Planning outdoor fun for the family this summer? In Texas? You may want to take a look at the attractions and facilities at Houston area’s Brazos Bend State Park. National Parks and State Parks are such a treasure and resource for us all. Many of these 17 fun activities can be done at a lot state parks so if you aren’t near Brazos Bend State Park, you can still get some good ideas. If you are near Brazos Bend State Park, you will appreciate the specifics and detailed information so you can plan your family activities ahead of time.
About Brazos Bend State Park In Needville, Texas
Brazos Bend State Park is 5,000 acres, one of the largest state parks in Texas. It includes bottomland and upland coastal prairie just southwest of the rapidly expanding Houston metro area. It is only 45 miles from downtown Houston, so it makes a convenient getaway for Houston area residents. Google maps says the shortest fastest route is via State Hwy 288 S and FM 1462 W/W Farm to Market 1462 and it takes about 51 minutes under normal traffic conditions. So at less than an hour drive from Houston is a beautiful park with so many areas of the park to explore that you can go back time and again.
It is truly an outstanding park. On a State level it ranks in size, miles of trails, variety of wildlife habitat and photography opportunity, as well as having a Nature Center staffed by 140 volunteers and 2 TPWD Park Naturalists. It has the George Observatory located in the middle of the park with one of the largest telescopes available to the public in the US. The wealth of group facilities (Dining Hall, Shelters, Pavilions and Youth Group Campsites, as well as a sizable Amphitheater) makes this park very attractive for Family Reunions and other family oriented gatherings.
Are dogs allowed at Brazos Bend State Park?
Yes, dogs are allowed at Brazos Bend but they must be on a leash no longer than six feet. Dogs must not be allowed to drink from or enter the lakes. Both of these rules are especially important to keep your dog safe from alligators. You can read about American alligator safety on park trail maps and on signs in the park.
Brazos Bend State Park Map
17 Fun Things To Do At Brazos Bend State Park
Here are 17 fun ideas for what you and your family can do at Brazos Bend State Park. There are so many fun things to do with kids at Brazos Bend and it is so good for them to spend time outdoors.
The Brazos Bend State Park Campground offers camping sites for RV’s and Tents. You can use sites with electric hookups and water for $20 or $25 a night. Or you can use walk-in sites with a fire ring but without electric and water for $12.00 a night. It is recommended that you make reservations. Here are some great tips for how to go camping.
2. BIKING & HIKING:
Texas State Parks offer the best biking in the state, no matter your skill level. Paved park roads are ideal for families, while adventure seekers can mountain-bike hundreds of miles of single-track and multi use trails. Brazos Bend State Park is located in the Gulf Coast region of Texas. If you live anywhere between Corpus Christi and Houston and BIKING is the focus of your activities being planned for the family to enjoy, Brazos Bend State Park is your best choice. It has 21 miles of trail which vary from Beginner to Intermediate. Of the 9 Texas State Parks in the Gulf Coast region, Brazos Bend has the most miles of bike trails, with 7 of the nine parks having only 8 or less miles to bike or hike with kids.
You particularly enjoy the Creekfield Lake Nature Trail, as it takes a very pretty, scenic loop around the lake but is a short and easy trail for families at just over half a mile. You will see lots of wildlife on this easy trail!
3. WILDLIFE VIEWING & WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY:
In the Gulf Coast Region of Texas you have a variety of choices. You are either going to go beach, Galveston Island State Park. Galveston Island State Park protects 2,000 acres of upper Gulf Coast barrier island ecosystem. This is the last undeveloped land on Galveston Island that allows public access from the beach and Gulf waters, through the coastal prairie, and into the wetlands toward the bay. Or perhaps you would go to Lake Livingston State Park with 635 acres.
