The Bat City, the Live Music Capital of the World, the Blueberry in Tomato Soup, or, simply, ATX… No, I’m not talking gibberish; these are just a few of the many nicknames the capital of Texas has.
You’ve probably heard some of them before. But what you might not know is that Austin is also a prime destination for kayaking – and other outdoor activities – for anyone looking to escape the Texas heat.
With the Colorado River flowing through the very heart of downtown Austin and several lakes and man-made reservoirs surrounding the town, one thing is certain:
You’ll have a blast exploring the waterways of central Texas and seeing it from an entirely different perspective!
So, if you’ll be visiting Austin any time soon and plan on hauling your ‘yak along, be sure to check out some of these kayaking Austin locations. Trust me; you’re in for a treat!
In A Rush? Here Are Our Picks For The Top Places To Kayak In Austin, Texas
Urban River Kayaking:
“One of Texas’ longest rivers flows directly through the heart of the city. It would be a shame if you didn’t dip your paddle in it while staying in Austin!”
Family-Friendly Downtown Austin:
Lady Bird Lake
“Nestled in the heart of the city and surrounded by the greenery of Zilker Park and the Hike-and-Bike Trail, Lady Bird Lake genuinely is Austin’s crown jewel.”
Quiet & Tranquil Lake Kayaking:
“Hoping to avoid the crowds? Calm and secluded – a true haven for paddlers, just north of the city center – Lake Austin is the best paddling spot for you.”
“Everything’s bigger in Texas, they say. Considering the size of Lake Travis, I’m now 99% sure there’s some truth to that.”
Nature & Wildlife Observation:
“Scenic beauty, tranquility, and the diverse wildlife found in the surrounding woodlands – Lake Georgetown is a perfect destination for nature enthusiasts.”
Kayaking With Dogs:
Red Bud Isle
“A kayak-friendly dog park – or is it the other way around? Either way, you and your furry friend will have a blast at Red Bud Isle!”
Camping & Weekend Getaways:
Inks Lake State Park
“Spend the night on one of the nearby campgrounds, catch some fish, go hiking, and meet Inks Lake State Park’s local wildlife – all in one place!””
Year-Round River Kayaking:
San Marcos River
“Stick to the calm, lazy stretch of the San Marcos River, or continue down to the Class I and II rapids; either way, you’re in for a fun river kayaking experience – no matter the season.”
Best For Kayak Fishing:
Walter E. Long Lake
“Come for the kayaking – stay for the fish. Walter E. Long Lake is one of those secluded areas that will satisfy all your outdoor-adventures-related cravings.”
Places To Go Kayaking In Austin, TX: 9 Must-Visit Locations
Austin, the capital of Texas, is probably best known for the Colorado River and its reservoirs. Of course, as you’re about to see, there’s a lot more to explore while kayaking in Austin. The best part is that all these spots are easily accessible, with quite a few equipment rentals for those of you who don’t own a kayak yet.
With that in mind, here are my top 9 picks when it comes to the best kayaking in Austin!
Award: Urban River Kayaking Adventure
Before you even get a chance to ask:
No, this isn’t the same Colorado River that flows through several US states – including Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California – because Texas is definitely not one of them. And it’s not the same river that’s responsible for carving the Grand Canyon, either.
The river I’m talking about here is the “other” Colorado River – the Texas version, if you will.
Originating in Dawson County, near Lamesa, it flows southeast for 862 miles before eventually reaching Matagorda Bay and emptying out into the Gulf of Mexico. So, while it might not be the “Grand” Colorado River, it still stands out as the longest river to start and end within the borders of the same state – and the 11th longest river in the US.
Along those 862 miles, it also flows right through downtown Austin. So, you could technically launch there – there are numerous access points, including The Rowing Dock and Austin High Boat Launch – and admire the Austin skyline from the water.
There’s also a launch point below the Longhorn Dam in downtown Austin. If you start there, you can explore Austin’s Secret Beach – and perhaps even paddle down to Little Webberville Park, some 24 miles away.
Webberville is a relatively small town east of Austin, just half an hour away, known for its kayaking opportunities.
You can drive there and launch directly from Little Webberville Park, too – the park features a boat ramp for easy access – and if you’d like a more relaxed trip, continue downstream along the five-mile route to “Big” Webberville Park. This stretch of the Colorado River is wide, calm, and slow-moving – and, as such, perfect for beginners.
That said, if you’re up for a proper challenge, you could tackle the 50-mile stretch of river going all the way to Bastrop.
Award: Family Fun In Downtown Austin
Lady Bird Lake
Did you seriously think I would mention the Colorado River without also talking about Lady Bird Lake – Austin’s pride and joy and, without a doubt, the single most popular spot for kayaking in town?
