. It’s a pretty awesome perk of visiting Chicago in the winter, and it’s well worth braving the cold for!

The Chicago Marathon is one of the city’s largest road races. Photo Credit: Marco Verch (Flickr CC)

10. Run in an iconic Chicago road race

As with most big cities, there are tons of wonderful road races you can participate in that show off the best the city has to offer. The races will take you through the iconic sights and neighborhoods of Chicago, and will give you a new perspective on the Windy City. Here are a few of the coolest and quirkiest races you can enjoy in Chicago:

  • Shamrock Shuffle (March) – A St. Patrick’s Day themed 8K run that goes through all of Chicago’s most iconic landmarks.
  • Chicago Half-Marathon (September) – Chicago’s iconic half marathon (13.1 miles) usually takes place in late September and hits all of the city’s best spots.
  • Chicago Marathon (October) – This is Chicago’s iconic marathon (26.2 miles) route and one of the most popular events in the country!
  • Hot Chocolate 5K/15K (October/November) – The best kinds of races end with hot chocolate! This race commemorates the start of the Chicago winter with a run through the brisk air and plenty of warm hot chocolate at the finish line.

Additional Resources

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