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 (myself included) 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. The trail is mostly flat and composed of crushed granite, making it a great place to go for a jog with friends or a nice bike ride.
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.
–> Read more: “Make Lady Bird Lake’s Eastside Loop Your Go-To Route”
2/ 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 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!
3/ Stand-up Paddleboarding
The rental places I named above also offer stand-up paddleboarding, which I feel deserves its own category. Stand-up paddleboarding 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. Starting in May, the truly balanced can take stand-up paddleboard yoga classes with Breathe and Body Yoga.
4/ 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 Riverboats. They offer dinner and lunch cruises for small and large groups. They 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 South Congress 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. This is one of my favorite places to take summer visitors because it’s uniquely Austin.
For more about bat season in Austin, read “Guide to Bat Season in Austin.”
@theAustinot wants to know:
What’s your favorite thing to do on Lady Bird Lake?
Disclosure: Congress Avenue Kayaks has been a long-time sponsor of The Austinot.
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