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brazos bend state park
Had no idea the swamp could be so beautiful in Brazos Bend State Park.

Spottin’ Gators at Brazos Bend

While our Spring Break trip to Texas was filled with amazing sites and wonderful memories, I had one thing in the back of my mind the whole time… SEE A GATOR. Not at a farm, or in a zoo, but in the wild. I scanned every body of water from the outskirts of Houston to the southern end of Galveston Island to no avail. Locals scoffed when I asked the best sites to definitely spot one, but luckily the internet provides so we stopped by Brazos Bend!

Why are gators so cool? (Science alert!)

Why the obsession with gators, you might ask? These amazing creatures have survived almost unchanged for over 85 million years. Their extraordinarily similar ancestors can be found in the fossil record over 300 million years ago. Seeing one in nature is about as close to time traveling as you can get. They are also doting mothers, can also go months without eating and are able survive freezing temperatures by entering a hibernation state.

baby alligator
Baby alligator floating in tank at Nature Center.

Stunning Oak trees

When I saw the Brazos Bend State Park sign on Google maps, I knew it was destiny, so we stopped on our way home. At $7 per adult and free under 12yo, the price was right too. After about an hour in the car from Galveston, the kids were excited to see a playground at the 40-acre lake. While they stretched their legs, I soaked in magnitude of the giant oak trees and scoped out just the right spot to grab a family pic.

family under oak tree
Perfect Oak tree for a family pic.

That there’s a gator!

Just behind our glorious picture tree, we scanned the water in search of a gator. After realizing a log was moving, we scurried to the deck to watch in awe as the giant lizard slid across the water with a small duck entourage. The park was littered with tips for avoiding conflict with the residents like “don’t swim”, and “don’t play fetch in the water with your dog”. My favorite was “If an alligator comes after a fish you have caught, cut the line and let the alligator have the fish.” Like, really, who’s fighting an alligator over some tilapia?

pointing to gator
Is it a log? NO, its a gator!

Baby gators at the Nature Center

We knew the nature center would give us fun facts, so here’s our favorite three:

  • Alligator comes from Spanish “el lagarto” meaning the lizard.
  • Gators also have a broader snout and only show off their top teeth, while Croc’s snouts are narrower and show off top and bottoms.
  • While they are both dangerous, crocs tend to be larger and more aggressive than gators.

What we didn’t expect was being greeted by a ranger holding a baby gator as we entered. I don’t think I’d ever thought of them as being “cute”, but their little faces were simply adorable. Macey would have taken one home, but Bo was a little more concerned about touching the little speckled lizard.

petting baby gator
Petting the cutest little gator at the Nature Center.

One might think that my adoration of gators extends to all reptiles, but I believe snakes to be completely icky and avoid them at all costs. That being said, we appreciated the live copperhead and cottonmouth (extremely poisonous danger noodles) to show the kids so we knew what to look for on our hike around Elm Lake.

southern copperhead at brazos bend state park
Southern Copperhead can definitely hide in a pile of leaves… icky.

So much life in the swamp

Every inch of this swamp ecosystem seemed full of life. Turtles, butterflies, birds and fish abounded, but the big green goliaths were much more elusive. By the time we found our second big boy sunbathing in the moss, it was getting warm, and everyone was ready for some lunch. I could have wandered around this gem all day, but we had reservations in San Antonio and New Mexico National Parks calling our name on the way home.

If you’re in southern Texas and want an authentic swamp experience, don’t miss Brazos Bend!

spot the gator
Can you spot the gator?

What did we miss?

Share your experiences in the comments below!


Eternally on the hunt for the science in every adventure.

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