But if you are looking for a “wilderness” experience and prefer to have space to sprawl out, large areas to explore, 21 miles of trail, and a variety of habitats and exciting wildlife to watch and photograph, Brazos Bend State Park is the favored option for many folks. Its sheer size is impressive as it is more than double the size of any other state park in its region of Texas. Brazos Bend State Park has 3 miles that border the Brazos river, giving you a Riverine and forested environment to explore. It has Big Creek (a small river) which meanders through the park. Additionally, it has 7 lakes with wetlands, hardwood forest, and prairie ecosystem. A particularly popular spot for wildlife viewing is the observation deck on Elm Lake.
For its acres to explore Brazos Bend State Park is sure to please all who venture here. You are sure to be impressed by its wildlife biodiversity, with alligators, over 300 species of birds, white tailed deer, river otters, feral pigs and even its variety insects. Also amazing is its variety in vegetation, plant communities, and the unusual fauna and flora of wetland area. Be sure to give both plants and animals their due respect and abide by proper alligator etiquette.
First, what is Geocache? Geocache is basically a treasure hunt that is entertaining to people of all ages! Anybody can do this. Geocaching in Texas State Parks can be a whirlwind of fun. You will need a GPS unit to find hidden treasure. It’s great for kids and adults, no experience necessary! Hint to get you started: there are 4 at the Nature Center! There are about 30 Geocaches in and around Brazos Bend State Park. Can you find them all?
So what is orienteering? And would your family like to do it? Orienteering is a valuable skill that can be a lot of fun. It started out in Norway to teach troops how to deploy to specific positions in the field. It is now used to teach ROTC and army cadets. At one time it was an Olympic sport. In a State Park, Orienteering is favored by running clubs and families that enjoy a physical, as well as a wayfinding activity. With the use of maps, orienteering is a timed race which can be done singularly or in team.
At Brazos Bend State Park, go to the Nature Center for the Orienteering Course Print-outs. There are two courses, one at the Nature Center and one at Hale Lake.
Orienteering at the Nature Center? You can download the maps and guides at : http://brazosbend.org/activities/NCorienteering.shtml
Orienteering at Hale Lake? http://brazosbend.org/activities/HaleLakeOrienteering.pdf
6. NATURE CENTER:
The Nature Center is at a central location, and also is a center of activity at Brazos Bend State Park. I have worked as a fee collector and greeter at BBSP at the Park’s Headquarters and I can tell you from first hand experience, we send many, many people to the Nature Center on their first visit to the park. It is a open 7 days a week to the public, and it is a perfect “Welcome Center”.
The Nature Center has Exhibits, Guided Activities, Interpretive Hikes and Presentations. It is a large building with a variety of exhibits, including live hatchling alligators, live snakes, and other natural exhibits. The Nature Center houses the Gift Shop where one can buy souvenirs, snacks and drinks. It offers guided hikes and activities throughout the week but especially on the weekend. While visiting Brazos Bend State Park, you will want to include one of the Nature Center’s guided interpretive hikes, activities or alligator presentations!
Some really cool features at the Nature Center are the Butterfly and Pollinator garden, the windmill, the old cistern, the amphitheater, a live tarantula, a pond life aquarium, a herbarium-style collection of pressed plants, hands-on exhibits, the huge oak trees, the sundial and the year round hatchling alligators. To see what activities and guided hikes are going on this weekend visit: http://brazosbend.org/activities/wkdprog.shtml
The Brazos Bend State Park Nature Center Hours: open 11 am – 3 pm weekdays and 9 am – 5 pm on weekends.
7. BIRDWATCHING and GUIDED BIRDWATCHING HIKES
Birdwatching is a great way to incorporate nature into your child’s education. With over 300 species of birds that can be sighted throughout the year, a 4 story Observation Tower, numerous wildlife viewing platforms, wetlands, prairies as well as river and stream habitats, the park is excellent place for birders to get their fill of seeing and photographing birds. The Nature Center offers a Ebird Kiosk on site to see what other birders have seen recently. Also, offered by the Nature Center are regularly scheduled Birding Hikes. All guided Bird Watching Hikes will meet at 40 Acre Lake parking lot at 8:00 am. All levels of experience are welcome. Bring your binoculars.
