About an hour southwest of Houston, Texas, you can find Brazos Bend State Park, one of National Geographic’s top ranked state parks in the country. It is definitely one of the most unique state parks I have ever visited.
If I could sum up this park in one word: alligators!
Until exploring this park, the only other park I have ever associated with alligators is Everglades National Park in Florida. However, I’ve never actually been to the Everglades, so I’m not sure what the alligator/crocodile situation is like there. For a size comparison, though, Brazos Bend State Park is over 300 times smaller than the Everglades! At this size, you’re pretty much guaranteed to come across multiple alligators. And since Brazos Bend State Park is loaded with great walking/hiking trails, the park is easily accessible and a thrilling day or weekend trip from Houston.
There are lots of other wildlife in Brazos Bend State Park, including turtles, deer, otters, and lots of birds. But make no mistake, the main attraction here are the gators. There were several occasions when we were walking on the trail and a few gators would just be hanging out and basking in the sun.
It was slightly disconcerting as first, especially since this was the first time I had been this close to a gator outside of a zoo setting. After making it past that first gator, though, the nervousness went away and pure excitement set in.
As it turns out, American alligators are actually quite shy and rarely interact with humans. For a great (and quick) overview of alligators and the difference between alligators and crocodiles, check out this write-up provided by the National Park Service.
As we continued along, we ended up seeing over a dozen alligators, most of which were lazily passing the time in and around the water’s edge. A few, like my friend below, provided an incredible up close encounter right on the trail.
The area around 40 Acre Lake and Elm Lake will provide the best gator viewing opportunities. Hiking trails connect these two areas, as well as Horseshoe Lake and Hale Lake. In fact, the park has an incredible interconnecting trail system, making it possible to vary your routes and make your hike as short or as long as you want.
Aside from the gators, there are plenty of opportunities to see other non-threatening wildlife. I’m no bird expert, but we saw a ton of birdwatchers at the park, and we even got some great shots of birds ourselves. We also saw groups of turtles, all hanging out in a line on a single log.
As for the park itself, it’s a series of beautiful, yet contrasting landscapes. For example, on one side of the 40 Acre Lake trail there is deep blue water with perfectly placed floating vegetation. On the other side is thick green swamp like pea soup with lifeless trees and overhanging Spanish moss. The only thing separating the two sides is the trail you’re walking on. The whole park is that way. Look one way and see one thing, look the other way and see the complete opposite.
It’s easy to spend a whole day here. Below is the hiking route that we took when we went. We focused our hike on the western half of the park. There are still miles of trails on the east side that need to be explored, but that will have to wait for another trip.
If you’re in the Houston area and looking for an adventure and something to do outdoors, Brazos Bend State Park is a great option.
Brazos Bend State Park – Know Before You Go
- Location: 1 hour southwest of Houston, 3 hrs southeast of Austin, 3 hrs east of San Antonio
- Price (as of March 2016): $7 per person or get the Texas State Parks Pass to waive entrance fees for everyone in your vehicle.
- Office hours (as of March 2016): 8am-4:30pm (Sun-Thurs), 8am-9:30pm (Fri-Sat). Park gates close at 10pm every night.
- Prices and hours may change, so keep up to date with the Brazos Bend State Park website.
- In addition to hiking there is , picnicking, biking, horseback riding and fishing.
- Plan your route beforehand, to include parking areas and points of interest, with the Brazos Bend State Park Trail Map.
- Yes, it’s awesome to see these alligators up close, but there is a very real danger, especially during breeding season when mama alligator will protect her babies if you get too close. Check out some alligator safety tips before heading out.