The Great Outdoors

Hiking in Houston with Kids: Jesse H. Jones Nature Park

There are plenty of places in Houston to get outdoors with kids, from urban city parks to more wild, natural spaces inside the loop. If you’ve already conquered most of these and want an entirely new challenge for your family, Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center is a good step up from the city parks but still a reasonable drive from Houston. Before you go, make sure you pack water, snacks, and bug spray!

Located by Houston Intercontinental Airport about 30 mins from downtown, the park is nestled in a neighborhood but evokes more of a state park feel once you get in the gates. There are lots of trails and parking lots, so with kids in tow it’s helpful to have the inside scoop on which area is best. Here is the map, which we could only find on site:

Park at the orange dot, and take the Palmetto Trail up to the blue circled area, which is the Cypress Boardwalk Trail, for a really easy walk and a fun adventure!

When you enter the park, resist the temptation to park in the first lot. Instead, follow the road almost to the exit of the park. In the photo above, it’s the orange dot. That trail was definitely the most accessible and fun for kids. Other trails seem to be more for bikers near the park entrance, but bikers (and pets – take note!) are not allowed on the trails in the area we’ll talk about here.

Right in the parking lot is the entrance to the Palmetto Trail, which you’ll take to get to the blue circled area on the map above. It links up with the coolest trail in the park: the Cypress Boardwalk Trail. This is a meandering, elevated boardwalk through a swamp full of old, beautiful cypress trees. It’s completely shaded here, so even in the heat it’s not too bad. When we went there was no water in the swamp, but it was still really beautiful and interesting.

Part of the Cypress Boardwalk Trail at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center

If you have really little kids, like 1-3 years old, the Cypress Boardwalk Trail is an easy walk and may be plenty. There are plenty of interesting pathways to explore and some built-in benches on the boardwalks to rest and have a snack. There are so many neat things to see, including birds, squirrels, and insects. We even found a bay leaf tree and got to smell and taste a leaf, thanks to the signage!

If you have kids that are a little older, like 3.5 and up, you may want to kick it up a notch and try your hand at finding Spring Creek. There is a place called Spring Creek Beach that is just north of the Cypress Boardwalk Trail area. It’s not far, it just a little more rustic, going through less-traveled trails. But the payoff is great, especially for kids that like to dig in the sand!

We found this great digging area on the way to Spring Creek Beach – there is a trail just beyond this area that takes you to a nice beach and shallow creek area!

From the parking lot, here’s how you get there (weird directions, but it works):

  • Follow the Palmetto Trail to Cypress Boardwalk Trail just like above
  • Watch for the White Oak Trail sign, and follow that trail
  • Watch for the Spring Creek Beach sign and follow it
  • Go across the bridge, play in the sand and have fun for a few minutes, and consult your Google Maps satellite view – you’re so close!
  • There are several trails off this sandy area that take you to the very nearby river and sandy beach area (less than 1/4 mile) – just keep an eye on Google Maps and you’ll find your way.
The beautiful Spring Creek Beach is a great reward after a nice hike!

You will probably be really hungry after this hike – at least we were! The nearby city of Humble has a ton of food options, but most of them on 1960, the closest large road in the area, are fast food. If you want something more unique, try Humble City Cafe or Tin Roof BBQ.

We hope you have fun at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center – we’ll certainly be back to try the other trails, because there’s plenty to explore. We weren’t able to visit the Nature Center at the front of the park due to COVID, but that’s on our list too. If you visit, please leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Helpful Hints, The Great Outdoors

Memorial Park’s new Eastern Glades Is the Perfect Picnic and Play Spot for Kids!

Memorial Park is more than two times the size of New York City’s Central Park, but most of us know it by the running loop and not much else. We may see the golf course through the trees or the ball fields across Memorial Parkway, but it’s always seemed a little more for adults than kids. As of this month, that’s completely changed with the opening of the first phase of Memorial Park’s master plan, the Eastern Glades. We highly recommend packing a picnic (make it a donut picnic, because after about 9am it’s way too hot these days) and a frisbee and heading there as soon as you can!

