20 Best Road Trips From Houston
Whether you live in Houston or just visiting the Bayou City, there are a lot of options if you want to escape the hustle and bustle. From nature parks, lakes and rivers to city breaks and quirky towns, you can drive in any direction and find amazing places to visit.
Within easy reach of other major cities in Texas and some of the best nature in the United States, Houston is a perfect starting point for a road trip.
Featuring day drives to the beaches of the Gulf, stunning drives through the Texas desert and amazing city breaks, here are our 20 best road trips from Houston.
Day road trips from Houston
1. Nasa Center
Distance from Houston: 27 miles (30 minutes)
When to visit: Any time of the year
The Houston Space Center is a museum located at the Johnson Space Center, just oustide the city of Houston.
Open every day of the year except Christmas day, the NASA Space Center is still the central hub for USA's space exploration programmes. Astronauts live and train here and you can go on a tour to explore the facility behind the scenes.
Exhibits include a piece of moon rock that you can touch and the huge Shuttle spacecraft mounted on top of the modified Boeing 747 carrier plane in Independence Plaza.
Only a short drive from Houston, the museum is hugely interactive and tells the history of the US space program. Parts of the museum are dedicated to the ongoing development and future outlook for the space programme - definitely worth a visit!
2. College Station, Texas
Distance from Houston: 96 miles (1 hour 30 minutes)
When to visit: All year round, quieter outside term times
College Station is a University city in Brazos County, northwest of Houston. Famous for its many sights around the university, College Station is an easy day road trip from Houston and is about halfway en route to Waco.
The main sight in College Station is the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. This is a great historical museum of George H. W. Bush who served as the 41st US President.
Unlike some other Presidential museums, this one covers a broader period than when George H. W. Bush was in office starting from 1941. There are historic exhibits from World War II, pieces about the Cold War and a piece of the Berlin Wall.
There are very good replicas of the Situation Room and the Oval Office where you can get a photo sitting behind the desk.
Don't miss the beautiful parks around College Station and the opportunity to visit a local winery (Messina Hof) and breweries in the area. The museum of the American GI is an interesting insight into the lives of military personnel over time while in service.
3. Galveston, Texas and the Kemah Boardwalk
Distance from Houston: 51 miles (1 hour)
When to visit: Great to catch the breeze and dip in the sea during the summer months
Galveston Island is the most popular Gulf coast destination for people from Houston. Just an hour's drive gets you over the Galveston Causeway and into Galveston itself.
Everything here is designed for entertainment and relaxation. Pleasure Pier is the most famous of the sights - the pier has a number of classic fair rides, shops and spots to grab some food.
The Moody Gardens Theme Park boasts an aquarium and a rain forest garden and the Schlitterbahn Waterpark is right next door. These might not be the biggest or best theme parks around, but they're worth a visit if you want to make a weekend out of your trip.
About halfway to Galveston along the Gulf Freeway, is the Kemah Boardwalk. This classic amusement park is located along the coast of Trinity Bay with great rides and an amazing atmosphere.
4. Texas City, Texas
Distance from Houston: 42 miles (50 minutes)
When to visit: Good all year round, perfect sunsets in the fall
Texas City is a town surrounded by water, just a short drive down the I-45 from downtown Houston. Sat on the western edge of Galveston Bay and just north of Galveston Island, Texas City is great if you want somewhere off the beaten track.
With a lot less tourists than Galveston, Texas City boasts the longest man-made pier in the world with a 5-mile Dike Levee stretching out into the bay.
Perfect for a long stroll, a spot of fishing or a picnic, the levee can make for a perfect afternoon complete with a sunrise setting over the water if you stay around to watch it.
The Texas City Museum is an interesting stop - it's full of snippets from local history, exhibits taken off the USS Westfield and the amazing collection of model train sets.
5. Brenham, Texas
Distance from Houston: 76 miles (1 hour 20 minutes)
When to visit: Go in early spring to see the huge fields full of bluebonnets
Ask a Texan what the perfect rural destination in Texas is and they will likely mention Brenham. Located halfway between Houston and Austin, Brenham's reputation far exceeds is relatively small size.
There are two things that Brenham is particularly known for: ice cream and bluebonnets.
Blue Bell Creameries has been around since 1907 and has become perhaps the most loved ice cream brand in the United States. You can visit the creamery to get a tour of the historic ice cream company and even taste some of the produce.
If you come in spring, Washington County, where Brenham is located, is awash with bluebonnet flowers. Drive along a few back country roads to see field after field painted in beautiful fresh blue.
