The Texas heat is coming, and the best place to escape the scorching summers is to cool off with the family at a lake in the Texas Hill Country. These Texas cash equivalents provide a welcome respite. You’ll see some of the best scenery in the state, including waterfalls, towering cliffs, pristine waterways, rolling rolling hills, incredible sunsets, and the ultimate in small-town charm.
Pro tip: Information on access to rental boats on the lakes can be found here at GetMyBoat.
1. Lake LBJ (Lyndon Baines Johnson)
I learned to water ski at Lake LBJ years ago. It was less crowded and the water was glassy in the early morning, perfect for water skiing. The lake is a reservoir on the Colorado River in the Texas Hill Country, about 45 miles northwest of Austin, that was established in 1950. Originally called Lake Granite Shoals, the name was changed in 1965 to honor President Lyndon B. Johnson. At 6,534 acres and a maximum depth of 90 feet, Lake LBJ has the best fishing, boating, and overall fun. Starting in Kingsland, the lake follows the Colorado River for 21 miles to Horseshoe Bay.
Travel through Horseshoe Bay and Applehead Island to see multi-million dollar mansions owned by ultra-wealthy Texans, professional athletes, local astronauts, and Hollywood personalities. You may or may not want to avoid Sunrise Beach, a shallow sandbar in the middle of LBJ Lake where boaters drop anchor and party with friends for hours. At the depths from ankle to waist, people set up volleyball nets, jam music, play frisbee and enjoy the sunshine. Don’t forget your sun protection!
Fish for large mouth bass, white bass, crappie and catfish on the lake. Several bass fishing tournaments are held annually, and you can hire a fishing guide to catch trophy fish in its secret fishing holes.
Horseshoe Bay Resort is THE place on the lake with luxury accommodations, family-friendly amenities and world-class golf. The 400-room resort offers a variety of restaurants, a relaxing day spa, tennis, fitness facilities and a full-service marina. A private executive airport makes Horseshoe Bay the premier travel destination in the Texas Hill Country.
I like the Whitewater Putting Course, a fascinating par 72 putting course designed to play like an actual course, only in miniature. You’ll see waterfalls, rose gardens, exotic birds, and a path across the zoysia grass through fairways with challenging bunkers and water hazards.
To learn the layout of the lake, visit Worry B Gone Cruises for a bespoke cruise on LBJ on a 21 foot pontoon boat lasting 2.5 hours.
Canyon Lake, Texas (Jacqueline F. Cooper / Shutterstock.com)
2. Canyon Lake
Canyon Lake is known as “The Jewel” of the Texas Hill Country, a reservoir on the Guadalupe River, west of San Marcos and northwest of New Braunfels. This is a perfect place to relax and enjoy the sun and cool waters.
Known for its aquatic recreation, the Guadalupe River is high on your list. This “water recreation capital” has eight parks around the lake for fishing, boating, sailing, kayaking and swimming in the rivers. That’s not all. You will also love jet skiing, water skiing, wakeboarding, canoeing, rafting, and swimming.
Begin with a drive along the majestic River Road, 10 miles along the Guadalupe River, which is lined with giant cypress trees between Canyon Lake and New Braunfels. The River Road takes you through four river crossings, tree tunnels, campsites, farmland, ranches and finally ends at the magnificent Overlook Park. Local restaurants offer activities such as paddleboarding, geocaching, bird watching, fossil hunting, and live music.
Visit three parks with beaches on Canyon Lake. These are “swim at your own risk” without lifeguards on duty. Be sure to wear a life jacket or borrow one of the rental jackets that are posted nearby. Dive in the lake and find an underwater ghost town, as well as cars, boats, bikes, motorcycles, houses, and even cemeteries.
You’ll find over 171 miles of hiking trails that reveal curious wildlife, wild adventure, and scenic views, as well as biking and horseback riding.
Explore the remarkable 1 mile long Canyon Lake Gorge, carved by catastrophic floods in 2002, and discover dinosaur tracks, perfectly preserved fossils, petrified sea urchins and petrified ocean waves in the limestone. See the lagoon and the spring-fed seepage and waterfalls. The Gorge Preservation Society volunteers protect the gorge and provide excellent education and development. You can book a tour here.
In the town of Canyon Lake, let yourself be challenged on the par 72 golf course with rolling hills, scenic fairways, fast greens, and great views of the lake and live oak trees.
Canyon Lake offers lodges, cabins, bed and breakfasts, cottages, hotels, vacation rentals, campsites, and RV parks.
