The city has so many lakes to look at, each with individual qualities. Whether you are looking to enjoy a peaceful holiday by the water, experience some outdoor leisure activities, or even if you have a fondness for nature and animals, this guide will help you decide which lake might offer you everything you seek.
If you can’t decide between the sea and land for your next adventure, you might also like to take a peek at our guide to the 5 best beaches in Houston.
What To Consider When Looking for Lakes for Swimming & Cabin Rentals Near Houston?
Houston is among some of the best places in Texas for lakes, wildlife, and watersports. You will never find yourself more than a half-hour drive from a picturesque lake, where you can unwind from the stresses of day-to-day life. While glancing over our top picks highlighted below, you may want to consider these essential points.
Depending on how long you plan to stay at the lake, you need to ensure you are prepared for anything. You will also need to think about changing facilities should you want to swim, alongside equipment rentals if you cannot bring your own.
Many of the lakes in our below list are set within stunning parks and nature reserves; therefore, you will need to ensure whoever you are traveling with can walk for long periods.
Where you park can significantly impact your day, no one wants to trek for miles to get back to their car after a wonderfully magical day at the lake, especially if you have been swimming and are still sopping wet!
As many of these lakes will take a car journey to get to, I have included the best and most cost-effective parking options. As Houston is a popular location for tourists wanting to enjoy its grand scenery, free parking is hard to come by.
The 8 Most Amazing Lakes for Swimming & Cabin Rentals Near Houston.
It would take hours to go over the enormous number of lakes around Houston. But we’ve managed to put together a list of our favorite 9 to share with you. We’ve categorized these into the best public lakes, best lakes for swimming, and the best lakes for cabin rentals to help you with your search.
1. Lake Raven – Best Public Lake Near Houston
|565 Park Road 40 West, Huntsville, TX 77340
|Trailhead parking throughout the park
|Under 13 Free - 13+ $7.00 per day
If you are looking for the best public lake near Houston for water activities, Lake Raven should be an option for you to check out. It offers excellent fishing waters with varieties of largemouth bass and sunfish.
Located just over an hour’s drive from Houston, Lake Raven is set within the heart of Huntsville State Park. The surrounding parkland covers 2,083.2acres, brimming with natural woodlands, native wildlife, and several campgrounds.
You might even spot the odd alligator or two during your visit. Alligator safety notices are available to peruse around the park for guests to educate themselves if heading towards the water. Generally, the water is safe to paddle in during the day as these creatures are primarily nocturnal.
This park has been preserved to keep it as natural as possible and therefore has minimal amenities. There are restrooms alongside a small bait shop. Picnic areas have been set up for visitors’ comfort.
Lake Raven covers 203-acres; much of the lake is shaded, allowing for comfortable kayaking should you decide to bring your own equipment.
2. McGovern Lake – Best Public Lake in Houston
|6001 Fannin St, Houston, TX 77030
|Free parking is available at the Sam Houston Monument - an 8-minute walk from the lake and parking for around 70 cars.
Set in the heart of Houston, nestled between Houston Zoo and the museum district, is the blissfully serene Hermann Park which is home to the still, calm waters of McGovern Lake. The lake was revamped in 1999, where elements such as concrete sides were added to improve its safety.
One of the best activities visitors can enjoy on McGovern lake is hiring one of the on-site pedal boats. This leisurely activity costs as little as $12.00 per boat for 30-minutes, with up to four people in the boat.
Children can enjoy other activities within the park, such as the fantastic miniature vintage railroad, playground, family garden, and artwork.
There is a small area for fishing at McGovern lake. These spots are only available for those above 12 or over the age of 65. All fish caught must be returned to the lake.
You can find a cozy little café close to the lake called the Ginger Kale; they serve delicious light bites and snacks alongside refreshing pressed juices. Their Strawberry Creme Fraiche Toast is one of the most satisfyingly tasty, not so naughty treats ever!
3. Arboretum Lake – Best Public Lake in Houston (for wildlife enthusiasts)
|4501 Woodway Drive Houston, TX 77024-7708
|Two large parking lots on-site - parking is $5.00 per day, except on Thursdays when it is free
Located within Houston Memorial Park sits the tranquil Arboretum Lake. Arboretum Lake is a fantastic place for anyone wanting to immerse themself in nature without going out of the city!
There are plenty of activities to enjoy within the park alongside visiting the lake, such as the nature shop, aquarium, interactive exhibits, and multiple hiking trails. The lakeside is unsuitable for enjoying picnics; however, picnicking spots can be found within the memorial areas, with refreshments available to purchase in the nature shop.
Here at Arboretum lake, you will catch sight of tortoises, goats, and an abundance of bird species, alongside majestic plants and flowers.
Arboretum Lake is also home to an alligator whom the park rangers have named Arborgator. No one knows how this reptile got into the lake; it just miraculously appeared one day. The gator has been left undisturbed to bask in its newfound home, though many of the locals do worry about the area’s safety because of this, as no fencing or precautions have been made to keep residents and tourists safe from the 6ft reptile.
In our guide to the top 8 spots for a picnic outing in Houston, you can learn more about the memorial park and picnic areas.
