Lifestyle

13 Underrated Hikes Near Houston That We’ll Be Taking This Fall

Lace up for scenic treks through the great outdoors, all within driving distance of Bayou City.

Huntsville State Park - Texas Parks and Wildlife
Huntsville State Park – Texas Parks and Wildlife
Huntsville State Park – Texas Parks and Wildlife

People don’t usually come to Houston specifically to hike. We get it. Our city-while actually under-the-radar kinda pretty-is flat AF. But don’t take that to mean there aren’t some pretty epic natural escapes within spitting distance (and by spitting distance, we mean around two hours or less from the city). Our local topography is a vast network of marshes, forested land, swamps, and prairies just begging to be unearthed. All you need to do is pack some water and hiking gear, pick up some Bucee’s jerky on the way if you know what’s good for you, and explore these awesome day-trip-worthy treks.

Looking for scenic trails to conquer within the city limits? We’ve got those, too, including Buffalo Bayou Park and Terry Hershey Park, among other beauts.

Lake Houston Wilderness Park
Lake Houston Wilderness Park
Lake Houston Wilderness Park

Lake Houston Wilderness Park

Distance from Houston: 32 miles
If you don’t believe Houston is pretty, head up to the lush ‚Äėhoods surrounding Lake Houston. It’s over on the northern edge of the lake that you’ll find the heavily forested nearly 5,000-acre expanse known as Lake Houston Wilderness Park. A slice of serenity just a quick ride from the Big City, the park rocks overnight camping opportunities and 20-plus miles of trails to get lost (hopefully metaphorically) in.

Huntsville State Park - Texas Parks and Wildlife
Huntsville State Park – Texas Parks and Wildlife
Huntsville State Park – Texas Parks and Wildlife

Huntsville State Park

Distance from Houston: 65 miles
Immerse yourself in the East Texas Pineywoods at this 2,000-plus acre state park and you’ll forget all about whatever’s feeding your latest anxiety nightmare. It’s a doable little piece of the much larger Sam Houston National Forest (more on that later), dominated by gorgeous loblolly pine and shortleaf pine trees, brimming with 218 species of birds, animal friends from white-tailed deer to armadillos-plus some alligators on the lake that may or may not spike that anxiety but not if you keep your distance-and winding trails for both beginner and experienced hikers.

Tyrrell Park

Distance from Houston: 85 miles
Ride east to Beaumont to discover the 500-acre Tyrrell Park, which sports an easy 2.8 mile trail, houses the easy-on-the-eyes Beaumont Botanical Gardens, and sits adjacent the 900-acre Cattail Marsh Nature Area, where you’ll find 12 miles of hiking trails to explore and a scenic boardwalk jetting into a marsh that makes for a zen stopping point.

Armand Bayou Nature Center
Armand Bayou Nature Center
Armand Bayou Nature Center

Armand Bayou Nature Center

Distance from Houston: 26 miles
Did you know one of the country’s largest urban wilderness preserves sits right over in the Bay Area? That’d be the Armand Bayou Nature Center, in all of its 2,500-acre glory. Break a sweat on the five miles of introspective trails, try out the guided night hikes and bat hikes, or just visit to get some steps in amongst the ‚Äėdillos and gators.

ac_casa/Shutterstock.com
ac_casa/Shutterstock.com
ac_casa/Shutterstock.com

Davy Crockett National Forest

Distance from Houston: 130 miles
Named for (most likely) the only Davy Crockett you know, this East Texas national forest spans over 160,000 acres within the Neches and Trinity River basins, rocking sky-scraping pines, boggy swamps, and primo hiking trails (including one for horseback riders). Gear up for the 20-mile-long Four C National Recreation Trail off Ratcliff Lake, or head out to the hardwood-draped Big Slough Wilderness area.

