Hikers won’t find towering, craggy mountains to explore, but what the Texas Gulf Coast offers is just as beautiful. Miles and miles of salt marshes, estuaries, and maritime woodlands make for an incredible hiking experience. Best of all, these trails are easy walking with short distances — perfect if you have little ones.
Let me take you six of my favorite hikes to explore along the Texas Gulf Coast from Galveston to Corpus Christi, in no particular order.
1. Galveston Island State Park
Length: 2.2-mile easy loop
Take a beautiful walk along the bayous and tidal flats of one of the state’s spectacular barrier islands on this fun and easy walking trail at Galveston Island State Park.
The trails are strewn with many different types of wildflowers including Indian blankets and firewheels that burst to life in spring with a rainbow of color, brightening up the otherwise green and brown of the marsh. The trails are also lined with prickly pear cacti that in summer are adorned with big purple bulbs on their pads just waiting to explode into colorful flowers.
Being marsh and tidal flats, the park plays host to a good variety of birds. Whether you are a birder or not, you will enjoy seeing the reddish egret with its auburn head and slate gray bodies, roseate spoonbills with their light pink and red color and their namesake spoon-shaped bills, and great blue herons, to name only a few.
There are several trails in the park you can enjoy, but two of my favorite loops include the joining of the Eskimo Curlew and Oak Mott Loops for a 1-mile walk that circles around the pond known as Oak Mott and the banks of Butterowe Bayou. Along the way, you will pass the beautiful statue created by sculptor Todd McGrain paying homage to the Eskimo Curlew. The Curlew is an extremely rare bird that the Audubon Society has listed as “critically endangered, possibly extinct.”
The other is a 1.2-mile walk along the Clapper Rail Trail. The trail was named for the bird of the same name and takes you to a view from the opposite side of Butterowe Bayou and to the banks of Oak Bayou where you will see wading birds feeding.
Both trails have observation towers on them to give you a panoramic view. Trail maps are available online.
When they say Galveston Island is home to some of the best attractions in Texas, they aren’t kidding — beaches, arts, museums, gardens, and amusement parks. Plan to stay a while during your vacation.
2. Lake Loops
Brazos Bend State Park, Needville, Texas
Length: 3.1-mile easy double loop
Another easy-walking but beautiful and peaceful hike can be found at Brazos Bend State Park. I call it “Lake Loops” because it combines two trails, the Horseshoe Lake Loop and the Elm Lake Loop, to create a serene walk around not one but three stunning lakes — Old Horseshoe, New Horseshoe, and Elm Lakes.
The entire path is ringed with majestic oak trees covered in Spanish moss, and the banks of the lakes are ablaze with exquisite wildflowers in season such as water primrose, Indian blanket, coneflower, and groundsel.
Benches, picnic tables, and observation decks are strategically located for optimum views of the lakes, birds, wildlife, and wildflowers. And no matter what season you visit, on a clear, sunny day, the lakes are mesmerizing with the deep blue Texas sky and puffy white clouds reflecting off the water.
There is a $7 day-use fee to enter the park, free for children 12 and under. Download a trail map from the park’s website.
While the lakes look inviting, do not go swimming! Alligators are known to ply these waters. Keep dogs and children away from the banks and the brush. Hunting is allowed in the park during certain weeks in winter. Visit the park’s website for trail closure dates.
3. White Oak-Red Buckeye Loop
Brazos Bend State Park, Needville, Texas
Length: 3.1-mile easy loop
While at Brazos Bend State Park, you will have the chance to view the river that was made famous in so many western songs on this hike that combines the park’s White Oak Loop and Red Buckeye Loop Trails.
Along the White Oak Loop, you will pass beneath the beautiful arching branches of live oaks all bedecked in flowing Spanish moss and come to several side trails for views of the Brazos. The best views come in fall when the hardwoods are changing color.
On the Red Buckeye Loop, several side trails lead you to the top of the bluffs for some great views of the swift-flowing Big Creek. It is a very shady trail with a thick canopy provided by pecan, elm, sugar, and live oak trees giving much-needed shade in the hotter summer months.