4. Lake Longhorn – Best Lake in Houston for Swimming
|2391 Gun Range Rd, League City, TX 77573
|Large, free on-site car park
Lake Longhorn is located within the charming waterfront city of League City, approximately a 40-minute drive from Houston. This lake is predominantly used for water sports training, scuba diving, and kayaking. The 48-acre lake is locally known to be the best place to travel for multisport water activities, so it can get extremely busy.
There are some fantastic places to visit around the League City area if you plan to stay an entire day here, including the NASA Space Station attraction, which is a mere 15-minute drive from the lake. More can be found out about the NASA Space Station and other nearby attractions in our guide to 5 fun stuff, things & activities to do in Houston.
You don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy Lake Longhorn’s warm, safe, clean waters. This lake also offers some reasonably peaceful spots for release fishing and general relaxing.
The price to enter the water is $15.00 per person. The lake has an average depth of 25 feet, so children are advised to wear lifejackets. There are steps available to assist with getting in and out of the water should you require them. Open water swimming is one of the most popular activities to enjoy here.
5. Double Lake Recreation Area – Best Lake in Houston for Swimming & Camping
|301 FM 2025 Rd, Coldspring, TX 77331
|$7.00 per day
|Included in the $7.00 parking fee - priced per car rather than per person
Double Lake Recreation Area has helped keep the people of Houston in touch with nature since 1937. The lake is set within the magnificent Sam Houston National Forest, which can be reached in just over an hour’s drive from Houston.
There isn’t any outdoor leisure activity that can’t be done here! From swimming and fishing to hiking and camping, this really is a wonderland of its own, maintained with such care to preserve its beauty.
Though there are many lakes within close proximity to Double Lake, this is one of the more pleasurable lakes to spend time at and has the most to offer in terms of picnicking areas, safety, and a bathhouse.
There is also a small sandy beach area at the lake, a firm favorite spot for younger visitors. You will find three fishing piers at Double Lake, with boat rentals available during the high season. The lake is teeming with bass, catfish, and bream.
6. Lake Livingston – Best Lake in Houston for Shallow Swimming
|21 Wolf Creek Park Road, Coldspring, TX 77331
|Free Parking available at the Wolf Creek Marina Store
|$5.00 per person
This is a wonderfully rustic park that lends itself to a superb campsite. The park has a children’s playground, a small shop, and washroom facilities.
Lake Livingston can be enjoyed at its best from Wolf Creek Park. This is a great lake to consider should you be traveling as a family with young children. The water is blissfully shallow, so it is perfect for paddling and learning to swim.
As with most of the lakes in and around Houston, alligators can pose a threat; therefore, this needs to be taken into consideration when visiting any of the lakes on this list. Alligator sightings near the heavier populated areas of Lake Livingston, such as the playground, are infrequent; the gators prefer to stay close to White Rock Creek.
There are plenty of spots to enjoy fishing around this lake, with a wide variety of fish to be caught. Fishing supplies (alongside snacks, drinks, and ice cream) can be purchased on-site.
7. Lake Conroe – Best Lake for Cabin Rentals (within an hour’s drive of Houston)
|300 West Davis St., Conroe, TX 77301
|Large, free on-site car park
|$2 to $5
Lake Conroe is one of the most picturesque lakes near Houston. The lake spans 21,000 acres and is surrounded by lush pine forests and luxurious houses.
You can swim in Lake Conroe; though many don’t, there have not only been alligator sightings but also bull sharks, and water snakes inhabit these waters. You can enjoy the lake more peacefully by boat; a handful of boat rentals are dotted around the lake.
Lake Conroe has become infamous for people claiming to see the Texas Bigfoot here; the place has become a hub for sasquatch hunters!
If you are looking for a cabin rental, though, this is one of the most beautiful places you may wish to begin your search, with waterfront rentals of all shapes and sizes available, all individually designed and built to offer their own unique slice of paradise. You will find charming, rustic log cabins to luxurious glass-fronted chalets to suit every requirement.
8. Lake Houston – Best Lake for Cabin Rentals in Houston
|110 West Main Street
Humble, TX 77338
|$3 per person ages 13-64
Lake Houston helps makeup part of the San Jacinto River and is one of the closest lakes to Downtown Houston to rent a glorious cabin for that much-needed getaway. The lake is located close to golf courses, parks, restaurants, and bars which helps to make it so wonderfully accessible.
Lake Houston Brewery is set along its banks; however, it’s worth traveling into Houston for a genuinely authentic brewery experience; take a look at our guide to the best breweries in Houston.
Similarly, one of the closest sports bars to the Lake is Mojo’s Sports Grill; however, if you do want to check out a few more options that we like, you might want to glance over our choices for the best sports bars in Houston.
All rental cabins set around Lake Houston have been designed in keeping with the natural forest landscape, each compactly built with wood as their predominant material. The cabins in this area are suitable for up to around four guests, with many of them being purpose-built just for two.
To Round Things Up…
Whether you are seeking pure relaxation on a lakeside vacation or looking to enjoy water-based activities, we hope we have helped you to narrow down your choices when deciding what lake to head to during your time in Houston.
If you’ve found this guide helpful and want to find out about what other natural hotspots can be found near Houston, why not continue reading to find out about the top 8 fishing spots in Houston and the 7 best places to go kayaking in Houston.