BNorris/Shutterstock.com
BNorris/Shutterstock.com
BNorris/Shutterstock.com

Angelina National Forest

Distance from Houston: 135 miles
One of four national forests in the Lone Star State, Angelina offers more than 153,000 acres of gently rolling terrain right on the shores of the 114,500-acre Sam Rayburn Reservoir (fishing enthusiasts take note). Longleaf pine, loblolly, and shortleaf pine trees provide much-needed shade throughout the expanse. Stretch your legs along the five-and-a-half-mile Sawmill Hiking Trail, where a spur near the middle leads to an abandoned sawmill site.

NataliaKuzmina/Shutterstock.com
NataliaKuzmina/Shutterstock.com
NataliaKuzmina/Shutterstock.com

Brazos Bend State Park

Distance from Houston: 45 miles
Cruise less than an hour southwest to find this diamond in the rough, known for the awe-inspiring George Observatory plus 37 miles of trails to rev you up for exploring the galaxy. A blend of marsh, prairie, and woodland topography provides the stage for a boatload of wildlife-which most definitely includes gators, so brush up on your safety tips before you go.

Texas Parks and Wildlife
Texas Parks and Wildlife
Texas Parks and Wildlife

Lake Livingston State Park

Distance from Houston: 75 miles
The East Texas Piney Woods are home to the 130-square-mile Lake Livingston and this surrounding 632-acre park. While fishing is an obvious pastime here, the leisurely trails offer equal amounts of serenity. Try the easy-peasy Oak Flat Trail, go deeper into the woods on the Fó:Si Trail, or hangout with the woodpeckers along the two-mile Bakba Trail.

Flickr/Daniel Ray
Flickr/Daniel Ray
Flickr/Daniel Ray

Galveston Island State Park

Distance from Houston: 60 miles
Yes, that Galveston Island. The 2,000-acre state park replete with wetlands, sand dunes, and coastal prairies is actually quite beautiful. Plus, the resident wildlife-from armadillos and coyotes to an impressive mosaic of birds-is on fleek (because if eyebrows could ever be considered “on fleek,” so, too, can a marsh rabbit).

Flickr/Michellebsoto
Flickr/Michellebsoto
Flickr/Michellebsoto

Sam Houston National Forest

Distance from Houston: 50 miles
A mere 50 miles north of Houston lies this massive 163,000-acre national forest, stretching over three counties and showing evidence of human occupation dating back 12,000 years. Channel your inner Indiana Jones by hitting the winding 128-mile Lone Star Hiking Trail.

National Park Service
National Park Service
National Park Service

Big Thicket

Distance from Houston: 90 miles
Described as “one of the most biodiverse areas outside the tropics,” this heavily forested area boasts over 100 species of trees and shrubs alongside 1,000 species of flowering plants and ferns. Head here to hike, bird-watch, and scare the crap out of yourself every time you step on a twig and think it’s a snake-the park plays host to all four groups of North American venomous snakes.

Flickr/milpool79
Flickr/milpool79
Flickr/milpool79

Stephen F. Austin Park

Distance from Houston: 50 miles
For a bit of isolation without the travel, venture out to this peaceful 12-acre park located just outside of town on the Brazos River. The site is home to Texas’ first colony, where Stephen F. Austin-a.k.a. Big Daddy (okay, fine, a.k.a. The Father of Texas)-settled with the Old Three Hundred under a contract with the Mexican government. Relive fourth grade Texas history class on the six-mile hike and bike trail, then bounce over to a Taco Cabana to relive it all again on the way home.

Flickr/trektexas
Flickr/trektexas
Flickr/trektexas

Bastrop State Park

Distance from Houston: 130 miles
This 660-acre getaway (which is literally rising from the ashes after sustaining forest fire and flood damage in recent years) is home to the famous Lost Pines. The 13-mile forest containing 18,000-year-old loblolly pines and hardwoods is over 100 miles from the Piney Woods, which covers nearly 55,000-square-miles of East Texas, Southern Arkansas, Western Louisiana, and Southeastern Oklahoma. Get exploring, and be sure to snag a few panoramic selfies at stunning lookout points like Fehr’s Overlook.

