The Texas heat is coming, and the best place to escape the blazing summers is cooling off at a Texas Hill Country lake with family. These Texas liquid assets offer a welcome respite. You’ll see some of the state’s best scenery, including cascading waterfalls, towering cliffs, pristine waterways, rolling hill country, incredible sunsets, plus the ultimate small-town charm.
Pro Tip: For access to rental boats on the lakes, check out GetMyBoat here.
1. Lake LBJ (Lyndon Baines Johnson)
I learned to water ski years ago on Lake LBJ. It was less crowded, and the water was glassy early in the morning, perfect for waterskiing. The lake is a reservoir on the Colorado River in the Texas Hill Country about 45 miles northwest of Austin, formed in 1950. Originally called Lake Granite Shoals, the name changed in 1965 to honor President Lyndon B Johnson. With 6,534 surface acres and a maximum of 90 feet in depth, Lake LBJ offers the best fishing, boating, and overall fun. Beginning in Kingsland, the lake follows the Colorado River for 21 miles to Horseshoe Bay.
Cruise around Horseshoe Bay and Applehead Island to view multimillion-dollar mansions owned by ultra-rich Texans, professional athletes, local astronauts, and Hollywood personalities. You may want to avoid, or not, Sunrise Beach, a shallow sandbar in the middle of LBJ Lake where boaters cast anchors and spend hours partying with friends. In the ankle-to-waist-deep depths, people set up volleyball nets, jam to music, play Frisbee, and soak up the sunshine. Don’t forget your sunscreen!
Fish for large-mouth bass, white bass, crappie, and catfish on the lake. You’ll find several bass fishing tournaments annually, and you can hire a fishing guide to catch trophy fish in his secret fishing holes.
Horseshoe Bay Resort is THE place to stay on the lake with luxurious accommodations, family-friendly amenities, and world-class golf. The 400-room resort hosts various dining options, a relaxing day spa, tennis, fitness facilities, and a full-service marina. A private executive airport makes Horseshoe Bay the premier Texas Hill Country destination.
I like the Whitewater Putting Course, an intriguing par 72 putting course designed to play like an actual course, only in miniature. You’ll see waterfalls, rose gardens, exotic birds, and a trail across the Zoysia grass through fairways with challenging bunkers and water hazards.
To get the lake’s layout, visit Worry B Gone Cruises for a customized cruise on LBJ on a 21-foot pontoon boat lasting 2.5 hours.
2. Canyon Lake
Canyon Lake is known as “The Jewel” of the Texas Hill Country, a reservoir located on the Guadalupe River, just west of San Marcos and northwest of New Braunfels, making it a perfect place to relax and enjoy the sunshine and cool water.
Known for water recreation, tubing the Guadalupe River is tops on your list of fun. This “Water Recreation Capital” offers eight parks around the lake for fishing, boating, sailing, kayaking, and floating the rivers. That’s not all. You’ll also revel in jet skiing, water skiing, wakeboarding, canoeing, rafting, and swimming.
Start with a drive along the majestic River Road, 10 miles alongside the Guadalupe River lined with enormous Cypress trees between Canyon Lake and New Braunfels. The River Road takes you through four river crossings, tree tunnels, campgrounds, farmlands, ranches, and ultimately ending at the glorious Overlook Park. Find activities like paddleboarding, geocaching, bird watching, fossil hunting, and live music entertainment at local restaurants.
Visit three parks with beaches at Canyon Lake. These are “swim at your own risk” with no lifeguards on duty. Be sure to wear a lifejacket or borrow one of the loaner jackets posted around. Go scuba diving in the lake and find an underwater ghost town, plus cars, boats, bikes, motorcycles, houses, and even graveyards.
You’ll find over 171 miles of hiking trails revealing curious wildlife, wild adventures, and picturesque views, plus biking and horseback riding.
Explore the remarkable 1-mile-long Canyon Lake Gorge carved by catastrophic floodwaters in 2002, uncovering dinosaur tracks, perfectly preserved fossils, fossilized sea urchins, and fossilized ocean ripples in the limestone. See the lagoon and spring-fed seeps and waterfalls. The Gorge Preservation Society volunteers protect the gorge and provide outstanding education and development. You can book a tour here.
In the town of Canyon Lake, let the par 72 golf course challenge you with hills, picturesque fairways, fast greens, and a great view of the lake and live oak trees.
Canyon Lake features lodges, cabins, bed and breakfasts, cottages, hotels, vacation rentals, campgrounds, and RV parks.
