What to expect at Brazos Bend State Park

Bill Brooks is back with a new visit recap from one of his beloved state parks: Brazos Bend State Park. Continue on to learn more about what you can expect from this southeast Texas treasure including hiking, camping and more!


Growing up in Southeast Texas, Brazos Bend was my most commonly visited state park and for many reasons.  This park is for you if you are into hiking, biking, fishing, birding, camping, astronomy, or just like being outdoors.  One wouldn’t think that for being 45 miles away from the big city of Houston you could find a park as diverse as this.  There’s so much to experience at Brazos Bend State Park that I’m sure I will leave something out on this article, but hope to touch on some aspects that would invite you to check it out if you haven’t already. 

The biggest draw to Brazos Bend has to be wanting to see alligators.  The most popular site in the park to view them is Elm Lake and the trail that loops around it, Elm Lake Trail,  is just over a mile and a half.  This trail is wide and the gravel packed down to make biking it a breeze.  Along Elm Lake Trail are several viewing platforms and fishing piers for you to take in the views of the wildlife or to cast a line into the lake.  This area also has many picnic tables and grills that are commonly filled with visitors enjoying the park.

View of the beginning at Elm Lake Trail
Brazos Bend S.P.

Key Trails To Visit:

  • Big Creek Loop, 1.7 mi., Moderate
  • Elm Lake Loop, 1.7 mi., Moderate
  • 40 Acre Lake Trail, 1.2 mi., Moderate
  • Live Oak Trail, 1.7 mi., Moderate

The other lake where alligators are a common sight is 40 Acre Lake.  The 40 Acre Lake Trail circles the lake and is just over one mile.  The parking area for this hike is next to the headquarters, but there is also a trail that connects 40 Acre to Elm for you to view both lakes that are home to alligators.  The main sight on this trail is the wooden observatory tower that stands on the northeast side of the trail.  From here you can view 40 Acre, Pilant, and parts of Elm lake.  Taking in a sunrise or sunset from this location is highly recommended!

If the river is more your scene then you are in luck.  The Brazos runs along the eastern edge of the park with a couple miles of trail that runs along it’s banks.  There are several good fishing spots down these trails that offer nice views, good shade from the forest, and a little more secluded than the gator filled lakes.  Along the Brazos the trails are not as smooth as the lakes, but you can still get a bike down them. 

Observation tower at 40 Acre

            Another spot to visit in the park is the George Observatory and Challenger Learning Center.  The observatory is open Saturday afternoon and nights where you can purchase tickets to look out one of the 3 telescopes operated by the Houston Museum of Natural Science.  They also have various exhibits open to view and interact with.  It’s a great place to check out after the sun goes down on a Saturday to continue your fun at Brazos Bend State Park. 

            In the same parking lot where you take the short hike to the George Observatory is the Nature Center.  Open daily, the Nature Center offers different exhibits that showcase the various ecosystems located within the 5,000 acre park.  Park rangers also have programs within the Nature Center where you can see and touch some of the reptiles on display. 

            In my most recent visit to the area I wanted to take my two boys to see the park for the first time and hopefully give them a glimpse of their first alligator in the wild.  Within 100 yards into our Elm Lake Trail hike we spotted one approximately 7 feet.  Our stop at the first fishing pier on the trail we were able to spot another casually swimming through the middle of the lake.  This visit was short lived due to our distance of travel we were about to do, but it was extremely difficult getting these toddlers back in the car because of the amount of fun they were having.  I expect that you would experience the same joy in the park if you haven’t already.  Again, I know there are many characteristics of the park that have been left out, but that is an indication of the many different encounters one can have in Brazos Bend State Park.  As always when visiting public parks, leave no trace.  Only leave with memories and pictures.


           Camping

Brazos Bend offers full hook up sites, tent sites, screened shelters, and primitive sites.  All are located on the northeast side of the park and are surrounded by Big Creek.  Centrally located to all the camping sites is a nice playground for the kids to enjoy. 

Additional Camping Options Include:

Burr Oak Camping area, campsites with electricity, $25/night, 40 sites

Red Buckeye Camping area, w/elec., $20/ night, 33 sites

Primitive Campsites, $12/night, 15 sites, walk-in 35-150 yards

Screened Shelters, $25/night, 13 sites, w/ electricity

Cabin, $65/night, no bathroom inside, nearby, 1 site

Learn more about Texas State Parks with Cabins!

Along the banks of Elm Lake Trail. You can see an alligator floating in the water just in front of the island at the top middle of the picture.

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