Houston Trailrunning: Cullinan Park and Brazos Bend State Park

This past week I explored two new places to trail run in the Houston area. The first, Cullinan Park in Sugarland, was recommended to me by a friend, which is great because I was unaware the park existed, and the second, Brazos Bend State Park is very well known, at least in the area.

 

CULLINAN PARK

My sister and I headed out to Cullinan on Sunday. I had looked at park online and from my friend’s report gathered I would probably be running around 3 miles. Arriving there, I realized there was a main trail consisting of a 1.5 mile loop, but there were off-shoot trails and connectors, so the total amount of mileage was a little over 3 miles. One of the trails, the red trail, appears to end on the map, but it actually continues through the woods and around the lake, and I recommend going the whole way, which will bring your right around to the parking lot.

 

This is a great park for people looking to get some easy, fun, trail running in. It’s in Houston, so its flat. But it offers a variety of scenery; especially considering the small area the park takes up. It’s not far out of the way of anything, being just a few miles from I-69, and parking was free. The only bathroom available was a porto-potty, so if that turns you off, just go before you arrive and you should be fine for such a short run. We went on a Sunday with pretty pleasant weather, and the park was not crowded. Most of the visitors stayed near the parking lot, as there are viewing decks to see wildlife- we saw baby alligators!

 

As you can see from the map below, these trails have names, but I appreciate the simplicity of their color-coding on the map and will use that for reference. When you get out there, you will find colored bands on trees for the individual trailheads.

 

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From the parking lot, we went to the main trailhead, and took the green route to the first off-shoot of the blue route, and from there took the red route. On the red route we came across a pretty interesting scene, but I wont give away what that was here! As I said, the map shows the red route ending, but we were able to make it around the lake and back to the parking lot, still on trail, where we started at the main (green) trailhead again, this time taking an immediate left to go in the other direction on the green trail. We followed that around to the lavender trail. This was the least interesting trail in the park, to me. If you want to get the mileage, great, but if you’re looking to cut something, it’s just wide and flat, and dead-ends at a canal with a view of the road. We went back towards the green trail on the lavender trail, I took a little side jaunt to check out the turquoise trail, which had a pretty enchanting vibe, before we headed back to the parking lot on the green trail.

 

It was a fun run. Aside from the lavender trail, you’re looking at mostly single track or close to it. There’s plenty of shade, and for its size and location, I didn’t feel like I was running anywhere near a city (save a few glimpses of neighborhoods on the red route). There were some tricky areas to navigate, If you want to get to the other side of the green trail from the trailhead, take the second or third crossover, the first took us off the path as we had to navigate around some muck and water, but you’ll see that from the main path. The only path we didn’t take was the yellow, and as I ran ahead and doubled back to join up with my sister a few times, I was able to turn 3.3 miles of trail into 4 easily, and it’s worth repeating that the scenery changes often, and it’s all very pretty.

 

BRAZOS BEND

The second trail run of the week took me out to Brazos Bend State Park, southwest of Houston. It’s a very well-known park in the area, the upkeep and amenities are fantastic, and the staff is friendly and helpful. When I arrived, I purchased an annual Texas State Parks pass ($70), and the ranger assisting me was able to recommend trails to run on, as well as which ones to avoid because they were still recovering from heavy rain.

The website claims 37 miles of hiking trails in the park, which I believe includes the paved areas as well, and I covered around 6 or so. I’ll share what I did that day and update the blog once I explore and find out more. I’m including an image of the map the ranger gave me, with his recommendations highlighted in yellow, and what I actually ran in blue marker. (I ran out a bit on some other trails to get a look around, which is how I covered 6 miles). The black “X” marks trails I was to avoid.

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I parked behind Elm Lake, right at the turn-around, and took the Elm Lake Loop Trail to the Spillway Trail. If you didn’t know, Brazos Bend is known for its wild alligator population, and I was not disappointed. Not one mile into my run, I saw two from a bridge on the Spillway Trail, then came across one right on the path. I wasn’t sure what to do, as cautionary signage insisted on giving the animals a birth of 30 feet, which was impossible with water on both sides of the trail. I don’t know how fast alligators are, but I remembered a friend saying he just ran by them in the park all the time. I started to approach, and at that moment the formerly still reptile started moving its legs and opening its mouth at me, and I was done. I had planned to take the Spillway Trail around 40 Acre Lake, but I turned back and made my way back to the Elm Lake Trail.

 

When I came to the Pliant Slough trail, I took that. The ranger hadn’t mentioned it as good or something to avoid, and I’m glad I ran it. The ground was super springy, and I was reminded how much better it feels to be off of concrete. The trail was only a mile long, and I was loving the stretch so much that I was tempted to run it twice, but instead took the trail back around to the observatory, where I made my way back around Elm Lake once again. When I got near my car, I ran past to the Horseshoe Lake Loop, trying to get to at least 6 miles.

 

I didn’t even cover a third of the mileage in the park, but of what I did see, none of it was single track, and it was all very flat. Still, it’s a great place to get in long runs off of the concrete, if the pretty scenery doesn’t interest you, watching for alligators will keep you from getting bored!

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