Picture it. You’re on the hike and bike trail at Lady Bird Lake, aka Town Lake. All of a sudden, you have an urge to jump into the water. You might blame this urge on the Texas heat, but I know I fight it every time I’m on the trail. Barton Springs Pool is a good option, but who has their swimsuit with them at all times? The better option (in my opinion)? Rent a canoe or kayak to explore Austin’s oasis from within.
Next challenge: with five different boat rental locations along the river, where do you go for gear?
The Best Canoe Rental in Austin
I spend a lot of time on the river and I have rented from almost every location along Town Lake. Zilker Park Boat Rentals stands out above the rest. This uber local Austin business was established in 1969 by Howard and Dorothy Barnett, who had just nine canoes and an urge to share the natural beauty of the river with others.
Just as Austin has grown from a sleepy hippie town into a bustling city, Zilker Park Boat Rentals has also grown over the years. Today they have over 100 canoes and kayaks. Their team is available 7 days a week. They open as early as 10 AM on weekdays and 9 AM on weekends and are open ’til dark. Of course, dark is a relative term, so just be sure to call if you’re in doubt. And don’t forget to bring cash, since this mom and pop rental shop doesn’t take credit cards or checks.
At this point you might be thinking, “A boat is a boat. What makes Zilker Park Boat Rentals better than others?” I’m glad you asked. Because when you rent from Zilker Boats, you’re not only renting a boat from a true local gem, you’re gaining an experience you’ll never forget.
An Experience Above the Rest
Located on the west bank of Barton Creek, where the cold waters of Barton Springs Pool meet the Colorado River, Barton Creek is the perfect backdrop to begin your canoeing (or kayak or stand-up paddleboard) adventure.
You can either hike your way into the site, or park at the main Zilker Park area by the Pool and walk down the set of stairs to the left. I personally like to go on a small hike in, before going for a spin on the water. When you arrive, you’ll notice they don’t have a fancy dock. Only the shore and the boats. I find this adds to the experience, allowing you to connect with nature.
As you climb into the canoe and glide down the creek, the big city traffic noises will start to fade away. You’ll pass by turtles sunning themselves on logs as you make your way toward Lou Neff Point. As you approach, pause for a moment and prepare to take in one of the best views of Austin’s ever changing skyline. And it’s at that moment you’ll feel it. The magical draw of the city that calls to many of us like Sirens.
From there, there are no rules as to how to enjoy the river. I sometimes like to go toward the city and imagine what the thousands of people above me are doing. But most of the time I like to head west of the city and get lost in mother nature’s beauty.
The Extra Mile
Another reason why Zilker Park Boat Rentals stands out above the rest, in my eyes, is their involvement in the community. They had a vision to share the beauty of the river with the community, and that didn’t mean share it with only those who could afford it. They wanted to share it with everyone.
For years, they have been extending their unique experience to local nonprofits who might not have a budget to provide extracurricular activities to their members. They’ve worked with groups such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, School for the Deaf, School for the Blind and Center for Battered Women, just to name a few. Nonprofits are encouraged to contact them during non-peak hours in order to make arrangements.
Next time you’re in the market for a magical canoe ride on Town Lake, consider heading to the oldest boat rental location in Austin.
What is your favorite Town Lake experience?