For a quick getaway and activities close to home, Houston sits in the middle of five of the best scenic routes in the region. These drives promise to bring you closer to nature, allow you to check out the stars of a popular reality show, or sample some of the best ice cream in the country. Make it a day trip or check in for a short vacation at these beautiful locales.
Interstate 10 East to Beaumont
Gator Country Adventure Park
21559 FM 365
Beaumont, TX 77705
Distance: 60 miles one-way
Price: $12 adults/$9 children
Hours: Sat and Sun – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; show times – 10 a.m., 2 p.m., 4p.m.
Interstate 10 east takes you through a beautiful variety of landscape. Everything from native pine and beautiful live oak trees to alligator-filled swamps dot this drive. Cross the San Jacinto River near Faucet Lake for sparkling waterside views and panoramic shots of the area’s waterways. Stop to see the stars of CMT’s Gator 911 and the new truTV series Gator Girls. Catch the Gator Country Show and tour the park to view a variety of alligators, crocodile, caiman, tortoises and snakes.
Highway 288 to Brazos Bend State Park
21901 FM 762
Needville, TX 77461
Distance: 48 miles one-way
Price: $7 a day ages 13 and older/$5 a day if overnight camping in addition to campsite fee of $7 to $40 a night
Gate Hours: Mon to Thurs – 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Fri to Sun – 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Driving from 288 to FM 762 offers camera-ready shots of the area’s cutest wildlife. Come camera in hand to photograph the area’s deer, birds and armadillo. Count on blossoming bluebonnets in April. Choose from six sparkling lakes, and feel free to stop for the anglers of the family. The Nature Center gives you a peek into the lives of the inhabitants of the park, but the George Observatory offers three domed telescopes with a rare up-close view of the night sky.
Interstate 45 North to Huntsville State Park
565 Park Rd. 40 West
Huntsville, TX 77342
Distance: 60 miles one way
Price: $5 a day ages 13 and older
Hours: call for daily hours
In the spring beauty abounds in the lush landscape that leads up I 45. When in full bloom, the bluebonnets seen from afar mimic tropical blue water. Head through the rolling hills and into Huntsville, round a curve in the road to the sudden sight of 67-foot-tall Sam Houston in all of his statuesque glory. Take the exit and enjoy the sights of the museum dedicated to the American hero. Huntsville state park has the best of nature with its connection to the Sam Houston National Forest and Lake Raven. Families may camp, hike and swim on this perfect road trip pit stop.
Interstate 45 South to Moody Gardens in Galveston
One Hope Blvd.
Galveston, TX 77554
Distance: 51 miles one way
Price: $46.95 for admission into the entire park/$8.95 to $17.95 for individual attractions
Hours: daily – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Take a drive to Galveston, where the sights begin on I 45 as you climb the bridge leading to the island. Smell the salt water in the air and feel the sea breeze on your skin. Cruise along the seawall to catch the beauty of the dunes and the sound of waves breaking. The best sight in Galveston is just when the sun rises over the Gulf of Mexico. The island also offers fun at the shore and great eateries, but for fun of a different kind, opt for Moody Gardens. The park features three pyramids that enclose various ocean environments. From the south Atlantic penguins to the Caribbean’s tropical fish, guests may experience it all. Catch a movie in the 3D and 4 x theaters’ and strap in for a virtual under water ride.
Highway 290 West to the Blue Bell Creamery
1101 S. Blue Bell Rd.
Brenham, TX 77833
Distance: 60 miles one way
Price: $5 seniors/$3 children
Hours: Mon to Fri – 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Ranking number three in the nation’s ice cream world, Blue Bell Creamery has a long Texas history. Not only will you travel to one of the best ice cream producers in the country, this gorgeous drive along 290 West promises wildflower and Bluebonnets blooming every spring. Relax driving peacefully past classic country homes and ranches. At the little creamery, make the trip sweeter with a 45-minute tour. Stop into the Blue Bell Country store to pick up souvenirs of this rustic road trip.
Nicole Sonnier is a freelance writer living in Houston and covers Nightlife & Music. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.