American Paddler
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Kayaking in Austin: Where to Dip Your Paddle in the Heart of Texas

Creative Commons "Austin Texas - Lady Bird Lake by Day" by Anne Worner is licensed under CC BY 2.0

With a reputation as one of the cleanest cities in America — a designation that extends both to its air quality and pristine waterways — paddlers are sure to find kayaking in Austin, Texas, a rewarding and refreshing experience.

Despite being the middle of Texas, where “watersports” isn’t exactly the first thing that springs to mind, Austin has an abundance of spring-fed rivers, streams and lakes perfect for kayaking, canoeing, stand-up paddleboarding or fishing. The foothills of central Texas provide the perfect scenic backdrop and a diverse ecosystem for any kayak lover to appreciate.

If you’re planning to go kayaking in Austin, TX, take a look at American Paddler’s top five places to dip your paddle in the water.

Best Places to Kayak in Austin, Texas

Lady Bird Lake

Formerly called Town Lake, Lady Bird Lake is a 416-acre manmade reservoir on the Colorado River. With spectacular scenery and breathtaking views of the Austin skyline, the lake is a sanctuary not far from the bustling downtown center. Without a doubt the most popular place for kayaking in Austin, Lady Bird Lake is regularly dotted with kayaks, paddleboards and canoes, making it a great place to meet old friend and make new ones. As a bonus for paddlers, gas-powered motorboats aren’t allowed, so the water is always smooth and inviting.

When you’re done on the water, Lady Bird Lake is lined with hiking and biking trails near the city and in the rolling hillside, and on the weekends, you’re likely to find live music close to shore. Locals say the Congress Avenue Bridge can be a great place to spot bats at dusk, and tours can frequently be found. The lake also offers plenty of good fishing holes for those bringing a rod and reel.

Best for: Those looking for a fun paddling experience close to the city without the boat traffic

Tours and rentals: Rowing Dock, Capital Cruises or Congress Avenue Kayaks

Public access: There are many public access points on Lady Bird Lake, but try Zilker Park on the west end, which offers options for parking as well as kayak, canoe and SUP rentals

Lake Austin

You might not realize that despite being the fourth-largest city in Texas, the Lone Star State’s capital is actually the 11th largest city in the country. What does this mean for kayaking in Austin? It means if you head to Lady Bird Lake on the weekends, don’t expect to have it all to yourself.

If crowds aren’t your thing, try Lake Austin instead. Located just a few miles north on the Colorado River, this man-made reservoir is a little less crowded for paddleboarders, kayakers and canoes looking to get away from the city scene. While motorboats are allowed here, kayakers will still enjoy an array of flora and great fishing, including smallmouth bass and catfish. And the Pennybacker Bridge is a great place for a sunset photo.

Best for: Families, fishermen and those looking to paddle close to the city but away from the crowds

Tours and rentals: ATX Peace Paddling has you covered

Public access: Most of the Lake Austin shoreline is privately owned, but the Loop 360 boat ramp near the Pennybacker Bridge has parking, restrooms and a concrete launch point for members of the public

San Marcos River

Located half an hour from Austin, the San Marcos River starts near downtown San Marcos, Texas, offering a relaxing “lazy river” feel for tubers, canoe paddlers and kayakers. Starting from City Park, the river runs slowly, and tubers are usually found having a good time through the upper portion of the river. After you get out of downtown, the current picks up a bit, and kayakers will find easy and consistent class 1 and 2 rapids.

Outside of San Marcos, the river become a nature-lover’s paddling adventure, where kayakers will find hawks, birds, turtles and fish on a tree-lined water trail. While the San Marcos River can be paddled all the way to the Guadalupe River, recreational paddling is usually limited to the first 17 miles, as frequent dams may require portage for those less experienced or unwilling to run rougher rapids. In all, though, a pleasant paddling experience.

Best for: A “lazy river” run where kayakers can experience class 1 or 2 rapids, and an abundance of birds, fish and wildlife

Tours and rentals: The Olympic Outdoor Center in downtown San Marcos offers a variety of kayak rentals, including sit-on-tops, whitewater kayaks, SUPs and fishing kayaks, as well as instructions and paddling programs. Downstream, you’ll find Paddle With Style in nearby Martindale, which offers both rentals and river tours.

Public access: Most kayakers and paddlers start at City Park in downtown San Marcos, which offers free parking

Walter E. Long Lake (Decker Lake)

A more secluded — yet still popular — destination for paddlesports enthusiasts in east Austin is the Walter E. Long Lake. With generally lighter crowds during the week and on weekends, the flat water and sunny skies of this 1,200-acre reservoir are a draw for paddleboarders and kayakers looking for a little more space to stretch out. Surrounded by the Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park, the lake features plenty of coves and channels to explore and wide open spaces for sand volleyball, grilling, biking and jogging once you’re done on the water.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife service rates Walter E. Long Lake, also known as Decker Lake, as one of the best locations in central Texas for kayak fishing, with “excellent” populations of large-mouth bass and numerous catfish, sunfish and hybrid striped bass.

Best for: Excellent kayak bass fishing and a calm, family atmosphere

Tours and rentals: Though there are no kayak rentals directly on Walter E. Long Lake, companies like Austin Kayak will allow you to rent at any location and transport your kayak to the lake of your choosing.

Public access: There is a $6 weekday charge ($8 weekend) to get into the park, but once inside there is a public boat launch. The park is at 6620 Blue Bluff Road, Austin.

Lake Travis

With picturesque hills, glassy smooth waters and stare-inducing waterfront mansions, Lake Travis is all about beauty. This winding reservoir northwest of Austin is a prime destination for all kinds of water-based recreation such as kayaking, scuba diving, boating, fishing, swimming and paddleboarding. One of the cleanest lakes in Texas, the crystal-clear waters of Lake Travis are a major source of water for Austinites.

With dozens of parks, beaches, campgrounds and public facilities surrounding the lake’s 270 miles of shoreline, you’re sure to find almost anything you’re looking for as a paddler. During dry seasons, try kayaking out to the “Sometime Islands” — which used to be hilltops before the dams that created the lake were built. Or explore one of the lake’s dozens of hidden inlets or jaw-dropping limestone cliffs.

Best for: Crystal-clear waters, urban sightseeing and a variety of things to do

Tours and rentals: Lakeway Marina or Viking Ship Kayak Rentals

Public access: Depending on where you are, there are almost a dozen public boat access docks on Lake Travis. If you’re renting a kayak, try the one near Lakeway Marina at 103 Lakeway Drive, Lakeway.

No matter where you go, kayaking in Austin, Texas, is sure to offer an experience of unmatched natural beauty you won’t soon forget. If you have any other ideas or suggestions, drop us a line!

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