The Complete Guide to Lakes in Austin Area

The Complete Guide to Lakes in Austin Area

Source: Visit Austin

Renowned for its rivers and lakes, Austin and the neighboring Texas Hill Country are crisscrossed by numerous waterways. Here’s a brief guide to kayaking, paddleboarding, swimming, and boating in the state capital of Texas.

Lady Bird Lake

In the Austin area, three lakes have been formed by dammed portions of the Lower Colorado River, each offering a fantastic spot for sunny day activities. Located in Downtown Austin, Lady Bird Lake is unique because it prohibits motorized boats, creating an ideal environment for flat-water paddling. This tranquil setting, framed by the downtown skyline and bordered by both Zilker Park and Auditorium Shores, is perfect for canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards (SUP), pedal boats, and even paddleboard yoga—a favorite among locals. For more details, check out the complete guide to paddling on Lady Bird Lake.

Austin’s Hike and Bike Trail runs along both sides of the lake, providing 11 miles of trails to explore. With eight official access points, getting to Lady Bird Lake is convenient. Along the trail, there are numerous shady spots to rest, such as the cypress-lined Red Bud Isle, which also serves as an off-leash dog park, or the sandy shores of Festival Beach.

Barton Springs Road traces the western edge of Lady Bird Lake, leading directly to Zilker Park and Barton Springs, and features some of the best-shaded patios in the city. Whether you’re pausing for a microbrew, kombucha, or a snack, you’ll find oak-shaded tables at food trucks and restaurants where you can unwind. If you don’t have your own canoe, kayak, or SUP, several local businesses along the lake offer rentals.

Photo credits to the owner

Lake Austin

Lake Austin is another reservoir formed by dams along the Lower Colorado River, but unlike Lady Bird Lake, it permits motorized boat traffic. Consequently, Lake Austin is often bustling with various types of boats. Visitors can rent motorized boats, including pontoons, from several local businesses. Throughout the year, you’ll see pontoons full of people, waterskiers, and boats speeding along the corridors of Lake Austin.

Additionally, several restaurants with docks line the lake, offering the chance to visit local favorites along Lake Austin Boulevard. Side by side, you’ll find Mozart’s Coffee Roasters, which boasts an incredible shaded patio overlooking the lake, and Hula Hut, a relaxed Tex-Mex-meets-Caribbean restaurant that offers dockside dining. Further north along the lake is Ski Shores Cafe, a casual spot where you can enjoy American staples like burgers and fries on the dock. Emma Long Metropolitan Park, located on the shores of Lake Austin, features shore-side camping sites, giant cypress trees, and facilities for picnics and grilling. The park is an excellent location for a picnic or setting up camp.

Photo credits to the owner

Lake Travis

Northwest of downtown, Lake Travis is Austin’s largest lake and a longtime favorite among both locals and visitors. Popular activities include boating, water skiing, tubing, and fishing. Due to its immense depth (up to 210 feet), visitors can also enjoy SCUBA diving. The lake hosts a variety of watercraft, from sailboats, houseboats, and party barges to racing boats and luxury yachts, as well as canoes, kayaks, and SUPs in the calmer coves. Watercraft rentals are available from several suppliers around Lake Travis.

Numerous parks surround Lake Travis, offering various recreational opportunities both on and off the water. Popular parks include Windy Point, Pace Bend, Narrows Recreation Area, and Hippie Hollow, each providing unique features like lakeside meadows, campsites, and rocky cliffs with stunning views.

If you want to anchor and enjoy a meal or a drink, several lakeside restaurants with docks, scenic views, and expansive menus are available. From Austin to Spicewood, you’ll find a range of dining options along the shores of Lake Travis. For more information about spending the day on Lake Travis, check out the Austin Insider Blog.

For water enthusiasts, Austin’s lakes offer a perfect escape, whether for a day, a weekend, or even a week. Additionally, nearby rivers such as the Blanco, San Marcos, Guadalupe, Frio, Nueces, and Medina provide further opportunities for aquatic fun. With Austin’s renowned spring-fed pools and nearby swimming holes, you can spend countless hours enjoying the water.

Photo credits to the owner

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