The town itself will fill you with a sense of nostalgia - the quaint shops and old buildings are perfect for an afternoon stroll and there are a number of fantastic places to eat if you stay for dinner.
6. Visit Huntsville, Texas and the Blue Lagoon
Distance from Houston: 79 miles (1 hour 25 minutes)
When to visit: Spring to Fall to enjoy the swim
Huntsville is best known as the place General Sam Houston, dubbed the most famous Texan ever, spent the majority of his life.
There is the Sam Houston Memorial Museum celebrating General Sam's life which is located right in front of the house in which he lived. The Steamboat House on which he died is one of the sights.
5 miles south of the museum you will find a giant statue of General Sam Houston right next to the Huntsville visitor center. It's easy to find as at 70 feet tall it towers above everything around it!
The Blue Lagoon is the name given to two pools of water that have formed in an old limestone quarry around 5 miles to the north of Huntsville.
The water here is a perfect blue hue and crystal clear which makes it super popular with visitors. Swimmers come to the Blue Lagoon from spring to fall and the waters are popular with scuba divers due to the visibility and depth of the pools.
Don't let the $20 entrance fee (per person!) put you off. You've got to see the Blue Lagoon for yourself even if you just go the once!
7. Brazos Bend State Park
Distance from Houston: 46 miles (1 hour)
When to visit: Great all year round, visit on a weekday to avoid the weekend crowds
Brazos Bend is a small state park sitting on the west side of the Brazos River with Elm Lake in the center.
The different lakes are all connected by paths that are great for a day of walking and there are spots for RVs, fishing and other outdoor activities.
You can park up on the left as soon as you enter the park or keep going and find a parking location close to Elm Lake instead. From either spot you can easily cover most of the park in a few hours of walking.
As you make your way around, you'll see a lot of different kinds of birds but watch out for alligators. You will see them. And you might see quite a lot of them.
Alligators like to relax in grassy areas near lakes and along some of the paths. Don't get close as they can be pretty fast, but it's well worth seeing the giant creatures from a distance.
8. Sam Houston National Forest
Distance from Houston: 60 miles (1 hour 10 minutes)
When to visit: Perfect all year round
The Sam Houston National Forest is a huge protected area an hour's drive to the north of Houston up the I-45.
The two most popular activities in the National Forest are hiking and camping. If you like a good hike, this is the perfect place to come. There are paths, trails and hikes throughout the park for you to explore.
The Lone Star Hiking Trail is 128 miles long and has been granted the National Recreational Trail status. It winds its way from the western part of the forest sitting along Lake Conroe to Winters Bayou Scenic area near Cleveland, Texas.
The forests are serene and beautiful and you can enjoy everything from fishing and boating at Lake Livingston to trying to spot White-tailed Deer that live throughout the Forest area.
With Huntsville and the Blue Lagoon only a few miles further north (see #6 above), you can combine these into a weekend if you want to get out of Houston for longer.
Weekend road trips from Houston
9. Austin, Texas
Distance from Houston: 165 miles (2 hours 45 minutes)
When to visit: September and October are best for the weather and avoiding tourist crowds
The capital of Texas is an amazing destination for a weekend away from Houston. The drive will take you less than 3 hours along the I-10 to Columbus before following Highway 71 all the way into Austin.
Austin stands out from the other major cities in Texas - the large student population from the University of Texas brings a young cool vibe.
The liberal city is frequently voted as the best place to live in the United States and the most up and coming city by the likes of Forbes. Some of the world's largest tech companies have set up in Austin with the likes of Dell and Whole Foods calling the place home. Austin is the fastest growing city in the United States and there are good reasons for it!
Austin is known for a unique mix of big city living with the relaxed feel of outdoors everywhere you look. The Colorado river flows through downtown Austin with parks lining its banks. Barton Springs is a super popular destination in Zilker Park - the huge outdoor swimming pool is filled with water from local springs.
Don't miss out on the live music and food scenes in Austin which some argue are among the best in the country. There are endless bars where you can listen to young artists trying to break through and the range of outstanding restaurants is growing fast.
10. San Antonio, Texas
Distance from Houston: 197 miles (3 hours)
When to visit: All year round!
There are many good reasons to go on a road trip from Houston to San Antonio. If you like history, the Alamo and Mission San Jose are some of the best known historic sites in the country.
The Riverwalk is one of the most scenic streets in Texas with a relaxed atmosphere and dozens of places you can sit and relax, grabbing a drink or enjoying dinner by the water.
Houston has a rich Tex Mex scene of its own, but make sure you try one of the signature Mexican breakfasts when in San Antonio!