Lake Marble Falls (Photo Credit: Hundley Photography / Shutterstock.com)
3. Lake Marble Falls
Lakeside Park in Marble Falls is a green space with covered picnic tables, BBQ areas, a swimming pool, gazebo, tennis and basketball courts, restrooms, and a boat ramp. The Falls Creek Park and Skatepark are connected and offer a 12,000 square foot concrete and granite park with incredible skating features like the Parthenon Loop, Rainbow Rail, Bowless Corner, and Double Dorito Hip. Liability is limited here so take it easy and don’t get injured.
Whether you wake up at dawn for bass fishing, kayaking, or late afternoon wakeboarding, enjoy Lake Marble Falls. There’s always an excuse to be on the water.
Hike the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1992 to preserve the endangered habitat for two songbirds, the golden-cheeked warbler and the black-headed vireo. You can hike two kid-friendly half kilometers, the Pond and Prairie Trail and the Creek Trail. The Rimrock Trail takes you over the picturesque plateau to a beautiful vantage point. Or hike the mile and a half Indiangrass Trail through prairie and forest.
For unique accommodation, explore Falkenstein Castle, a Bavarian-inspired castle that recently opened to the public in Burnet.
McKenzie Guest House in Marble Falls is a boutique vacation rental of six renovated guest suites on historic Main Street and close to world-class golf, award-winning wineries, boutiques, restaurants and art galleries.
Pro tip: The Blue Bonnet Cafe in Marble Falls is the number one restaurant in Texas for breakfast according to readers of Texas Highways Magazine.
An aerial view of Lake Travis, Texas (Photo credit: Trong Nguyen / Shutterstock.com)
4. Lake Travis
Lake Travis Zipline Adventures has five zip lines that range from 250 feet to the longest and fastest zipline in the Lone Star State at a staggering 2,800 feet. Enjoy unique views as you sail over tree tops, canyons, and the calm waters of Lake Travis. Go there when you head to 14529 Pocahontas Trail in Leander and start with a training session that is safe and fun to use. The guides stop gently at the end of each zipper.
Waterloo Adventures, a floating water park, is a wet and wild ninja obstacle course adventure like no other. Put on your life jacket and splash your way through more than two soccer fields with obstacles, slides, floats and balloons. Then relax under umbrellas by the lake in the Cabana Bar or at a floating picnic table. Enjoy a tasty meal in the food truck.
The Volente Beach Resort and Water Park is where you can gather on the shores of Lake Travis. You will find Beachside Billy’s restaurant on the lake, a water park, a sandy beach pool for children, an adults-only pool with a tiki bar for swimming, three volleyball courts and accommodation in nine holiday bungalows.
Sail Austin Charters, a private sailing yacht charter service with an experienced skipper, is great for sunset cruises, wedding parties, special occasions, and sailing courses.
Known for its cliff top camping overlooking Lake Travis, Pace Bend Park offers boating, swimming on the beach, and miles of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails. The park protects white-tailed deer, raccoons, foxes, ringtail cats, and dozens of species of birds.
Hippy Hollow Park has been the only legally recognized public park with optional clothing in Texas since the 1970s. The park on Lake Travis is located on a steep slope with rugged limestone steps. You should wear protective water shoes because of the rocks.
Lighthouse on Lake Buchanan (Photo credit: Silvio Ligutti / Shutterstock.com)
5. Lake Buchanan
The second largest lake in central Texas, Buchanan Lake is located 60 miles northwest of Austin and is known for boating, camping, swimming, and fishing.
Located on the shores of Lake Buchanan on 940 acres of rural Texas Hill Country, the Canyon of the Eagles Nature Park and Resort offers spectacular sunsets, breathtaking views and a starry sky.
Vanishing Texas Cruises, a daily cruise company on Lake Buchanan, offers views of bird life including herons, ospreys, ducks, Canadian geese, pelicans, herons, and eagles from mid-November through February. See rugged cliffs, waterfalls, wildflowers, and sunsets from the air-conditioned, double-decker cruise ship.
Longhorn Cavern State Park, a 20-minute drive from Lake Buchanan, is an underground scenic cave carved by an ancient river. Enjoy a guided cave tour, explore the great stories of Texas, and admire the historic architecture of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Read more about Texas Caverns here.
Combining award-winning wines with a memorable experience, Spicewood Vineyards blends the heritage of a Texan family with a passion for Spanish wines. Winemaker Ron Yates makes the best wines from Texas grapes. Enjoy 2016 The Good Guy, a blend of Tempranillo, Graciano, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with aromas of fresh cherries and graphite with aromas of raspberries and cedarwood. Read more about Texas wineries here.
Finally, don’t forget your sun hat and sun protection, because life is better at the lake.