Deserts and dry weather may first come to mind when you think of Houston due to Texas’ southern position. However, this bustling metropolis abounds with paddling opportunities, from short beginner jaunts around its city parks to lengthy overnight trips along the Brazos River.

One of the best parts of paddling in the Houston area is that it has not taken off yet in popularity like in other major cities around the country, making its waterways the perfect place to unwind from the rush of city life. Let’s take a look at some of the best places for novices and experts alike to get started kayaking Houston.

Man kayaking down river toward Houston skyline
Buffalo Bayou will take you right through the heart of downtown Houston. | Photo by: Flickr // Patrick Feller

Where can you kayak in Houston?

As mentioned, there are plenty of locales for kayaking in and around Houston. From calm, beginner-friendly ponds and lakes to multi-day trips for the adventure enthusiast, Houston’s waterways offer something for everyone. Here are a few of the most popular paddling destinations in the area.

Downtown Houston

If you’re staying in the downtown area, these are the paddling opportunities closest to you.

Discovery Green

If you’re looking for a very beginner-friendly or short paddle in the city, Discovery Green park is your best bet for kayaking downtown Houston. You can rent a kayak through Bayou City Adventures for $5 per person for a quick 15-minute paddle on Kinder Lake. The calm, shallow waters are a great place for first-timers to get comfortable with kayaking.

Buffalo Bayou – from the North York Boat Launch

Located at Marron Park, the North York Boat Launch is a convenient spot on the east side of the city to launch your kayak on Buffalo Bayou. This is a slow-moving waterway, but if you plan for an extended trip toward Galveston and the Gulf of Mexico, you should be familiar with sea kayaking and paddling with large barges. A shorter trip would be to Hidalgo Park (about three miles). You can find more launch points on Buffalo Bayou outside of the downtown area below.

Buffalo Bayou – from the Lost Lake Boat Launch

If the west side of town is more convenient, launch into Buffalo Bayou from the Lost Lake Boat Launch. Again, with the leisurely pace of the water, you can paddle west toward downtown or east to get away from the busyness of downtown.

Brays Bayou Park

Located on the south side of town near the University of Houston, Brays Bayou Park provides easy access to many other locations through the city center via Brays Bayou, including MacGregor Park (5.5 miles point to point) to the east and Braeburn Glen Park (a little over 10 miles point to point) to the west.

Buffalo Bayou

As you may have gathered from above, Buffalo Bayou kayaking is one of the more popular paddling options around Houston. There are several trip options to choose from

You can launch your vessel under the bridge on Sabine near Buffalo Bayou Park and paddle upstream to River Oaks (about 3.5 miles) or Lost Lake, or downstream to Marron or Hidalgo Park. Here is an excellent map to help you plan your trip. You can also rent a kayak in the park near Sabine Street from Bayou City Adventures. Prices start at $30 for a single kayak.

For an extended trip, check out the 26-mile Buffalo Bayou paddling trail. Due to the length of the trail and its proximity to the city, this waterway will have to be paddled in sections. Fortunately, there are 10 access points. The trail begins at Highway 6 and runs to Allen’s Landing Park within the city. You can learn more about the trail and find a more detailed list of section ideas, as well as a map with access locations and coordinates, on the Texas Parks & Wildlife website.

One word of caution: It should go without saying, but never go kayaking after heavy rains. While the bayou is normally very slow-moving, torrential rains can cause unsafe conditions.

Brazos River

The Brazos River is another popular paddling option in the area. There are several paddling trails on the river, including the 35.4-mile Stephen F. Austin paddling trail and the 8.3-mile Columbia Bottomland trail. Although the river flows slowly for the most part, it is recommended for intermediate and advanced paddlers due to some of the access points being up to 20 miles apart and many access points themselves being steep and covered with soft dirt.

Closer to the city, one nice trip starts at I-10W and heads southwest to SW 59. This is a good option for multi-day trips.

If you don’t mind the difficult put-in conditions and would enjoy something a little farther away from the city, try Rosenberg to Sugarland to the southwest of Houston. This is about a 20-mile trip, so be prepared to leave early in the morning.