About the Park’s Master Plan

There are so many good things to say about Memorial Park Conservancy’s thoughtful approach to master planning. They used the awful drought in 2011 as an opportunity to rethink the park’s ecology, history, and use, and their master plan is an exceptional result of this process. They are focused on making the park accessible to all Houstonians through different kinds of transit and to different kinds of people by providing places for families to gather and play.

Explore Memorial Park in a whole new way in the Eastern Glades by checking out these boardwalks that run through the forest, right by the lake!

Here are a few amazing additions coming to the park in the next few years:

  • Clay Family Eastern Glades: Just opened! This is what we’re talking about in our post today, and if it’s any indication of the quality and beauty of the rest of the plan, we’re sold.
  • Land Bridge and Prairie: Memorial Park is bisected by the giant that is Memorial Parkway, and this project creates a wide, green bridge to connect the two. Stroll over the bridge and you’ll get to explore a restored Gulf Coast prairie in all its glory.
  • Sports Complex: Opening this year, the sports complex brings all the sports fields in Memorial Park together in one area, freeing up space for things like the prairie restoration.
The new lake in the Eastern Glades is perfect for spotting tadpoles, relaxing nearby, or taking a walk.

Getting there and Parking

If you want to check out the Eastern Glades, here are a few key things to know about where to go and where to park:

  • Drive to the east side of the park: It would make sense that the Eastern Glades is on the eastern side of the park, but stating the obvious because it would be a long walk from anywhere else. Crestwood is the street you want to look for – you can get to Crestwood from Memorial Parkway or via Washington and driving through the neighborhood towards Memorial Park.
  • There are parking meters: It’s annoying sometimes to see these parking meters pop up in previously free spots, but just like the ones at the Arboretum, they serve an important purpose here. These meters pay for the operating costs of these incredible new park enhancements. 75% of parking in the park is still free and will be for a long time to come, and there is plenty of neighborhood parking close by.
  • Park on or around Crestwood St: We were able to park right on Crestwood at Blossom, which is the entrance to the Eastern Glades, and it was free on the street. We noticed that the neighborhood has a ton of free street parking, so that’s a great option. Let’s cross our fingers that everyone’s respectful when doing this so it doesn’t become a bunch of no parking zones!

Checking Out the Eastern Glades

Before going further, let us reemphasize the need to go early – like 7:30am – because it is beastly hot right now. You’ll have the space mostly to yourself: bonus!

The grass is probably the best feature of the park, and there are a lot of outstanding features. This is non-prickly, soft, AWESOME grass!

Here are the highlights of this incredible, 100-acre area:

  • Picnic lawn: There is a huge, circular lawn as you walk into this area of the park with super soft, bouncy grass that is so awesome you don’t even need a picnic blanket! The grass continues around groves of trees and provides shaded, green pathways for kids to explore.
  • Lake: The water in this lake is spectacularly clear, and there are new plantings right along the edge. We saw tons of tadpoles and baby frogs already getting settled! Walking around the lake is easy on the pathways and boardwalks, and it’s a nice way to get the lay of the land. There are also long, curved, stone benches that provide ample seating and a good climbing spot for kids.
  • Woodland boardwalks: As you walk around the lake, you’ll see some boardwalks leading straight into the woods – definitely check them out! You’ll end up right back at the lake, but it’s a chance to see the forest in all its glory. It’s neat that it’s not just a straight path – there are “ends” that encourage you to stop and enjoy.
  • Covered pavilions and picnic areas: There are no tables yet because of COVID, but there are three brand new pavilion structures with giant, built-in grills that will be fantastic to reserve, along with some private picnic areas. We also noticed some spots that would be perfect for future food trucks and farmer’s markets, so we’re crossing our fingers those will happen soon!
  • Audio Tour: Right now there are temporary signs encouraging you to do the audio tour – do it! You’ll learn some of the history and ecology of the Eastern Glades. We all enjoyed it as a family. It’s not long and it makes you really understand how magical this transformation is.
The covered pavilions have neat chalkboards outside each one! You can see the chimney from the grill on the right hand side.

We hope you will enjoy this area of the park as much as we did. We feel like Memorial Park is now finally a great spot for families, and we’re pretty excited about heading there more than once a month to play and relax.