The road to San Antonio from Houston is very straight-forward. You just have to follow the I-10 for the entire 3-hour journey. Be careful just after leaving Houston - there is a segment of the I-10 with 26 lanes which makes it the widest road in the world and it certainly felt a bit confusing when we were driving through there!
11. Dallas and Fort Worth
Distance from Houston: 270 miles (4 hours)
When to visit: Whenever you find the time
Dallas has a lot to offer and together with the other locations in the Met area, you will have more than enough for a weekend and plenty if you stay a whole week!
From numerous art museums to riding the McKinney Avenue Trolley, Dallas is full of culture, history and fantastic food.
If you have enough time, make sure you visit Fort Worth and Grapevine. The Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District is a great embodiment of everything Texas. The classic city of Grapevine is great if you want to try some wines or just enjoy the romance of 19th century architecture.
When in Dallas, don't miss out on some quirky neighborhoods - Deep Ellum is great for live music and restaurants or grab a coffee in the Bishop Arts District.
Check out our huge list of the best things to do in Dallas for more options!
12. Marshall, Texas
Distance from Houston: 220 miles (3 hours 30 minutes)
When to visit: Try catching the Wonderland of Lights festival in the run up to Christmas
Marshall was one of the most important trade cities in Texas for two centuries. Sitting on the trading route between Dallas and Jackson that has today become the I-20, the town grew in stature and is sometimes known as the Gateway of Texas.
Since the 1870s, the railroad era began in earnest and the Texas and Pacific Railway Company was formed in 1871 to build a rail connection between Marshall and San Diego.
Although the town is nowhere near as big today, the Texas and Pacific Railway Museum tells the history of its growth and the culture that developed along with the trade.
The drive to Marshall is a little over 4 hours, but the roads are great and you can catch some scenic views along the way. If you want to make a long weekend out of it, add Caddo Lake (below) to your itinerary - it's only another 20 miles up the road!
13. Caddo Lake
Distance from Houston: 250 miles (4 hours 20 minutes)
When to visit: November and April offer perfect weather and few crowds
Caddo Lake on the border between Texas and Louisiana might just be one of the prettiest swamps in the world. Its still waters are covered in water lilies with majestic cypress trees growing right in the lake.
On the Texas side of the border, the lake splits into a series of smaller lakes with the Caddo Lake State Park being the gateway in. Entry costs $4 for adults and there are numerous activity options inside from hiking and camping in the lush forests to boating, canoeing and doing a bit of fishing.
You can also approach the lake by turning into Louisiana and heading to the east side of the lake past Shreveport. The route passes next to the Caddi Lake Historic Drawbridge and there are plenty of secluded places to stop on the north side of the lake.
If you fancy a bit of civilization, the historic city of Marshall (see above) is only 20 miles away from the Texas side and is well worth a visit.
14. Texas Hill Country
Distance from Houston: 240 miles (4 hours)
When to visit: March and April are perfect for the weather and blooming fields
Texas Hill Country is known for 2 things - its wine and cowboy lifestyle. The area spans to the north and northwest of San Antonio from Austin on the eastern edge to Junction in the west.
The wineries spread through the area are a Texas hidden secret. Those from outside the state may scoff at the thought with California, Oregon and Washington being the undisputed wine champions in the United States.
But there is a deep wine culture in Texas that was started by central European immigrants who first settled here some 200 years ago.
The rocky soil and hot climate is similar to parts of southern Europe and leads to rich full bodied wines with grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon particularly well suited.
Make stops in Fredericksburg and Bandera to experience the authentic cowboy lifestyle and if you're visiting at the right time, catch a BBQ cook-off or a rodeo!
15. Mustang Island State Park
Distance from Houston: 235 miles (4 hours)
When to visit: Great during the fall and winter months, but can really go all year round
Mustang Island is an 18-mile long stretch of land just off the coast of Texas, along the Coastal Bend from Aransas to Corpus Christi.
Unlike all other islands south of Galveston, you can drive all the way down the island and through the Mustang Island State Park itself.
For $5, you get access to miles of pristine beaches with perfect white sand where you can relax, try your hand at surfing or take a hike... along the water. Instead of hiking routes, this park has a 20-mile paddling trail for you to explore.
You can stay over at one of about 100 campsites in the area. Half have water and electricity with the others offering a real immersion into nature where you can fall asleep with the stars above you.
If you want to spend longer enjoying nature, you can add a drive to Padre Island and South Padre Island through Port Isabel (see #17 below). The Mustang Island State Park is a perfect halfway stop en route.
