Culture / Sporting Life

Houston’s Best Running Trails — Green Getaways and Hidden Hideouts Good for Jogging and Walking Too

Escaping Stress in the Bayou City's Great Outdoors

BY // 03.21.20

Houston may be the fourth largest city in America, but it’s not your typical concrete jungle. If its beloved Bayou City nickname is any indication, H-Town is all about gorgeous green spaces and hidden hideouts that are enough to shrink the giant metropolis into a quiet and tranquil getaway.

While these spaces are cherished by all, they are particularly appreciated by runners (I can say that with about 100 percent certainty). It’s these public routes that runners frequent to escape the everyday and embark on an often solitary journey. They’re enough to keep you inspired and motivated, especially when you consider the sheer absurdity of running for no reason.

Whether you’re an avid runner or consider yourself a professional stroller, check out our list of Houston’s top trails and routes that will have you eager to hit the pavement. In these coronavirus times of social distancing, Houston’s best running trails are more important than ever.

Just remember to keep that safe six feet of social distance between you and others while exercising. It’s also a good idea to bring your own water rather than using drinking fountains — and keep in mind that bathrooms on trails in places like Memorial Park may be closed as a coronavirus precaution.

Buffalo Bayou

OK, so this one’s obvious, but Buffalo Bayou is undoubtedly one of the most gorgeous running routes in Houston. You can pick up the trail practically anywhere along Shepherd or Allen Parkway, and there are plenty of shaded nooks and crannies that provide opportunities for a killer ‘gram, but also (and more importantly) protection from the unyielding sun.

What’s unique about Buffalo Bayou, though, is its proximity to Downtown. The trail takes you past the Hobby Center and the Downtown Aquarium, and proffers one of the most idyllic views of Downtown – from below.

Runner’s Tip: If you really want to push the limits (and feel cool while doing it), climb up out of the depths of the bayou and opt to run through the city streets. Crazy, I know. This extension of your Buffalo Bayou run will give you the chance to explore Downtown in a whole new way, weaving you around the Theater District, past City Hall and down through Sam Houston Park.

Brays Bayou

It’s hard to beat a trail like Buffalo Bayou, but Brays Bayou is a less obvious yet just as praiseworthy route.

Brays Bayou can be categorized as more of an urban run, not offering quite so many shady spots or meadows for resting. However, the general path of the route is a perk worth noting. The humble bayou goes straight through Meyerland, Braeswood, the Medical Center and the area surrounding the University of Houston, offering an interestingly diverse route through many of the city’s quieter neighborhoods.

Runner’s Tip: For an ultra-urban adventure, hop off the trail right around Main and North Braeswood to enjoy a unique, rather different, running experience. With Old Braeswood to your left and new apartments to your right, take Main Street up to the Texas Medical Center and marvel at the towering medical buildings. Whether during the pre-dawn hours or at the peak of day, it’s a sight worth seeing.

White Oak Bayou/Heights Boulevard

White Oak Bayou is a major hotspot for all fitness gurus, so runners beware. As long as you keep your ears open for approaching bikers and your eyes peeled for whizzing roller bladers, you can safely enjoy a peaceful run, void of any major collision.

The change of White Oak’s scenery throughout the entire trail serves as the ideal distraction from your achy knees and heavy breathing. What starts off as a rather quiet and unexciting setting soon turns into a pleasantly picturesque scene, with views of Houston’s stunning skyline off in the not-so-far distance.

As you head from boring to beautiful, you’ll soon find yourself literally in the heart of The Heights. You’ll be just one of the many young Houstonians out and about enjoying the day, except you won’t be dining at local restaurants, shopping at boutiques, or scavenging for treasures at neighborhood antique shops. . . because you’re running. But who’s to say you can’t stop by for a post-run refuel?

Runner’s Tip: Training for an ultra-marathon? The White Oak trail is quite extensive, so you can get in that extra-long run – just don’t forget you’ll eventually have to run back.

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Take a moment to enjoy White Oak’s stunning Downtown outlook.

Rice University

Another runner’s favorite: the Rice University trail. The popular loop that encircles Rice’s campus provides a softer, gentler gravel path, a welcome reprieve from the city’s concrete paths. Plus, the canopying oaks that surround the trail offer much needed shade for those sinfully hot summer days.

However, the highly trafficked Rice loop is both a blessing and a curse. It’s easy to stay motivated when you’re surrounded by so many fellow runners, especially if you’re competitive, but you should realize that you might just run into some familiar faces, whether you like it or not (speaking from experience). If they can’t see you at your worst, they don’t deserve you at your best.

Runner’s Tip: Hop off the gravel path and head inside Rice’s campus to explore the university’s tranquil oasis and wonder at its exquisite academic buildings. Or cross Main Street to hit up Hermann Park, where you can run past gardens, monuments, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Zoo and more.

Memorial Park

How could we not include Memorial Park? The park’s shorter overall route is ideal for those of you who prefer to run shorter distances, though no one’s stopping you from circling the loop multiple times.

As with Rice, this fitness hotspot is known for its gravel path and general congestion – that’s to say, your chances of running into a familiar face go up tenfold when you choose to exercise at Memorial Park (don’t fact check me on that number, but if feels right).

Though Memorial Park doesn’t provide as much shade as some other paths (much due to the 2011 drought), its towering trees double up as gorgeous scenery and sweet perfume.

Runner’s Tip: Memorial Park and Buffalo Bayou are nearby neighbors, so if running multiple laps isn’t your speed, just head down Memorial Drive straight to Shepherd. Another urban excursion, but well worth it.

Neighborhoods

For all the major parks and trails, there’s something to be said for enjoying a casual and quiet run through some of Houston’s most pleasant neighborhoods.

Houston is filled with gorgeous spots, ready and waiting to be discovered. River Oaks, Old Braeswood, Boulevard Oaks, The Heights, West University, Southside Place, Bellaire – these are just a few of the many treasures tucked inside the city. Each has its own style, its own vibe, and certainly its own history, making your run as exciting and diverse as the city itself.

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