You can’t spend time in Austin without experiencing one of the city’s many beautiful waterways. It’s home to many reservoirs and rivers that provide a welcome relief from the Central Texas heat. These places draw thousands of people every year, both locals and tourists, who come to enjoy the opportunities for swimming, boating, fishing, tubing, and more.
If you’re looking for a place to kayak in Austin, there are countless opportunities both in and outside the city. These include flat water as well as whitewater rapids. They also feature some of the most beautiful natural sights and fascinating wildlife that Texas offers. Whether you’re looking for a calm, relaxing day on the lake or a fun challenge, you can find it all on the waterways of the hill country.
For more kayaking destinations nearby, check out our post on the best places to kayak in Texas here.
1. Zilker Park, TX
Zilker Park is one of the most popular spots for swimming, sunbathing, and boating in Austin. During the summer, you’re likely to find crowds of people there. Most of them stop by the enclosed area to swim in the cool waters of Barton Creek.
However, there are plenty of areas to rent canoes and kayaks (check out Zilker Boats). Barton Creek is the perfect place for a lazy day of kayaking. There is a good combination of rapids and still water, as well as overhead foliage for some sun protection. You’re likely to see ducks and turtles while kayaking as well as anglers.
The river lets out at Lake Travis, where it meets with the Colorado River. Here you’ll get great glimpses of the Austin city skyline as well as local bat habitats. Though most of the course is smooth, there are some Class I-III rapids that could present challenges to inexperienced kayakers.
2. Lake Bastrop, TX
Lake Bastrop is located about an hour away from Austin. Here, you’ll find a breathtaking waterway surrounded by pine forests — a significant change from the climate and views of Austin itself.
The lake features perfectly flat waters, which is ideal for beginning kayakers. You’ll also spot plenty of anglers here, as well as people pursuing other types of water sports.
Lake Bastrop is a reservoir for a power plant, so the water is unusually warm. It can be a great destination for kayaking in the cooler months, when Texas temperatures are milder but still warm enough for hitting the lake.
In addition to the beautiful scenery, Lake Bastrop features miles of surrounding hiking and biking trails, campsites, and multiple options for renting kayaks.
3. Lady Bird Lake, TX
Lady Bird Lake — which locals might also refer to as Town Lake — is one of the most popular spots for kayaking in Austin. The lake is a man-made reservoir connected to the Colorado River. Here, you’ll see some of the best plants and wildlife in the city (along with some of the bigger tourist crowds).
The lake is surrounded by hiking and biking trails with beautiful cypress and sycamore trees. You can rent a kayak from the Texas Rowing Center by the hour or the day. Incidentally, the center also provides other water equipment and even guided tours.
One unmissable sight on Lady Bird Lake is the Congress Avenue Bridge. The thing that makes this bridge so special is that it is home to 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats. When dusk approaches, these little animals take to the sky, which is a sight to behold.
4. Red Bud Isle, TX
Red Bud Isle is a small island at the bottom of the Tom Miller Dam in Austin. Its pleasant waters and beautiful scenery have made it a popular spot for kayakers, anglers, and others. This niche destination has a half-mile of hiking trails as well as plenty of opportunities for enjoying the water.
Most of the water in the area is smooth and calm, but you can find some Class II rapids closer to the island itself.
If you love to bring your dog out on the boat, Red Bud Isle is considered the perfect Austin destination. The island features a small dog park where you can let your dog off the leash. Just be aware that other dogs are off-leash as well.
5. Inks Lake, Burnet, TX
Inks Lake is located about an hour away from Austin. Here, you’ll find 800 acres of calm, flat water, making it a great destination for beginning kayakers or anyone looking for a relaxing day on the lake.
The lake is on a reservoir, where you can find great opportunities for fishing catfish, bass, and crappies. It’s an extremely popular spot for swimming and watersports, including the nearby Devil’s Waterhole, a natural sinkhole that draws swimmers constantly.
Despite the popularity, you won’t have to worry about excessive crowds or noise. The lake features a “no-wake” zone, where motorboats and jetskis (anything with an engine!) are prohibited. You can also find multiple options for kayak rental.
6. Colorado River, TX
Webberville, Texas, is a town located roughly 30 minutes east of Austin. It’s largely known for its kayaking opportunities, many of which are guided. Kayakers enthusiastically follow the 50-mile stretch of river between Austin and Bastrop, though there are also five-mile courses for an easy day trip.
You can also access the river via Lake Travis or Lady Bird Lake. Regardless of where you enter, you’ll find beautiful sights and pristine waters.
The river is flat water and considered easy for even beginning kayakers. The physical difficulty comes from the long distances as well as the occasional run-ins with sandbanks and other obstacles.
7. Lake Travis, TX
Lake Travis draws thousands of visitors every year, and for good reason. It is known as one of the cleanest lakes in the state. It is certainly one of the most picturesque.
The lake can be found in the northwest of the city. From here, you’ll spot sights of Austin itself and the beautiful surrounding hill country. The beauty of Lake Travis is one of its draws for visitors, including kayakers, swimmers, anglers, hikers, and bikers.
One of the most unique features of Lake Travis is that it is peppered with small islands and features hundreds of small inlets. Visitors enjoy rowing around the limestone cliffs, beaches, and campgrounds, which make for a total of 250 miles of shoreline.
8. San Marcos River, TX
Take a 30-minute drive outside the city limits and you’ll reach the San Marcos River. The spot is best known for tubing, but it is also a prime spot for kayaking.
Here, you’ll find Class I and II rapids, making it a perfect spot for intermediate kayakers who like a challenge. It’s a fun change from kayaking on flat water and continues to draw visitors year-round. At a temperate 72 degrees, you can enjoy the water during any season.
Beyond that, however, one of the consistent draws of the San Marcos River is its varied and fascinating wildlife. You’ll see plenty of fish as well as hawks, turtles, blind salamanders, fountain darter, and more. If you don’t have your own kayak go to Texas Canoes and Kayaks.
9. Walter E. Long Lake, TX
You might hear locals refer to this lake, which lies just east of the city in Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park, as Decker Lake. It’s a hugely popular spot for outdoor activities, including biking, jogging, and all kinds of boating.
The 1,200-acre lake is full of fish, so you’ll also spot plenty of anglers here. You can find multiple types of bass, catfish, bluegills, and sunfish. You can access the lake through the park and even find a boat ramp.
You can find several places nearby to rent canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards nearby. The lake is close to the city, so you might see crowds of people coming by to enjoy the flat water at the end of the workday.
10. Lake Austin, TX
Lake Austin is another great local kayaking destination. This placid lake tends to be quiet as it is more isolated north of the city off of the Colorado River. Locals consider it a weekend destination and it tends not to draw the same crowds that other local sites do.
It is also full of fish, including large-mouth bass and catfish. You might see people throwing their lines over the side of a kayak, but there’s also plenty of room to explore. However, stay away from the shoreline, as it is privately owned.
You can find plenty of options for kayak rental like here at Peace Paddling. You can also access the water through the Rowing Dock. This is a beautiful, peaceful place to enjoy a day out on the water for kayakers of all skill levels.
Summing up the Best Places to Kayak Near Austin
Austin may be a bustling metropolitan area, but it also has a huge number of excellent waterways. These range from peaceful man-made reservoirs to wandering inlets full of local wildlife and exciting whitewater rapids.
You can either stay in the city or go exploring throughout the local hill country to find some of the best courses in the American South. South Central Texas is a haven for kayaking enthusiasts with options for people of all skill levels.