Fall is the perfect time of year to take a day trip from Houston — the weather is nicer and the holiday madness has yet to begin. These 11 fun day trips from Houston are the perfect changes of scenery for kids, so pack up the car and go look at 'gators, check out a castle, or see where Texas' favorite ice cream is made.
And for more kid-friendly things to do around Houston this fall, check out our Fall Fun and Harvest Guide for Houston Families.
Day Trips from Houston - West
Fall is definitely still warm enough for ice cream.
1. Brenham - 1 hour, 15 minutes from Downtown Houston
Brenham is a wonderfully quaint town west of Houston. There are several events you can attend with the family throughout the fall, from the Scarecrow Festival to the Texas Art and Music Festival, and of course, the Blue Bell Creamery. The creamery makes for a fun family visit whether you're bringing along a 2-year-old or 15-year-old. Tours are educational and fun, and you get to sample Texas' famous dessert.
To burn off that energy from the inevitable ice cream-induced sugar rush, there are plenty of area parks to visit, as well as the nearby Chappell Hill Museum and the Texas Cotton Gin Museum.
Tour a castle in Bellville. Photo courtesy of Newman's Castle
2. Bellville - 1 hour from Downtown Houston
Bellville is the epitome of fine small-town Texas and has some great attractions to ensure a fun day out. Before you go, make a reservation for a morning tour of Newman’s Castle. There is a moat, a massive working 3,000 lb. drawbridge with an accompanying portcullis, a chapel, five turrets, a courtyard, and a central keep with views of the surrounding lands. When the kids get hungry, make sure you visit Newman’s Bakery and the Bellville Meat Market. The Meat market serves Pecan-smoked barbecue and has a fabulous butcher with over 25 varieties of sausage!
Day Trips from Houston - South
If full-out camping isn't your family's thing, then try a day trip to Houston's closest Texas State Park. I grew up spending days and weekends here, and each time I was convinced our family dog was going to be eaten by an alligator on one of our many walks throughout the park. Don't worry, no dogs or small humans were harmed during our trips, but getting to see alligators up close and personal was one of the best aspects of the park as a kid. The hiking trails span 37 miles and can accommodate wheelchairs as well as bikes.
The park's Nature Center has exhibits on the park's ecosystems and the animals you can find there, and then there is the George Observatory. Part of the Houston Museum of Natural Science (and therefore warrants a separate admission), it has recently been fully renovated and is open Saturdays all year. The Observatory features three domed telescopes perfect for exploring the stars, and beyond.
Galveston is an easy day trip from Houston. Photo courtesy of Moody Gardens
4. Galveston - 55 minutes from Downtown Houston
There's much more to Galveston than just the beach, so it makes for an eventful day trip from Houston well after summer ends. Try shopping on the Strand, take a historical tour, or hit up Moody Gardens or the Children's Museum. If you want to try a different coastal location, check out Freeport, where you can enjoy Surfside Beach as well as other attractions.
5. Port Arthur - 1 hour, 20 minutes from Downtown Houston
Because of its proximity to Louisiana, this coastal town is full of Cajun flair, which really shines through during the city's yearly events such as the CavOILcade Parade in October and the Groves Pecan Festival in November. If you're museum-goers, the Museum of the Gulf Coast is well worth a visit where your family can explore the paleontology and biology of the Texas coast and see a plethora of coastal artifacts. Lantern-lit ghost tours of the historic town are a hit nighttime activity and a great way to end your day trip to Port Arthur.
Day Trips from Houston - East
Beaumont is home to both alligators and the famous Spindletop. Photo courtesy of Gator Country Wildlife Adventure Park
6. Beaumont - 1 hour, 30 minutes from Downtown Houston
Get a full Southeast Texas experience in Beaumont, and if you have extra time, it is close enough to the Louisiana border to visit nearby Lake Charles or the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge. A kid favorite near Beaumont is definitely the Gator Country Wildlife Adventure Park where you can actually hold an alligator. The park also has swamp boat tours (you see now why this is most appealing post-summer), shows, and tours. Admission isn't too bad at $17 for adults and $14 for kids ages 2-12.
Beaumont is also home to the famous Spindletop, where oil erupted from the ground for nine days straight in 1901, and several museums. The Art Museum of Southeast Texas features contemporary paintings and sculptures and the McFaddin-Ward House is a beautiful Colonial revival mansion. Add in the delicious seafood and parks along the Neches River, and Beaumont has something for the whole family.
Outdoor fun is so much more enjoyable when the summer sun isn't blazing down on you, which is why fall is the ideal time to explore the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. Activities at the refuge include fishing, guided hikes, exploring the trails, and observing wildlife. A bonus for fall visitors: Monarch butterflies typically migrate over the refuge each October! Be sure to check out the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's event calendar to check out all of the activities happening each fall.
Day Trips from Houston - North
Big Thicket is perfect for outdoorsy families. Photo courtesy of Big Thicket National Preserve
Here's another nature retreat for your family that does not require too long of a drive. Big Thicket has more than 40 miles of hiking trails as well as small waterways for kayaking and canoeing. Because the preserve leans on the primitive side, this trip may be best suited for families with kids can walk confidently on trails without needing a stroller.
Hiking is definitely the top activity here, and the beautiful trails make all of the walking (or biking) worth it. Hunting is allowed in various portions of the preserve, and there is also a bird watcher's trail.
9. Huntsville State Park - 1 hour, 15 minutes from Downtown Houston
This state park is the gateway to the massive Sam Houston National Forest that touches Lake Conroe and spreads to the east. We spent countless days and weekends here growing up. The park spans more than 2,000 acres and has 21 miles of trails, multiple playgrounds, a nature center, and spots where you can go swimming, canoeing, and kayaking. The park hosts several events throughout the year as well, including guided and themed hikes, so make sure to check out the event page.
If you head up this way, it is also the perfect opportunity to snap a picture (or at least try to) by the massive Sam Houston statue off I-45. It's the world's tallest statue of an American hero, after all.
See items from George H.W. Bush's presidency at his presidential library in College Station. Photo courtesy George H.W. Bush Presidential Library.
No matter what your political preference is, if your family is interested in politics or history at all, you will most definitely enjoy touring the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library. Filled to the brim with memorabilia from the 41st president's tenure, self-guided tours of the museum can easily fill several hours of your day. The museum also hosts special events periodically, so be sure to check out their event calendar ahead of time.
While you're in College Station, be sure to take a stroll through the gorgeous Texas A&M University campus, or even take in a football game at iconic Kyle Field.
Surrounded by the tall pine trees that grow with wild abandon in east Texas, Lake Livingston State Park is a haven for fall family fun. Your entire family can take advantage of the cooler temps to hike, fish, play on the playgrounds, and camp out under the stars. Fall is also an ideal time to perfect your families canoeing and kayaking skills. And if your family loves to fish, but doesn't do it enough to keep your own poles on hand, the park loans out fishing poles through their Tackle Loaner Program. If you're looking for an alternative to Lake Livingston, consider our list of 10 state parks in the Houston area.