There is a $7 day use fee to enter the park, free for children 12 and under.
Explore the galaxy at the historic George Observatory located within Brazos Bend State Park. Amateur astronomers take you on guided star tours of the constellations and allow you to view the heavens through their telescopes. There is an additional fee for entrance. Visit their website for schedules and current pricing.
4. Heron Flats Trail
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Tivoli, Texas
Length: 1.4-mile easy out-and-back
An incredible birding adventure awaits you at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Tivoli, Texas. Over 400 species of birds, incredible views of the wetlands of San Antonio Bay, and in winter, a chance to view the last wild flock of the endangered whooping crane.
With their long legs and neck, stout and straight beaks, and wings that are tipped in black, whooping cranes are known for their distinctive cry of “whoop.” In the 1940s, only 15 were known to survive. Today, the number is up to over 500, but the species is still on the brink. Aransas plays host to the largest population of these birds with 250 arriving between late October and mid-April before making their 2,400-mile-long journey back to Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada.
The trail is a flat 1.4-mile easy out-and-back hike that takes you along the banks of freshwater sloughs, shell ridges, oak forests, and along the banks of tidal flats. There are two viewing platforms along the route, both equipped with spotting scopes.
Admission to the preserve is free. Pets are not allowed. A trail map and guide are available online.
Join the hundreds of people who flock (no pun intended) to the refuge for the annual Whooping Crane Festival held the last weekend of February.
5. Turk’s Cap Trail
Goose Island State Park, Rockport, Texas
Length: 1.3-mile easy out-and-back
The highlight of a visit to Goose Island State Park in Rockport is seeing the trees — big, gnarled limbed live oak trees that line the paths, their tenuous fingers stretching out over the trail creating an eerie yet beautiful canopy.
The Turk’s Cap Trail, which is named for the namesake plant that will be found along the trail) is a very easy walk in the woods that is lined with Spanish moss-laden oaks, yaupon holly with their ever-present bright red berries, and American beautyberry with its distinctive clusters of glossy, iridescent purple berries hugging its branches.
The knocking of red-headed and yellow-bellied woodpeckers will be heard in the stillness, and in season, keep an eye on the thick, unkempt underbrush for hummingbirds.
There is a $5 day-use fee to enter the park, and children 12 and younger enter for free.
Make plans to visit Goose Island in September when the annual Hummerbird Celebration is held. The event celebrates the return of the ruby-throated hummingbird to the area and is packed with exciting and informative tours and presentations on hummers and the many species of birds that migrate in or call the area home.
6. South Trail
Port Aransas Nature Preserve, Port Aransas, Texas
Length: 2-mile easy out-and-back
One of my favorite destinations is Port Aransas Nature Preserve which is located just north of Corpus Christi. The preserve at one time was distressed farmland. Today, thanks to volunteers, non-profits, and the city of Port Aransas, the salt marsh has been reclaimed and incredible walks through the network of snaking channels and tidal creeks over concrete, dirt, and boardwalk paths await you.
The South Trail is one of those trails, an approximately 2-mile easy walking out-and-back along a boardwalk and crushed gravel path through fields of upland bayberry, marsh elder, black grass, salt marsh hay, sea lavender, and saltwater cordgrass.
The highlight of the hike is enjoying the breathtaking panoramic views of the expansiveness of the marsh from an observation tower.
The preserve is another amazing destination for birders with willet, least terns, white pelicans, snowy plovers, and roseate spoonbills being only a few of the many that you will see.
Port Aransas is part of the amazing string of Texas barrier islands. The town has a quaint feel to it but is packed with fun things to do and incredible restaurants. To get to the island, hop onto the free — that’s right, free — Corpus Christi-Port Aransas Ferry. It’s a 10-minute ride across the channel. The ferry leaves every 15 minutes, and if traffic warrants, other boats are pressed into service. It’s a fun ride.