3. Lake Marble Falls
Lakeside Park in Marble Falls is a green space with covered picnic tables, barbecue pits, a swimming pool, a pavilion, tennis and basketball courts, restroom facilities, and a boat ramp. Falls Creek Park and Skatepark are connected, featuring a 12,000-square-foot concrete and granite park with incredible skating features like The Parthenon Loop, Rainbow Rail, the Bowless Corner, and Double-Dorito Hip. Liability is limited here, so take it easy and don’t get hurt.
Enjoy Lake Marble Falls whether you are getting up at dawn for bass fishing or kayaking, or wakeboarding late in the afternoon. There’s always an excuse to be on the water.
Go hiking in Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, formed in 1992 to conserve endangered habitat for two songbirds, the golden-cheeked warbler, and the black-capped vireo. You can hike two kid-friendly half-mile trails, the Pond and Prairie Trail and the Creek Trail. A vigorous 2.2-mile journey, Rimrock Trail takes you across the picturesque plateau to a gorgeous overlook. Or hike the mile-and-a-half Indiangrass Trail through prairie and forest.
For a unique place to stay, explore Castle Falkenstein, a Bavarian-inspired castle that recently opened to the public in Burnet.
McKenzie Guest House in Marble Falls is a boutique vacation rental with six renovated guest suites off historic Main Street and close to world-class golfing, award-winning wineries, boutique shops, restaurants, art galleries.
Pro Tip: Blue Bonnet Cafe in Marble Falls is the number one restaurant in Texas for breakfasts, says Texas Highways Magazine readers.
4. Lake Travis
Lake Travis Zipline Adventures boasts five zip lines ranging from 250 feet to the longest and fastest zipline in the Lone Star State at an incredible 2,800 feet. Engage in one-of-a-kind views as you sail over treetops, canyons, and the serene waters of Lake Travis. Get there when you drive out to 14529 Pocahontas Trail in Leander and start with a training session ensuring your safety and fun. The guides will gently break you to a stop at the end of each zip.
Waterloo Adventures, a floating water park, is a wet and wild ninja obstacle course adventure like no other. Don your life jacket and splash your way through more than two football fields of obstacles, slides, floats, and bounce balloons, then relax under lakeside umbrellas at the Cabana Bar or a floating picnic table. Chow down on a tasty meal at the food truck.
Volente Beach Resort and Waterpark is the place to gather on the shores of Lake Travis. You’ll find Beachside Billy’s lakeside restaurant, a waterpark, sandy beachfront pool for the kids, an adult-only pool with a swim-up tiki bar, three volleyball courts, and lodging at nine vacation bungalows.
Sail Austin Charters, a private sailing yacht charter service with a highly knowledgeable skipper, is excellent for sunset cruises, wedding parties, special occasions, and sailing lessons.
Well known for camping on the cliffs overlooking Lake Travis, Pace Bend Park features boating, swimming on the beach, and miles of hike, bike, and equestrian trails. The park protects whitetail deer, raccoon, fox, ringtail cat, and dozens of bird species.
Since the 1970s, Hippy Hollow Park is still the only legally recognized clothing-optional public park in Texas. The park on Lake Travis sits on a steep slope with rugged limestone steps. You’ll want to wear protective water shoes because of the rocks.
5. Lake Buchanan
The second largest lake in Central Texas, Lake Buchanan, is located 60 miles northwest of Austin and is known for boating, camping, swimming, and fishing.
The Canyon of the Eagles Nature Park and Resort is nestled on the shore of Lake Buchanan on 940 acres of the rural Texas Hill Country, boasting spectacular sunsets, breathtaking vistas, and starry skies.
Vanishing Texas Cruises, a daily cruise company on Lake Buchanan, offers views of birdlife, including herons, osprey, ducks, Canadian geese, pelicans, egrets, plus the eagles from mid-November through February. You’ll see rugged cliffs, waterfalls, wildflowers, and sunsets from the climate-controlled double-decker cruise boat.
Longhorn Cavern State Park, a 20-minute drive from Lake Buchanan, is an underground scenic cavern carved by an ancient river. Enjoy a guided cave tour, explore the tall Texas tales, and admire historic Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) architecture. Read more about Texas Caverns here.
Spicewood Vineyards combines award-winning wines with a memorable experience, blending a Texas family’s heritage with a passion for Spanish wines. Winemaker Ron Yates makes the best-quality wines from Texas-grown grapes. Savor 2016 The Good Guy, a blend of Tempranillo, Graciano, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon with aromas of fresh cherries and graphite with flavors of raspberries and cedar. Read about more Texas wineries here.
Wrapping it up, don’t forget your sun hat and sunscreen, because life is better at the lake.