Towering pines, woodlands and lakeside thrills await you in Conroe, a quiet retreat about 45 minutes north of Houston, Texas’ largest city. Stroll through the pedestrian-only downtown filled with restaurants, nightlife, merchants, art galleries and theaters, then head out into nature, where the real adventure begins in the form of water activities, hiking, bird watching, etc.

Lake Conroe is a water playground© Courtesy of Visit Conroe

Lake Conroe

At 22,000 acres and with 156 miles of shoreline, Lake Conroe is a water playground. Relax on its shores with a good book and a cocktail, or head out into the open water for paddling, boating, fishing and water sports. Reel in a record-sized largemouth bass or hang out with a fishing guide to search for bass and other fish such as black and white crappie, channel catfish and bluegill.

Several marinas are on the lake, making it easy to refuel, grab some bait, or grab a bite to eat before getting back on the water. Don’t have your own boat? Rent a private boat, jet ski, kayak or canoe from 1097 Water Sports and spend the day exploring Lake Conroe at your leisure. North Lake Conroe Boating Company also rents kayaks, and their waterside location means it’s easy to jump straight into your adventure.

© Jacob Rhoades / Lonely Planet

For more water-based relaxation and celebration, check out Tikis on a cruisewhich offers raft-based tiki huts with a floating bar that allow you to relax while sipping your favorite drink. Southern Empress Cruises, a 131-foot paddle steamer, offers romantic dinner cruises on Lake Conroe, complete with delicious meals, drinks and dancing. And Water Point Marina The Little Palm yacht also offers dinner cruises, sunset cruises, and more.

Texas information: Besides the Lake Conroe dinner cruise, Southern Empress Cruises offers a range of other voyages, including a lunch cruise, a cocktail cruise and even a murder mystery cruise.

Morning bullfrogs in the Sam Houston National Forest © Junker Photography / Shutterstock

Sam Houston National Forest

Back on land, put on your hiking boots and hit the trails Sam Houston National Forest, one of only four national forests in Texas. This forest spans over 163,000 acres and includes the Lone Star Hiking Trail, a 128-mile trail that is the longest wilderness trail in Texas, with three main sections running through Conroe.

Camping is available in the forest at Cagle, Double Lake and Stubblefield Recreation Areas. Canoes and paddle boats can be rented at the Double Lake concession stand, which is stocked with bass, catfish, and bream for fishing.

The Sam Houston National Forest also has 85 miles of multi-use trails for horseback riding, biking, hiking, and all-terrain vehicles. For wildlife viewing, keep your eyes peeled for deer, squirrels, bullfrogs, quail, doves, turkey, foxes and ducks.

Texas information: Hikers love to visit the Lone Star Hiking Trail in the spring and winter to avoid the extreme Texas heat.

WG Jones State Forest is one of the largest working urban forests in the country © Mikella Hammonds / Shutterstock

William Goodrich Jones State Forest

Just south of the town of Conroe, WG Jones State Forest is one of the largest working urban forests in the country. About 80,000 people visit the forest each year and it is recognized by the American Bird Conservancy as one of the 500 most important regions in North America.

The forest is home to the endangered Red Cockade Woodpecker and is one of the few remaining places to see this enigmatic black and white bird. Bring your binoculars and see if you can spot this woodpecker, which creates cavities in live pines for roosting and nesting. From March 15 to July 15, nesting areas are closed to limit disturbance and provide better nesting habitat for birds.

Geocachinga fitness trail, fishing, picnicking, horseback riding, hiking, demonstration gardens and growing areas are also available throughout the forest.

Margaritaville Lake Resort offers 303 suites and 32 waterfront cottages © Courtesy of Visit Conroe

Margaritaville Lake Resort

After all your land and water activities, head to Margaritaville Lake Resort on the shores of Lake Conroe for some island-centric R&R. The Jimmy Buffett-inspired resort offers 303 suites and 32 waterfront cottages, plus several bars and restaurants across the property.

Take the family to the resort’s 3.5-acre water park for slides, a lazy river, kiddy pool, five pools and two hot tubs, or break for a round of golf at the Golf Club, an 18-hole course which winds through tall pines, beaches and waterfalls. The St. Somewhere Spa offers facial and body massages for ultimate relaxation, and for a bit of exercise, the resort offers tennis courts, pickleball courts, and a fitness center.

Margaritaville Lake Resort features a 3.5-acre water park © Courtesy of Visit Conroe

Want to get out on the water? Rent a boat, paddle board or pedal boat from Einstein’s Surf and Boat Shop, located at the station. For dinner, License to Chill is open all day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and serves casual fare like salads, wraps, and killer cocktails. Don’t miss a round of drinks at the 5 O’Clock Somewhere poolside bar and an evening of live music and dancing at the Boathouse Bar and Lounge.

Texas information: During Labor Day, the resort offers a two-hour sunset cruise around Lake Conroe aboard a tiki hut party barge. Reserve your tickets by contacting Einstein’s Surf and Boat Shop.

Whether you’re here for a long weekend or a week-long retreat away from the demands of reality, Conroe will leave you feeling refreshed, relaxed and naturally inspired.