Brooke Viggiano is a Houston-based food and lifestyle writer. Share your tips with her on IG @brookiefafa or on Twitter @brookeviggiano.

Lifestyle

The Best New Bookstores in LA are Curated, Specific, and Personal

Discover a new favorite book, join a book club, and maybe even do some karaoke at the new wave of LA bookshops.

Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby's Bookshop
Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop
Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop

A couple of years ago, the legendary Powell’s Books in Portland released a perfume designed to evoke the smell of a bookstore. The scent has notes of wood, violet, and the lovely and unusually precise word biblichor, the particular aroma of old books. The reality of the scent is what it is-mostly sweet and floral-but more important is the imagery it conjures. The best bookstores are both cozy and mysterious, familiar and surprising, with endless potential for discovery.

Los Angeles has a wealth of independent book sellers, including beloved legacy shops like The Last Bookstore, The Iliad, and Chevalier’s. But a new wave of bookstores has been growing over the last few years, shops that eschew the traditional one-of-everything mindset to focus on specificity, curation, and point of view. There are bookstores with themes, bookstores that double as event spaces, bookstores that reflect their neighbourhoods, bookstores that take inspiration from a specific person-whether that’s the shop owner, a historical figure, or a little bit of both-and so many more.

Like the niche-ification of the internet and the culture at large, these new and new-ish bookstores provide a space to discover books, ideas, and perspectives led by an expert, the kind of things that you may never have found on your own. They can also be a safe harbour for pure nerdiness, a place to dive deep into your favourite category or cause. To help you on your way, we’ve put together a list of some of the best new bookstores in LA, with a focus on curated shops with their own specific perspectives.

Photo courtesy of Octavia's Bookshelf
Photo courtesy of Octavia’s Bookshelf
Photo courtesy of Octavia’s Bookshelf

Octavia’s Bookshelf

Pasadena
Pasadena is a famously book-friendly city, with bookstore royalty in the form of legendary Vroman’s and its own literary alliance. Now it has one of the most exciting new bookstores too. Octavia’s Bookshelf is owner Nikki High’s tribute to the science fiction master Octavia E. Butler, who was a Pasadena native herself. The name of the shop provides a clue into High’s inspiration, titles she imagines Butler would have had on her shelves, with a focus on BIPOC authors. The storefront is small, but the collection is impeccably curated and the space is cozy and welcoming for readers of all backgrounds.

Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop
Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop
Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop

North Figueroa Bookshop

Highland Park
Vertical integration can be a beautiful thing, especially when it allows independent creators more control over their products. The new North Figueroa Bookshop is a shining example of the concept, a storefront built on a collaboration between two publishers, Rare Bird and Unnamed Press. North Fig features titles from those presses, of course, including lots of striking literary fiction and memoir, but it also features a curated collection of other books. They’ve made it a point of emphasis to serve the needs of the local Highland Park, Glassell Park, Cypress Park, and Eagle Rock community-there’s lots of fiction from fellow independent publishers, other general interest titles with a focus on California history and literature, and plenty of Spanish-language books.

Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby's Bookshop
Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop
Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop

Zibby’s Bookshop

Santa Monica
Speaking of vertical integration, there’s another new combined publisher and bookstore on the other side of town. Zibby’s Bookshop is the brainchild of Zibby Owens, Sherri Puzey, and Diana Tramontano, and it’s the physical home of Zibby Books, a literary press that releases one featured book a month. That system is designed so that each book gets the full attention and resources of the press. Owens is an author, podcaster, and book-fluencer, and she has become something of a lit-world mogul with a magazine, podcast network, event business, and an education platform too. The shop has a unique sorting system, built around a feeling for each book-in store many of the shelves are labelled by interest or personality type, like “For the foodie,” or “For the pop culture lover.” On their webshop, you can browse for books that make you cry, escape, laugh, lust, or tremble. There are recommendations from Owens and the staff, sections for local authors, family dramas, and books that have just been optioned. If this all seems a little overwhelming, you should probably avoid the section dedicated to books that make you anxious.