You can’t say you’ve been kayaking in Austin if you haven’t dipped your paddle in Lady Bird Lake, period.
Now, to spare you the confusion, Lady Bird Lake is actually just a section of the Colorado River that stretches between the Tom Miller Dam and the Longhorn Dam, nestled in the heart of the city.
The damming was completed in 1960, with the construction of the Longhorn Dam, forming a 416-acre reservoir on the Colorado River that was formerly known as Town Lake. The goal was to create a public park that would attract visitors and give residents a place to enjoy nature in an urban setting. The former first lady, Lady Bird Johnson, played a key role in this project – hence the name the lake carries today.
So, what makes Lady Bird Lake the go-to spot for kayaking and other on-the-water activities?
Well, for one, it’s in the middle of downtown Austin, surrounded by the greenery of nearby parks – the Town Lake Metropolitan Park, Zilker Park, and the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail, to name a few.
Two, it’s easily accessible. There are numerous access points along the lake’s shores, the main ones being the Austin High Boat Launch, the Festival Beach boat ramp, the Texas Rowing Center, in the area under the MoPac Bridge, the Rowing Dock, and, of course, Zilker Park. If you’re worried about finding a parking spot, I suggest launching at Auditorium Shores. Plus, there are several rental companies in the area, too, so you can rent kayaks or sign up for a guided tour.
And three, motorized boats are strictly prohibited.
Oh, and in case you were wondering where the nickname “Bat City” comes from, I’ll have to disappoint you – it’s not because Batman chose to move to Austin.
It’s home to the largest urban bat colony in the world, with roughly 1.5 million bats choosing to settle at the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge. So, consider taking a quick break and visiting the Statesman’s Bat Observation Center while you’re in the area.
Award: Great For A Calm And Quiet Day On The Water
Are you hoping to escape the crowds at Lady Bird Lake without venturing too far outside of city limits? I have just the place:
Located just a few miles north of Lady Bird Lake – the two lakes are actually separated by the Tom Miller Dam, with Lake Austin extending up towards the Mansfield Dam – this is yet another man-made reservoir on the Colorado River.
What makes this 22-mile stretch of the river an attractive destination for kayaking in Austin is precisely the fact that it doesn’t seem to attract big crowds – well, at least not as much as other local attractions do. It feels quieter and more isolated than Lady Bird Lake while still being close to the city and offering plenty of natural beauty.
Now, there are a few things you should keep in mind if you do decide to dip your paddle in Lake Austin.
For one, the majority of the lake’s shoreline is privately owned property. So, while you have lots of room to explore, you have to be mindful of where you choose to launch your ‘yak and try not to paddle too close to the shore.
On that note, there’s a public boat ramp – also known as the Loop 360 Boat Ramp – available under the southern end of the Pennybacker Bridge. Other popular launch areas for kayaks and canoes include Mary Quinlan Park, Emma Long Metropolitan Park, and Walsh Boat Landing.
And two, motorized boats are allowed on the lake, so you’ll have to keep an eye on boat traffic in the area and put up with occasional waves and choppiness.
Award: Best For Outdoor Recreation
Head upriver from Lake Austin, and you’ll encounter a giant known as Lake Travis.
Lady Bird Lake may officially hold the title of the most popular spot for kayaking in Austin – but this massive reservoir on the Colorado River is giving it a serious run for its money.
And when I say “massive,” I really do mean it:
Lake Travis is 63.75 miles long, with a width of 4.5 miles at its broadest point, and boasts 271 miles of shorelines. Now, throw in the numerous inlets, coves, and a handful of smaller islands – and, well, you’ve got yourself more than 18000 acres of water to explore.
The sheer size of this winding lake isn’t what continuously attracts thousands of visitors every year, though. It’s the pristine, crystal-clear waters.
You see, Lake Travis is also considered one of Texas’ cleanest lakes.
It’s surrounded by 17 parks – many of which also offer access to campgrounds, picnic areas, hiking trails, fishing spots, and designated swimming areas. In that sense, it’s perfect for any form of outdoor recreation.
Plus, you’ll find a boat ramp for easy launching in most of these parks – including Bob Wentz Park at Windy Point, Narrows Recreation Area, Pace Bend Park, Sandy Creek Park, and Muleshoe Bend Recreation Area, to name a few. The most popular launch area on Lake Travis, though, has to be the boat ramp in Mansfield Dam Park.
Oh, and if you’re staying for dinner, I highly recommend The Oasis. This 30,000-square-foot outdoor restaurant is perched high up above the lake – 450 feet above the surface, to be precise – guaranteeing the most magnificent view of the sunset you’ll ever lay your eyes on.