Lake Houston

Many locals wonder, “Can you kayak in Lake Houston?” and the answer is yes! This sizable lake has a surface area of 18.5 square miles and a maximum depth of 45 feet. It is especially popular among local fishermen, making it a great place to do some kayak fishing.

For a relaxing trip away from powered watercraft, put in at the Red Grove Park boat launch and head right, past the island directly across from the launch. Further on there are some coves and inlets on either side where you can explore and avoid the wakes from motorboats and jetskis. This is a great area for two-mile round-trip excursions and provides great wildlife viewing opportunities as well.

The park near Kings River Parkway is also a good launching point for a relaxed 2.5-mile trip. Although there is no formal boat ramp and you will need to haul your kayak about 200 feet to the water’s edge, the bird- and nature-watching along your paddle makes up for it.

Both of these paddles are suitable for beginners and veterans alike looking for some relaxing time viewing nature on the water.

Woodlands

For another calm lake paddle just north of the city, you can’t beat kayaking the Houston Woodlands. Lake Woodlands is about 200 acres in size and, other than man-powered vessels, only allows trolling motors, so your biggest concern is high winds.

If you need to rent a kayak anyways, perhaps the easiest way to gain access to the lake is through the Riva Row Boathouse facilities (kayak rentals start at $15 for a single for the first hour). This is technically located on The Woodlands Waterway, but you can reach the lake by paddling northwest.

Lakes Edge Boathouse in Hughes Landing is another option if you’re looking to rent a kayak on the lake for a day (single kayaks start at $15 for the first hour here as well). This boathouse is located near the northern end of the lake.

You can also put in at North Shore Park, located near the Lake Woodlands Drive bridge.

Kayak rental Houston

Aside from the rental companies already listed, there are several other outfitters in and around Houston to choose from.

Austin Kayak

In addition to their wide selection of kayaking, canoeing and other related water gear, Austin Kayak also offers daily rentals. This is a great option if you are looking to paddle somewhere nearby that doesn’t have a boathouse or rental service. Plus, you’ll receive 15% off if you buy certain items with rentals, such as a PFD, bug repellent or a drybag. Call the Houston location at 713-660-7000 for prices and more details.

Southwest Paddlesports

Southwest Paddlesports is another local outfitter that offers not only kayaks and related gear for sale, lessons, and tours, but daily rentals as well. From single sit-on-tops to whitewater kayaks, you can rent for one, three or even seven days. You can contact Southwest Paddlesports by clicking on the link above or calling 281-292-5600 for prices.

Pinky’s Kayak Rental

If you’re looking for something a little farther from the downtown area, Pinky’s Kayak Rental may be the right choice for you. Located southwest of the city, Pinky’s offers single and tandem kayaks so you can paddle Taylor Lake, which they are located right next to, as well as a shuttle to Armand Bayou just a few miles away. Taylor Lake single kayaks start at $25 per hour.

When to go

Houston weather can be tricky with hurricane season, which mostly coincides with their unique rainy season. This normally falls between May and October. Aside from this, summer can get busy with tourists and beach-goers, being so close to the Gulf, and is blisteringly hot. Average summer highs range in the 90’s.

Your best bet is to plan a trip between February and April. Average highs range from 64 to 76°F and February also happens to be the driest month of the year. October and November also provide nice temperatures and fall outside of the tourist season, but can be unpredictable with late-season hurricanes and tropical storms.

What to wear

Kayaking in Houston requires the typical clothing and gear you would expect when paddling in warm regions, although you may wish to bring a drysuit along if you plan on kayaking in the cooler months. Here is a list of items you won’t want to forget at home for your trip.

  • Sunscreen
  • Baseball cap or wide-brimmed hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Water shoes, sandals or tennis shoes you don’t mind getting wet
  • Light-colored, breezy clothing
  • Extra clothes to change into after your time on the water
  • Waterproof camera
  • Drybag
  • Water
  • Snacks

Whether you are planning a trip to the area or are a local just discovering the joys of paddling, there are plenty of spots in and around town for kayaking Houston.

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