The Salt Eaters Bookshop

Inglewood
Inglewood native Asha Grant opened The Salt Eaters Bookshop in 2021 with a mission in mind-to centre stories with protagonists who are Black girls, women, femme, and/or gender-nonconforming people. Over the last year and change that it’s been open, it has also become a community hub, a place for Inglewood locals and people from across town to drop in, to see what’s new and to discover incredible works in the Black feminist tradition. They also host regular events like readings, discussions, and parties.

Lost Books

Montrose
Thankfully, legendary downtown bookshop The Last Bookstore’s name is hyperbole, and owners Josh and Jenna Spencer have even gone so far as to open a second shop, Lost Books in Montrose. Instead of the technicolour whimsy of the book tunnel at The Last Bookstore, Lost Books has a tunnel of plants that welcomes you into the shop, which opened in the summer of 2021. They sell those plants in addition to books, and coffee and vinyl too, which makes Lost Books a lovely destination and a fun little surprise in the quaint foothill town just off the 2 freeway.

Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe
Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe
Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe

Stories Books & Cafe

Echo Park
Ok, this one is fudging the criteria a little-Stories has been open for almost 15 years. But over those years the shop has become a pillar of Echo Park community life, hosting readings, discussions, and events, and their cafe tables function as a de facto office for about half of the neighbourhood on any given afternoon. After the tragic recent passing of co-owner and Echo Park fixture Alex Maslansky it seemed like the shop’s future was in doubt, but thankfully after a brief hiatus co-owner and co-founder Claudia Colodro and the staff were able to band together to reopen and keep the beloved cafe and bookstore going strong.

Page Against the Machine

Long Beach
The name alone makes it clear what you’re getting at Page Against the Machine-revolutionary progressive books, with a collection centred on activist literature, socially conscious writing, and a whole lot of political history. The shop itself is small but the ideas are grand, with fiction by writers like Richard Wright, Colson Whitehead, and Albert Camus next to zines about gentrification and compendia of mushroom varieties. They also host regular readings and discussions.

Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte
Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte
Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte

Re/Arte Centro Literario

Boyle Heights
Boyle Heights has its own small but mighty combined bookstore, art gallery, gathering space, and small press in Viva Padilla’s Re/Arte. Padilla is a poet, translator, editor, and curator, and as a South Central LA native and the child of Mexican immigrants, she’s focused on Chicanx and Latinx art, literature, and social criticism. Re/Arte’s collection has a wide range of books, from classic Latin American literature to modern essays and everything in between. Re/Arte is also now the headquarters for sin cesar, a literary journal that publishes poetry, fiction, and essays from Black and Brown writers. There are always community-focused events happening too, from regular open mics and zine workshops to film screenings and more.

The Book Jewel

Westchester
Most bookshops host events, but few host them with the regularity of The Book Jewel, the two- year-old independent bookstore in Westchester. Their calendar is so full with readings, several different book clubs, signings, and meet and greets that there are sometimes multiple events on the same day. The shop also hosts a ton of family-focused readings, with regular storytime on Sunday mornings often followed by a talk with the author. It’s a great fit for the relatively low-key (but not exactly quiet) suburban neighbourhood, and it’s no coincidence that storytime lines up with the Westchester Farmers Market, which takes place right out front.

Reparations Club

West Adams
Most bookstores lean into coziness, aiming to be a hideaway for some quiet contemplation or maybe a quick sotto voce chat-not so at Reparations Club, the exuberant and stylish concept bookshop and art space on Jefferson. Owner and founder Jazzi McGilbert and her staff have built a beautiful and vibrant shop full of art from Black artists, including books but also records, candles, incense, clothing, and all sorts of fun things to discover. There’s a perfect seating area to sit and hang out for a while, and they host a range of wild and fun events from readings to happy hours, panel discussions to karaoke nights and more.

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Ben Mesirow is a Staff Writer at Thrillist.

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