Award: Best For Nature Enthusiasts And Wildlife Observation
If you head north – just 30 miles north from downtown Austin – you’ll come across a 1200-acre reservoir nestled in central Texas on the North Fork of the San Gabriel River, known as Lake Georgetown.
The reservoir was formed in 1979, following the construction of the North San Gabriel Dam, and has played a key role in managing flooding and supplying nearby towns – including Georgetown and Round Rock – with water.
That said, it has grown into a popular recreational destination, too. So, if you find yourself in the northern end of Austin, continue via I-35 to Georgetown and go check it out.
The lake itself, as well as the surrounding areas and recreational facilities, are all operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers. That applies to the parks surrounding the lake, too – Cedar Breaks Park, Jim Hogg Park, and Russell Park – where you’ll find four-lane concrete boat ramps.
Granted, it’s not particularly big – especially not compared to the giant that is Lake Travis. But with nearby camping and picnic areas, 26.5 miles of hiking trails that circle the lake, and a swimming area, there’s no shortage of outdoor activities.
It’s also a great spot to cast a line, with dedicated fishing docks at Cedar Breaks and Jim Hogg Parks. So, if you’re into kayak fishing, don’t forget to bring your gear. Who knows – maybe you’ll get lucky and land some flathead and channel catfish, largemouth bass, or white bass.
Do keep in mind that you will need to make an online reservation beforehand, especially if you plan on camping there.
Oh, and a fair warning from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department:
Zebra mussels have invaded Lake Georgetown’s waters, and it’s now required by law to drain, clean, and dry your kayak (and any accompanying gear) before moving to any other bodies of water.
Award: Best For Kayakers With Dogs
Red Bud Isle
If you’re hoping to avoid the more popular areas of Lady Bird Lake, then Red Bud Isle might be the perfect destination for you. This 13-acre island is located at the bottom of the Tom Miller Dam, on a section of the Colorado River that is essentially halfway between Lady Bird Lake and Lake Austin.
Obviously, with the island being so close to the dam, certain precautions need to be taken. The currents will get stronger – and somewhat unpredictable – the closer you get to the Tom Miller Dam. Plus, you don’t have much of a choice in terms of which direction you can paddle in; going upstream, towards Lake Austin, isn’t really an option.
Your best bet? Paddling in a loop around the island.
That said, if you’d like to make things a bit more “challenging,” you could head downstream and venture out further down this section of the Colorado River, known as Lady Bird Lake.
Oh, and if you’re bringing your pup along to go kayaking in Austin, that’s one more reason for you to visit Red Bud Isle. Besides being a popular kayaking and hiking destination, it’s also one of Austin’s most popular dog parks.
The main, half-mile trail loops around the island’s edges, with the dense brush at the center, a designated play area, and a few spots amidst the towering cliffs where the water is easily accessible – meaning your pup could dip their paws in the lake, too.
In short, your four-legged friend will have a blast roaming through and exploring the 17 acres of the off-leash dog park that is Red Bud Isle!
You can launch directly from the island; there’s a public boat ramp for kayaks and canoes there. However, keep in mind that parking is at a premium; it’s a relatively small parking lot, so you might have to wait a bit for a spot to open up.
Award: Great For Camping And Weekend Getaways
Inks Lake State Park
If you venture outside of Austin and head northwest, you’ll come across a Hill Country gem that is the Inks Lake State Park.
This horseshoe-shaped lake – a reservoir on the Colorado River – is formed by the Buchanan Dam in the north and the Inks Dam on the south end. With its 4.2-mile length and a total of 831 acres of calm, flat waters, it’s arguably one of the best Austin kayaking destinations for families and beginner paddlers – anyone interested in a weekend getaway or a relaxing afternoon on the water, really.
The Inks Lake State Park offers access to nearly 200 campsites, a group picnic pavilion, a sand volleyball court, an amphitheater – and even a park store.
Plus, there are hiking trails through the park’s hilly landscape – lined with cedar elm, live oak, and yuccas, mixed with cacti and wildflowers – and an abundance of wildlife.
It’s a great spot for fishing, too, with dedicated fishing piers and a chance to reel in some catfish, sunfish, crappie, and bass. You won’t need a fishing license, by the way.
Oh, and don’t forget to take a dip in Devil’s Waterhole while you’re there!
The lake features a large “no-wake” zone for kayaking and canoeing. You can paddle across the lake and soak up the surrounding nature, knowing that motorized boats are strictly prohibited in that area.
The reservoir is within an hour’s drive, roughly 70 miles away from downtown Austin; just take the TX-29 West and exit at Park Road 4. The Inks Lake State Park is open year-round, but it tends to get busy, so it’s best to reserve your spot beforehand, especially if you plan on camping there.
Keep in mind that this is a state park, so there will be an entry fee. Admission for children under the age of 12 is free; adults need to pay an entrance fee of $7.