More info at http://brazosbend.org/activities/birdhike.shtml
8. GUIDED WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY HIKES
“Through the Lens” wildlife photography hikes, free for park visitors are offered by Fine Art Nature Photography with Laszlo Perlaky. These are scheduled through and meet at the Nature Center. For a schedule: http://brazosbend.org/activities/photowalk.shtml
These programs will meet at Brazos Bend State Park’s Nature Center. This is advanced photography and the conditions may not be suitable to large groups, small children, or those with mobility challenges. Please bring your own camera, gear, and tripod.
Always keep your camera ready for white tailed deer and their fawns, squirrels, nesting turtles, owls, butterflies, birds, aligators and other cool wildlife to photograph. There are lots of Wildlife Viewing Platforms.
9. BUTTERFLY WATCHING
There are over 100 species of butterflies which have been sighted and recorded at Brazos Bend State Park. There is an annual butterfly count in October each year. The Annual Butterfly Count event has an all day agenda and there are instructions and items that you will want to bring. You can the Nature Center for more info or visit this link http://brazosbend.org/activities/butterflycount.shtml
During the Butterfly Count event park entrance fees are waived
10. TEXAS OUTDOOR FAMILY PROGRAM
Not sure if you and your family would like camping? Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Outdoor Family Program is designed to let you experience a night of camping with help from outdoor specialists and camping equipment furnished by program sponsors. Under the supervision of a park ranger you’ll learn a bit about alligators, the night sky, and the other natural wonders at Brazos Bend. TPWD provides all of the camping equipment you’ll need for this family friendly weekend!
11. FISHING AT BRAZOS BEND STATE PARK
Fishing opportunities are numerous at Brazos Bend State Park. The park has four lakes that are popular with fishermen – 40 Acre Lake, Elm Lake, Hale Lake and New Horseshoe Lake. 40 Acre Lake and Hale Lake both have handicapped accessible fishing piers and Elm Lake has seven small piers along its south side. Bank and pier fishing only, no wading or boats allowed. The lakes are periodically stocked with Bass, Sunfish and Catfish. The park store at headquarters sells fishing equipment and live bait. No fishing license is required in the state park but regular size and bag limits do apply.
12. RELAX IN NATURE
The hundreds of live oaks, many of them a couple hundred years old, provide a wealth of shade and serenity. Enjoy the live oak galleries, and relax under their enchanting influence.
Brazos Bend State Park includes 5,000 acres of bottomland and upland coastal prairie just southwest of the rapidly expanding Houston metro area. Tallgrass prairie covers much of the western border of the park. These prairies are home to native grasses that range in height from 2 to 6 feet tall. The park prairie offers a glimpse of a once widespread, but now vanishing ecosystem.
Woodlands include live-oak gallery forests and mixed bottomland hardwood forest. In places, a mature forest canopy reaches for the sky. The trees provide refueling stops for migratory birds and sanctuary for native wildlife species.
The park has several types of wetlands: swamps, lakes, marshes and short-lived ponds that form on the prairies during the rainy season.
13. GEORGE OBSERVATORY & STARGAZING
Vactationsmadeeasy.com listed Brazos Bend State Park as one of the most peaceful places for stargazing in the State of Texas. Here is what they had to say about stargazing in Texas, “For as long as there have been humans, we have gazed up at the night skies in wonder of its beauty and majesty. There are countless songs and legends about the celestial bodies that constantly move overhead, and scientists have been studying them for centuries. While modern day electricity and light pollution makes seeing the stars a little difficult in most cities, there are still places where these stunning lights can still be seen with as much clarity as ever. Texas, in particular, is filled with superb stargazing locations.”
The George Observatory is located centrally in the Brazos Bend State Park, directly across from the Nature Center. It is part of the Houston Museum of Natural Science and it is a separate entity from the park. Here is a partial list of programs and services offered by the George: Telescopes, planetarium, meteorite exhibit, scout programs, birthday parties, groups, classes, expeditions and events.The observatory is open on Saturdays from 3 to 10 p.m. For information on programs or passes, visit the observatory website or call (979) 553-3400 or at (281) 242-3055.
