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Colorado River, Texas
Report by Marc W. McCord

Austin Town Lake
~ 6 miles

General Description

Flowing through the City of Austin, the Colorado River is dammed at Riverside Drive off Lake Austin Blvd and 1st Street to form Town Lake, a flatwater reach of about 6 miles winding from Tom Miller Dam to Longhorn Dam. It ranges from 400 to more than 2,500 feet wide with an average depth of about 14 feet. Flowing into Town Lake on the south side of the river adjacent to downtown Austin is the scenic Barton Creek with its 68 degree waters. Town Lake has been developed by the City of Austin as an outdoor venue for its citizens and visitors, with facilities for canoeing and kayaking, rowing, fishing, picnicking, hiking, biking, jogging and just about anything else people may want to do along a corridor of huge trees, flowering plants, ducks, bats and other natural things just yards away but a mile apart from the heart of the city.

Motorboats, jet skis and swimming are not allowed, though swimmers can find a refuge in the cool, clear blue waters of Barton Pool on the creek that feeds the river along the banks of Zilker Park. Along the lake are 17 fields for playing football, baseball, soccer, volleyball and rugby. Auditorium Shores, situated between the lake and Barton Springs Road, is an outdoor venue for concerts that is frequently used for the musical entertaining of the Austin population. Fiesta Gardens and Festival Beach are areas developed for outdoor gatherings where groups can have outtings and events. Ample parking accommodates vehicles, with easy access to major roads and highways including IH 35, which runs through the heart of Austin.

Location

Travis County within Austin City Limits. Town Lake is situated along the Colorado River just south of downtown Austin, and separates South Austin from the rest of the city. It sits between MoPac Freeway and US Highway 183.

Distance from major cities

Dallas 190 miles; San Antonio 80 miles; Houston miles; Oklahoma City 395 miles; Little Rock miles; Kansas City miles; Albuquerque miles; Phoenix miles; Denver miles; Salt Lake City miles (all distances are approxinate and depend upon starting point, destination put-in at the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality is generally good, though it can be slightly murky and somewhat stagnant during hot, summer months when flows are lower. The water is always safe for human contact, though not drinkable without purification.

Best time to go

Town Lake is a year-round facility that can be enjoyed virtually anytime, weather permitting. It is always popular with bikers, joggers and walkers, but spring through fall are enjoyed by many people for a wide variety of activities, both on and off the water.

Hazards to navigation

Other than the hot summer sun and high temperatures, there are no significant hazards on Austin Town Lake. The water can be deep in places, so boaters should always wear properly-fitted personal flotation devices (PFDs.)

River Access Points

Tom Miller Dam off Lake Austin Blvd; Bee Caves Road; Zilker Park; Lamar Blvd.; Congress Av.; South First Street; IH-35 (north side); There are many other local access points adjacent to Town Lake and its park.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Camping is not allowed on or near Austin Town Lake. Ample conventional accommodations, including hotels, motels, bed & breakfast hostels and other accommodations are available nearby. RV Parks can be found all over Austin and the surrounding area, and tent camping can be found at the scenic McKinney Falls State Park located near Austin-Bergstrum International Airport on the city's southeast side. Other tent camping facilities may be available.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are at least two commercial outfitters offering rentals and shuttles on or near this reach of the Colorado River. Austin has at least three retailers, including Austin Outdoor Gear & Guidance (512-473-2644), which offer canoe, kayak and raft sales and service, rentals, shuttles, as well as gear and equipment sales and rentals. Shuttle services may also be obtained from locals in the area for a nominal fee.

Reviewer's comments

Austin Town Lake is an example of how effectively local tax dollars can be made to work for the benefit of the city, its citizens and visitors. Just about any activity one would choose to enjoy in an outdoor environment can be found along the shores and on the waters of Town Lake (other than whitewater or motor boating.) In the shadows of downtown Austin, Town Lake is very near many fine restaurants, entertainment venues including the famous Sixth Street with its clubs and cafes. Shopping malls are just a few minutes away, and if you need to cool off on a chili pepper Texas day, then you can take a dip in the 68 degree waters of Barton Creek, which enters Town Lake from the south side among the trees of Zilker Park. Town Lake is an excellent place to go by yourself, with a few friends or with the whole community to enjoy musical performances, sports activities, picnics or just about anything else you can think to do while visiting Austin. The 6 miles of Town Lake are never crowded, though significant numbers of people use various facilities all the time.

Technical Data
Class Rating I
Length 7 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Tom Miller dam
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out Longhorn Dam
Lat. / Long.
Elevation msl
Gradient fpm
USGS Gauge Web:
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season Year-round, weather permitting
Permits No


Cook's Canoes in Downtown Webberville

TG Canoes & Kayaks on the Gorgeous San Marcos River

Town Lake from the mouth of Barton Creek
Town Lake from the mouth of Barton Creek


Stevie Ray Vaughan statue at Auditorium Shores
Stevie Ray Vaughan statue at Auditorium Shores


Town Lake looking toward downtown Austin
Town Lake looking toward downtown Austin


Palmer Auditorium at Auditorium Shores
Palmer Auditorium at Auditorium Shores


Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Colorado River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

Colorado River

[ Colorado River Homepage ] [ US Highway 190 to Lake Buchanan ] [ US Highway 183 (Austin) to FM 969 ]
[ FM 969 to Smithville ] [ Smithville to La Grange ] [ La Grange to Columbus ]

Tributaries

[ Barton Creek ] [ Pedernales River ] [ Concho River ]

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Last updated May 28, 2012

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