What to know before you go: Camping with kids at Lake Houston Wilderness Park

Fishing at Lake Houston Wilderness Park
Fishing at Lake Houston Wilderness Park (Jill B. Jarvis)

Address: 25840 FM 1485, New Caney, TX 77357

My son has been asking to go camping for approximately his entire life. And I have been asking to not go camping for approximately my entire life.

I knew that the kids would have fun hiking on trails, building campfires and waking up to the sound of birds chirping… but I am simply much better at exploring cities. And staying in hotels.

But my oldest son is especially persuasive and got his dad to agree to a Houston camping trip. And if Joe was going, the younger kids wanted to go. And if the whole family was going, I was not about to miss the adventure.

Kids camping at Lake Houston Wilderness Park (Jill B. Jarvis)

So, last weekend, I did it. I planned a camping trip, packed the supplies, stayed the night at Lake Houston Wilderness Park and had the best time with the kids. And considering this trip was in the middle of a massive rain storm, that is really saying something.

Lake Houston Wilderness Park is Houston’s only park that allows overnight camping. Located just north of Kingwood, it’s just about a 30 minute drive from downtown Houston… but this huge park is nothing like the city.

Visitors can go for the day to picnic, hike or fish… or you can stay for the night (with a reservation). There are campsites, screened shelters and cabins, and I chose the screened shelter. It was less than $30 for a night and comes with a very basic wooded shelter (like a backyard storage building) with screened sides, a light, power plug and outdoor faucet. It also has a picnic table and fire pit.

So, if you do not have a tent (like me!) or want to rough it without really really roughing it, this is a good option. Also, since we happened to camp on the night of a massive rainstorm, I am not sure we would have stuck it out in a tent… but the shelter was a fun way to hang out close and dry, while eating, talking and playing cards.

Rain poured down for most of the evening as we listened to it from our cots, and in the morning, we were rewarded with a sunny day, a nature hike and fishing from the coolest little beach. The park has over 20 miles of trails and several fishing spots. We went to the fishing and canoe launch on Peach Creek and found sand, a tree swing and picnic tables.

So after many years of refusing to camp, my son got the family to Lake Houston Wilderness Park… and I’m glad he did!

If you are like me and know nothing about camping or the Houston park, let me give you some tips, picked up from our stay… and also tell you what I packed.

  • The park entrance fee is $3/adult, regardless if you are staying the night or not.
  • To camp, you can reserve a spot for just $7… or pay as much as nearly $300.  There are group camping sites, a dining hall, a lodge that sleeps 26 people… as well as spots for individuals and families.
  • There are 2 kinds of screened shelters.  The A Frames have no power and no water, and cost nearly $40/night… but the screened shelters have a light, power plug and water faucet for under $30.  The A Frames are on the lake, so I’m guessing that is why they are more… for less stuff.  (For me, I really really liked the water and light.)
  • The screened shelters were in a group of 5 buildings.  Each one was mostly surrounded in trees, but you could see your neighbors come and go.  Across the way was a giant group of high school or college kids (and maybe an adult).  So, the shelter listing says it sleeps 6, but it was obviously a hang out spot for a lot of kids.  AND the park “quiet time” is 10pm to 6am but it was a little noisy next door.  It was not a really big deal… but my point is, you do not know who your neighbor is going to be.
  • At the screened shelters, there are screened sides, a roof and a screen door.  I know we were camping, and there are no deadbolts on tents… but it’s not like we were the only people for miles and I’m a scaredy cat.  I would have been worried all night without another adult with me.
  • The mosquitoes are insane.  When we stepped out of the car, each kid instantly had 10 mosquitoes on them.  I usually hate bug spray, but we used nearly an entire can in one day.
  • Gathering firewood is not allowed, but it can be purchased at the front of the park.
  • Whether you spend the night or not, you can visit the park, take guided nature hikes and visit the nature center.  You can also pick up a kids scavenger hunt in the nature center.
  • This park is not very far from downtown Houston.  It seems like another world, but really, you could drive home and come back if you forgot something.
  • My youngest son kept asking why our house did not have a bathroom (or kitchen).  I told him it was fun to live in nature (for a night).  It turns out the park does have public showers and restrooms… and a restroom in the nature center during open hours.
  • My husband, the one that agreed to the trip in the first place… and the Eagle Scout and one person in our house that knows how to camp… was not around the week leading up to the trip.  So I packed up everything I thought we might need… and listed it below.  We actually had everything we needed…except we had to get lighter fluid because there were no dry leaves to start the fire.  If you have essentials you pack on your trips, tell me and I’ll add it!
  • What we packed: affiliate links included
  • Maybe the most essential:
  • For sleeping in the shelter:
    • Cots (Big and Little)
    • Sleeping Bags (and blankets… because we do not have 5 sleeping bags… and we were not worried about cold weather)
    • Folding Chairs
  • For the Fire:
    • Firewood (bought at the entrance of the park)
    • Charcoal
    • Lighter/Matches
    • Lighter Fluid (because there were no dry leaves at the park)
    • Leather Gloves
  • Groceries:
    • Bread
    • Peanut Butter
    • Marshmallows
    • Graham Crackers
    • Chocolate
    • Water
    • Snacks (Granola Bars, Trail Mix)
    • Supplies for Foil Dinners
      • Foil
      • Tongs (for taking them off the fire)
      • Vegetables
      • Hot Dogs
      • Butter
      • Salt
      • Cooking Supplies:
        • Knife
        • Veggie Peeler
        • Cutting Board
        • Paper Towels
        • Paper Plates
        • Cups/Water Bottles
        • Plastic Bags (for storing food)
        • Cooler
      • More supplies:
        • Box Fan (we had a power plug!)
        • Lantern/Flash Lights
        • Duct Tape (for covering small holes in the shelter)
        • Pocket Knife
        • Hand Sanitizer
        • Trash Bags
        • Deck of Cards
        • Phone/Charger
      • Should have packed:
        • Biodegradable Soap (because we have a faucet!)
        • Towels (because of all the rain!)
        • Lighter Fluid (because there were no dry leaves… we ended up driving to Dollar General to buy it)

So, to wrap it all up, I’d say that our stay at Lake Houston Wilderness Park was no hotel trip, and I was not really well rested after my stay in the shelter… but I really really enjoyed the time with my family. I had them all within arms reach, all wanting to help cook, roast marshmallows, play cards and snuggle close during the rain storm. And, I have lots of other nights to spend in a comfortable bed but not as many chances at this.

Take a look at more pictures below and if you are interested in other places to camp, with kids, near Houston, look HERE!

Screened shelter at Lake Houston Wilderness Park (Jill B. Jarvis)
Wash station at Lake Houston Wilderness Park (Jill B. Jarvis)
Camping at Lake Houston Wilderness Park (Jill B. Jarvis)
Fishing at Lake Houston Wilderness Park (Jill B. Jarvis)

This article originally appeared at JillBJarvis.com and is being featured here as part of a partnership with BigKidSmallCity.com. Click here to view the article in its original format.