14. HOTFLOW YOGA at Brazos Bend State Park
The Park offers regular Yoga instruction. The Park’s Superintendent is a Yoga Instructor in his spare time, and offers classes which are given free of charge.
This unique program is an outdoor vinyasa flow yoga experience. The programs are held at several locations around the park, which are announced online as the event draws near. One week it could be at Elm Lake Pavilion, another it might be on the roof top of the George Observatory. It is an opportunity to practice your flow with a certified yoga instructor. Between the heat and the sequence this can be considered a very vigorous practice. The instructor will be available to help beginners with props, modifications and assists.
The program is free for any participant who has a valid entrance permit for the day. Entrance permits are available from Park Headquarters for $7.00 per person for everyone 13 or older. Children 12 or under are free. Entrance fees are also covered by a valid Texas State Parks Pass.
Families with children may attend, however, the program will be challenging for youngsters. Children 12 or under must be supervised by a responsible adult. Bring a yoga mat, a towel and drinking water. This will be a vigorous practice at high temperature. Please hydrate accordingly.
15. HORSEBACK RIDING & EQUESTRIAN CAMPSITES: Brazos State Park
Would you like to horseback ride? You are in luck! Six primitive equestrian sites are at the trailhead of the six-mile multi-use trail system at Brazos Bend State Park. The campground sits in a grove of pecan trees. Each site has a picnic table; some sites have a campfire ring. The sites do not have water, electricity or showers. Water for horses and chemical toilets are available.
16. ALLIGATOR VIEWING
Alligators are the mascot of the Park, so to speak. There are approximately 350 adult alligators supported by the rich wetland environment of this popular park. This is a self-sustaining, wild, un-hunted population in its natural habitat. The alligators were not brought in, this population is controlled by nature.
The chances of spotting alligators on your visit to Brazos Bend State Park are very high. On my first visit to the Park, I saw over 10 alligators. The best time of year to see alligators here, is Fall and Spring. But the alligators are seen year round. The best time of day to see them is early morning when they are sunbathing, or late afternoon when it starts to cool down. Elm Lake and 40-Acre Lake are where the majority of the large alligators live.
17. FAMILY GATHERINGS
There are THREE Day Use Areas, which families use to have family gatherings, grill out and picnic: 40-Acre Lake, Hale Lake, and Elm Lake. Furthermore, there are several HUNDRED Picnic Pads, which include Picnic tables on concrete slab, with a stand up BBQ grill. Brazos Bend State Park can facilitate family gatherings of any size! There are three ways to organize your family gatherings.
You can just pay $7 per person entrance fee when you arrive at the Park, and then you can go claim the Picnic Pad that is to your liking. First come, first serve. My two favorite Day Use areas for this style of family outing, are Hale Lake and 40-Acre Lake, because of their picturesque, cozy settings. The Picnic Pads serve one to two families, 10-15 people if you bring some fold out chairs. There is plenty of shade at both areas mentioned, so you don’t usually need to bring a shade canopy.
For larger family gatherings you can rent a Picnic Pavilion, which comes with electricity and a huge smoker grill for large BBQ. There are two Pavilions and they rent for $50/day.
For a full service experience, you can rent the climate controlled Dining Hall which has tables, seating and facilities for 100 people. It has AC, fans, restroom, refrigerator, freezer, outdoor BBQ grills, and it’s fit for receptions, church gatherings and reunions.
My dear readers, I have listed 17 fun things you can do at Brazos Bend State Park. You can enjoy may of these park features at any Texas State Park. This is only a partial list of suggestions. There are many more ways to enjoy our parks. I will be writing a series of articles on how to enjoy Texas State Parks. I hope you have enjoyed this one and will read more of my articles on ways you can enjoy your State Parks!