Week long road trips from Houston and longer drives
16. Big Bend National Park
Distance from Houston: 565 miles (9 hours)
When to visit: March to April and October. Weather in the summer months is scorching hot
One of the further places on our list, but still within the great State of Texas is the Big Bend National Park on the western edge of Texas and sitting right along the border with Mexico.
The picturesque mountains and intermittent forests offer some of the most scenic hiking trails in the USA. Civilization and amenities are hard to come by in the vast area covered by the park so bring supplies with you.
Just north of Big Bend are the towns of Marfa, Marathon, Alpine and Fort Davis which are all great historic locations worth visiting and can act as stopover points or a base from which to explore the park.
The route from Houston to the Big Bend National Park passes through the Chihuahuan desert and past the Glass Mountains range. It can get mighty hot in the summer - bring plenty of water and get ready for hours of everything looking red.
If you venture far enough into the park to enjoy activities along the Rio Grande, remember that technically that river marks the border between Mexico and the States. It's a good idea to bring your passport as border control may want to see it as you're getting back out of the river. (No, really!)
17. Padre Island and Port Isabel
Distance from Houston: 445 miles (7 hours 30 minutes)
When to visit: September to February. Avoid March when spring break descends onto South Padre Island
If Mustang Island is not remote enough and you want to see more of the Gulf coast, then you can keep on driving all the way to the southern tip of Texas to see more.
Padre Island and South Padre Island are long thin stretches of land sitting just of the coast of the mainland in the Gulf. The majority of the area is protected as the Padre Island National Seashore, Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge and the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.
In short, there's a whole lot of nature to see!
Port Isabel is a stunningly beautiful Texas town, surrounded by water. There is an endless number of water-based activities. Along with watersports and a great waterpark on South Padre Island, you can visit the Sea Turtle Center, swim with the dolphins and watch the waves roll in from the Jetties.
The drive is long and long stretches of US-77 will have literally nothing along them so equip yourself with drinks and entertainment, especially after you leave Corpus Christi in the rear view mirror.
18. New Orleans, Louisiana
Distance from Houston: 350 miles (5 hours 30 minutes)
When to visit: Amazing whenever you go. Mardi Gras happens in late February which is both amazing and crazy expensive!
New Orleans needs little introduction and although you have to drive all the way across the Louisiana marshes to get there, it's still within easy reach and you can get there in a little over 3 hours on a good day.
One of the most unique and authentic cities for listening to live music, you will find a plethora of jazz and blues sounds coming out of the doors along Bourbon Street and the rest of the French Quarter.
The classic French colonial building style makes New Orleans truly stand out and we spent hours just roaming the streets to look at the beautiful houses.
The local food is unlike any other southern food - try the alligator po boy or my personal favourite - the rich dark gumbo soup.
19. Follow the Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee
Distance from Houston: 940 miles (17 hours)
When to visit: Great Route all year round
If you want to go on one amazing road trip from Houston to explore some of the best food, culture and music the US has to offer while delving into the country's historic past, then the trip up the Mississippi River might just be right for you.
After crossing into Louisiana, head north after an optional (okay, absolutely necessary and compulsory) stop in New Orleans.
After passing through Baton Route, you can wind up either side of the river with stops in Natchez and Greenville as well as the option of a detour to the historic city of Jackson, Mississippi.
Think amazing southern food, proper local blues bars and amazing sights of the mighty river and stunning plantations - all for you to visit along the way.
After Greenville stay on the east side of the river through Mississippi all the way into Memphis.
Memphis is the home of Blues and there are countless museums and sights dedicated to music, complete with the Hall of Fame.
Check out our guide for the complete list of the best things to do in Memphis, bars to visit and places to see!
On the way back, you can cut through Arkansas to Caddo Lake and Marshall, Texas as you make your way down back to Houston.
20. Calsbad, New Mexico and the Guadaloupe Mountains National Park
Distance from Houston: 645 miles (10 hours)
When to visit: September and October if you want to see the bats in the caverns, avoid desperately hot summer months, especially if hiking
The Carlsbad Caverns National Park is home to a set of jaw-dropping cave systems that are well worth the long drive across the entire width of Texas from Houston.
Make sure you do your research and book ahead of time - admission is restricted and you may well find you won't be let in without having booked at least several weeks in advance.
The Guadalupe Mountains National Park is just across the border, back in Texas and only a short drive. You can easily explore both from one camping location or hotel.
The best way to explore the Guadalupe Mountains is on foot and the best hiking trails here take days rather than hours to complete. Bring your tent!
The Sitting Bull Falls are in New Mexico's Lincoln National Forest, just outside Carlsbad. Getting to the falls is an easy 10-minute walk and as they originate from a spring, water comes down all year round.