A child in a scout uniform looks through a telescope at the George Observatory

The George Observatory at Brazos Bend State Park hosts events for families to learn about the night sky. Photo by J. Griffis Smith

On a rainy afternoon in December, our family set up camp in a soggy spot near a flooded campsite at Brazos Bend State Park. It was our first visit (and only our family’s third camping trip), and we were determined to give it our best attempt. Another family was packing up as we arrived, so we got permission to move sites. We lifted our tent and walked it over and down, like a game of Tetris, to a spot that did not require wading through standing water.

Located just outside of Houston, Brazos Bend features 37 miles of trails, a packed events calendar, a nature center, fishing, an observatory, and multiple overnight options (including campsites, screened shelters, and a cabin).

What began as an exercise in perseverance quickly morphed into a camping trip crammed with excitement both real and imagined. On our trek to the bathroom that night, my youngest swore she heard a “coyote armadillo.” Though the park boasts a menagerie of animals, which includes over 300 species of birds, 21 species of reptiles (including over 300 adult alligators), and 23 species of mammals, a sighting of this particular combination is probably out of reach of less creative parkgoers.

We woke to a gorgeous sunrise pouring through the trees and hiked the 1.7-mile Elm Lake and 1.2-mile 40 Acre Lake trails, where we spotted alligators. What felt uncomfortably close to us was shrugged off by a seasoned veteran of the park we met on the trail, who regaled us with stories of his sightings over the years.

The park spans 5,000 acres, comprising three unique ecosystems: woodlands (live-oak gallery and mixed bottomland hardwood forests), wetlands (swamps, lakes, and marshes), and tall prairie. Visitors can witness the diversity of native species via foot, bike, horseback, and wheelchair—including an all-terrain wheelchair available at the headquarters. Visitors who bring their own horse have 13 miles of multi-use trails to enjoy.

A particularly unique offering to the park is a collaboration between Brazos Bend State Park and the historic George Observatory through the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Two years after our first Brazos Bend camping trip, our family drove to the park on a cloudy Saturday night. Despite the weather, the staff led us through a fascinating conversation about the telescopes that keep us all—save for moments from our four-year-old—engaged. Not even an opaque sky could prevent an evening of learning and fun. The observatory is open Saturday nights year-round, depending on the weather, and tickets can be purchased online for $10.

Despite an overnight trip, a day trip venturing on even more trails, and an evening at the observatory, our family still has so much more to explore of this large park. Each a worthwhile trip on their own, together a magnificent way to enjoy the boggy southeast corner of Texas.


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