On any of the more than 300 days of sunshine in Austin each year, there’s no better place to go than Lady Bird Lake. Whether hiking or biking the trails, doing stand-up paddle board yoga, or taking a river cruise, you’ll find no shortage of outdoor fun to be had in the heart of beautiful downtown Austin.
What’s in a Name?
The first thing people often notice about Lady Bird Lake is that it sure looks like a river. The section of the Colorado River that runs through downtown Austin was created by the building of the Longhorn Dam in 1960. Today, its primary purposes are flood control and, of course, recreation.
From 1960 until 2007, the body of water was known as Town Lake. It was officially renamed after First Lady Lady Bird Johnson because of her work beautifying the shoreline, and creating the system of hike and bike trails we know and love today. But of course, names are slow to change and many Austinites still tend to stick with Town Lake.
Regardless of what you call it, here are five ways you can enjoy the lake during the sunny days ahead.
1/ Hiking and Biking
The Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail is over 10 miles long and makes a complete circuit around Lady Bird Lake. In fact, it is one of the oldest urban hike and bike paths in Texas.
The trail loop was completed at the end of 2014 with the addition of a one-mile stretch of paved boardwalk (see below). The trail is mostly flat and composed of crushed granite, making it a great place to go for a jog with friends or take a nice bike ride.
Keep reading: Cyclist’s Guide to Austin’s Hike and Bike Trail Around Lady Bird Lake
I personally enjoy going early in the morning, when the sunrise is reflecting off the lake. I can watch turtles sitting on rocks in the beauty of the morning and (almost) forget that I actually hate running.
Keep reading: Make Lady Bird Lake’s Eastside Loop Your Go-To Route
2/ Visit the Boardwalk
The boardwalk is technically a part of the Ann and Roy Butler trail, but its unique vantage point puts it in a category of its own. The angle offers an amazing view of the downtown skyline, so it’s a beautiful place to linger and watch a sunrise, or sunset.
And if for some reason you aren’t in the mood for a narrow dirt trail, then a walk up and down the wide stretch of the boardwalk can be a relaxing activity without having to commit to the whole trail loop.
Bring sun protection during the day. There’s no tree coverage here like the dirt portion of the trail.
3/ Bring Your Pup to the Dog Park
Dog lovers will be happy to know Austin is one of the most dog-friendly cities in the country. With abundant trails, outdoor spaces, and dogs around every corner, pups should have no problem finding playmates for the time of their lives.
The Auditorium Shores Dog Park is on the water side of Riverside Drive, and it’s a spacious off-leash area for dogs to roam. Just be aware that, for the safety of your pet, dogs are strongly advised to stay out of Lady Bird Lake. Thankfully, there’s a trail and a fence between the dog park and the lake, which will curb your dog’s curiosity and keep them away from the water!
Keep reading: Romp Around at These 6 Austin Dog Parks
4/ Kayaking and Canoeing
The City of Austin officially outlawed personal motorized boats on Lady Bird Lake, making it a perfect haven for canoes and kayaks.
There are a number of places to rent canoes, kayaks, rowing shells, and dragon boats on the lake. Three places to start are Texas Rowing Center, Congress Avenue Kayaks, and the Paddle Shack. Some local businesses even offer special events like sunset or full moon paddles, so you can enjoy the lake at all hours.
If you are particularly adept with a kayak, you can check out Austin Kayak Polo to play water polo from your boat!
5/ Stand Up Paddle Boarding
The rental places I named above also offer stand up paddle boarding, which I feel deserves its own category. Stand up paddle boarding is a fun way to test your balance. Or, in the case of my friends and I, you can sit on the boards about half the time and just float.
The truly balanced can take private stand up paddle board yoga classes with Breath and Body Yoga. The 90-minute classes begin at Texas Rowing Center.
6/ River Cruises
Let’s say you want to be out on the water, but you don’t want to expend any effort. Instead, you want to sip a beer and enjoy the sunset over the water.
What you need is Capital Cruises or Lone Star Riverboat. Both offer dinner and lunch cruises for small and large groups. The local companies also have special sightseeing cruises, perfect for out-of-towners and those of us who want to play tourist in our own city.
The two companies also offer bat-watching cruises, which leads us to….
The Mexican free-tailed bats that make their home under the Congress Avenue bridge create an unforgettable sight when they emerge during bat season between March and November. Sitting by the lake at sunset, you can witness the miracle of the bat swarm every night.
Out of all the Lady Bird Lake activities, this is one of my favorite places to take summer visitors because it’s uniquely Austin.
Keep reading: Guide to Bat Season in Austin
@theAustinot wants to know:
When was the last time you embraced the Lady Bird Lake activities that are available to us?
This article was originally published April 18, 2017.
Lady Bird Lake is so beautiful! Many of my clients say that doing yoga on their paddle board is extremely relaxing so I may just have to try it out. Thank you so much for sharing this list! 🙂
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST
Hi Toni, we included websites for each activity (where applicable), so you can check current pricing.