Award: Great For Year-Round River Kayaking
San Marcos River
Spending an afternoon on a lake is definitely a great way to unwind and recharge your batteries – but let’s be honest:
There are only so many circles you can paddle around a lake before you get tired of it.
So, if you don’t mind taking a short trip outside of Austin, I recommend heading south via I-35. That much-needed change of scenery is only a 30-minute drive away – halfway between Austin and San Antonio – in San Marcos.
Yes, I’m referring to one of Texas’ most popular tubing spots – the San Marcos River.
The San Marcos River comes to life in the middle of the city – rising from the Edwards Aquifer and Spring Lake and fed by 200 spring openings hidden at the bottom. From there, it continues southeast for 75 miles, meandering through more than 130 acres of surrounding parklands.
You can start at City Park for easy launching. You’ll have access to kayak rentals (some even include a guided tour), parking is free, and there are many access points for kayaks and canoes along the river. Plus, the section of the San Marcos River near the park is perfect if you’d like to take things slow.
That said, if you’re up for an adventure, you can continue down the river and enjoy a 17-mile stretch of Class I and II whitewater rapids. You might have to portage around one or two dams if you decide to venture further down the river, though. So, pack light; that’s all I’m saying.
Thanks to Texas’ mild climate, the water temperature averages around 72 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, so there’s really no right or wrong time to visit. Besides the tree-lined river banks and nice water temperature, though, San Marcos River is known for its wildlife – including some endangered species.
Best For Kayak Fishing
Walter E. Long Lake (Decker Lake/Decker Creek)
While there’s no shortage of kayak fishing spots in Austin, in my humble opinion, none of them can really compare to Walter E. Long Lake.
It’s one of those relatively remote and secluded areas that tend to get overlooked at times – which is a shame because it’s actually an incredibly peaceful spot to cast a line in.
The lake is situated east of Austin, in Travis County, and was impounded in 1967 to serve as a power plant cooling reservoir. You might hear the locals refer to it as Decker Lake, by the way; the name, I assume, comes from its proximity to the Decker Creek Power Station.
These tranquil waters span more than 1,200 acres, offering plenty of room for exploring all of its coves and channels. Plus, it’s surrounded by the 3695-acre Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park. So, in case you ever get tired of paddling, you could go for a hike, have a picnic, or play some sand volleyball.
That said, most people are there for fishing:
Decker Lake has been stocked with various species of fish – including the largemouth bass, catfish, hybrid striped bass, and sunfish – in an effort to make it more popular as a recreational fishing destination.
And boy, did those efforts pay off!
Now, I should mention that there are currently no boat rentals available on-site. So, you’ll have to bring your own ‘yak for this one. On the plus side, you can easily access Walter E. Long Lake through the park – and there’s a public boat ramp located at the southern end of the lake.
Keep in mind that there’s an entry fee – $5 Monday through Thursday and $10 Friday through Sunday.
Kayaking Laws & Regulations: Things To Be Aware Of When Boating In Austin
Before heading out to one of these popular Austin kayaking destinations, take a moment to familiarize yourself with the local boating and water safety laws and regulations, as enforced by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD):
- All vessels (including kayaks, canoes, and SUPs) are required to carry readily accessible wearable PFDs for each person onboard. Wearing a PFD is mandatory for all children under the age of 13 while the vessel is underway.
- Texas has no age restrictions when it comes to operating non-motorized vessels, as well as vessels under 15 HP.
- Non-motorized vessels (including kayaks and canoes) are exempt from registration requirements in the state of Texas. However, if a kayak or canoe is fitted with a trolling motor, it has to be registered.
- According to Texas’ laws regarding boating under the influence, the threshold for blood alcohol content is 0.08%. If charged with a BUI, you could face a fine of $2000 and up to 180 days in jail if it’s a first-time offense.
- Anyone engaging in fishing activities in Texas’ public waters must carry a valid fishing license, along with a freshwater (for inland waters) or saltwater (for coastal waters) endorsement. Purchase your fishing license online or from one of the 1800 approved license vendors.
- If you’re transporting your kayak by car, note that, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, passenger vehicles cannot haul loads that overhang the vehicle by more than four feet in the back and three feet in the front.
Austin, TX, Kayaking Destinations: Conclusion
Still can’t decide where to go kayaking in Austin, TX?
Check out this interactive paddling locations map for some inspiration – and be sure to add some of the following spots to your must-paddle list:
- Colorado River
- Lady Bird Lake
- Lake Austin
- Lake Travis
- Lake Georgetown
- Red Bud Isle
- Inks Lake State Park
- San Marcos River
- Walter E. Long Lake
Feel like I’ve missed something? Don’t hesitate to chip in and recommend a personal favorite or two!