Central Texas includes the Hill Country and Prairies and Lakes regions of the state. It is a beautiful region, and also includes some of the state’s largest cities, Austin and Dallas/Ft Worth. The region has a number of rivers, reservoirs and natural lakes that offer a large number of boating activities. From a leisurely houseboat or pontoon boat trip, a day waterskiing or a paddle down a river, there are many great ways to discover boating in Central Texas.
Types of Boats in Central Texas
Since the waters are on the smaller side, many of the boats you will find in this region are on the smaller side overall. Paddling boats like kayaks, canoes, and stand up paddleboards, or SUPs are popular. Houseboats and pontoon boats are popular on lakes, as well as open ski boats, jet boats and fishing boats.
Preparing to Boat in Central Texas
Central Texas is known for having beautiful weather year-round, which makes it an excellent area for boating. With this comes the hot Texas sun, which you should be prepared for with shade, sunhats, sunscreen and plenty of water. Insect repellent is a good way to help you during mosquito season. Of course, every boat trip should also begin by inspecting your safety equipment. Double check that you have the correct number, type and weight class of life jacket for every boater, and ensure that you have a first aid kit and a working VHF radio on boats that come with them.
Weather here is hot, but storms and tornadoes can come on quickly. You never want to be on the water during a thunderstorm, so keep an eye on the forecast and know your escape route if a surprise weather system appears.
Texas is, above all, bass country. The region has a number of local bass tournaments, and the lakes and reservoirs here come well stocked. If you prefer bluegill, sunfish, and crappie, there are plenty of those to fish for as well. The hills offer some good trout fishing, and the larger rivers have some monster fish like alligator gar to discover. Always remember to have a valid fishing permit and to ensure that you are fishing in-season if you want to try. If you do not know how to fish, consider taking one of the many charter boats available, and try it with the help of an expert.
Paddling Trails in Central Texas
Texas Parks offers one of the best paddling trail systems in the nation, which runs along many of the rivers in the area. Here is a rundown of the region’s trails and what each has to offer:
- Lady Bird Lake: This downtown Austin-based lake offers several segments of trail, giving you a 3-11 mile paddle.
- Pecan Bayou: This three and a half mile bayou paddle is slow moving, which offers the opportunity to paddle in either direction.
- South Llano: This slow-moving six mile trail in the hill country is a combination of pools and quiet riffles.
- Upper Guadalupe-Nichol’s Landing: Located along Canyon lake, this is almost ten miles of paddling with occasional gentle rapids. The ride is about three and a half hours, making it an excellent half-day activity.
- Bastrop: This area offers two trails, which you can choose based on how much time you have to spend. The El Camino Real is an excellent shorter ride at 6 miles, which will run you between 2 and 4 hours depending on the speed of the water and the number of stops you make. The 14.3 mile Wilbarger trail will go for 4-8 miles.
- Beaver Pond: This Lewisville trail is a haven for watching aquatic wildlife, including beavers, herons, egrets and other birds.
- Bosque Bluffs and Brazos: This pair of gentle Waco trails offers a 2-mile option in Bosque Bluffs, or a 5-mile option in Brazos.
- Bridgeport Falls: This quiet trail on the Trinity river runs just under six miles with a collection of quiet pools and riffles.
- Chupacabra Point: Three four-mile trails on the Boone, Coal Bed and Willow creeks offer three very different rides in this area, and a fun level of variety that will have you coming back again and again.
- Columbus: This six and a half mile trail through the town of Columbus offers wildlife views, and takes between two and five hours to complete.
- Dallas Trinity: A 10.2 mile trail with a tree-lined riparian corridor.
- Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge: A 6-7 mile loop that offers a bit of nature near downtown Fort Worth.
- Gonzales: This pair of routes begins at the 2 mile independence trail, and challenges those with experience with an 11 mile trail named Come and Take it.
- Guadalupe Valley Paddling Trail: This 13.8 mile trail near Cuero has three access points where you can put in, allowing you to choose how long you want to go.
- Joe Pool Lake and Walnut Creek: This is a well-known 5 mile trail found in a nature preserve just outside of Dallas/Ft Worth.
- Lake Arlington: An 11 mile trail inside the Dallas Ft Worth metroplex.
- Limestone Bluffs: This 5-mile trail between Grosbeck and Mexia goes between the Confederate Reunion Grounds and Ft Parker State Park.
- Luling Zeder Mill: This is a family-friendly six mile trail near Luling that can be easily floated in 2-4 hours.
- Morgan’s Point Resort: This area offers three trails totaling twelve miles. Choose between wide open and secluded.
- Paddle Point Creek: This is less of a trail and more of a lake that is perfect for those who paddle. It is found just 15 minutes outside of Dallas.
- River Legacy Parks: This is an easy 2 mile trail, and if you are willing to portage, you can connect to the West Fork paddling trails.
Boating in Dallas/Ft Worth is so popular that Dallas has two different boat shows, the winter boat show in February and the Boat Expo in July. They offer a wide variety of fishing lakes for bass and other lake species, and some excellent downtown paddling trails. There are plenty of lakes where you can bring a fast boat to go tubing or waterskiing. Many homes found on waterways will have pontoon boats, the perfect vehicle to have a floating barbecue with friends, or to take a slow wildlife cruise at sunset.
Though the cities seem well-developed, there are some beautiful tree-lined lakes and rivers that make you feel like you have returned to nature without needing to take a long drive. Herons, warblers, frogs and turtles and many aquatic mammals can be seen as you quietly pass them on a paddle, cruise, or slow troll on a bass lake.
Any city whose minor league baseball team is called the Riverbats is proud of their waterways. Austin’s river is a chance to explore the city like you have never seen it, with a boat tour or cruise, or by renting your own boat or personal watercraft like an SUP. Watch Austin’s iconic bridges from below, and sneak a peek at the famous bat population that lives beneath. If you prefer something less urban, you do not need to drive far out of town to find a quieter, wilder lake or river to explore.
Boating the Red River and Lake Texoma
This large reservoir along the Red River shares a border with Oklahoma. There are miles of coastline on both states here, with resorts, cabins, marinas and campgrounds to explore. Excellent fishing can be found here, or it is a beautiful place to explore the large and wild expanses of North Central Texas by water, and look across into Oklahoma. This is probably the most popular boating lake in the area, and attracts over six million visitors per year.
Boating Near Lake Ray Roberts
This large reservoir is bordered by two State Parks and a large number of satellite parks. It is a stocked fishing lake and an excellent place for any form of recreational boating. Please note that if you bring a boat here, that you will need to drain, wash and dry your boat after use in order to prevent cross-contamination of these invasive creatures into other Texas waters.
There is excellent boating to be found in Lewisville Lake and the Trinity River Basin. From rapids to pools, swimming and skiing to fishing and cruising, there are some excellent options to try here.
Boating near Abilene
Abilene boasts a number of parks nearby with excellent waterways, including Abilene State park, which has Lake Abilene and Buffalo Wallow Pond. Fish, swim, or just enjoy a day on the water.
Though the waters are not large in Central Texas, there are plenty of opportunities to boat, and a large number of boaters in the region. If you are unsure of the best place to go, you will find Central Texans full of the Southern hospitality that you expect, and a great information source for the perfect water for your boat type and skill level. Central Texas is a great place to explore a new kind of boating or watersport, as the gentle waters and warm weather make it easy to spend a day in the water exploring a new potential passion. After all, there really is no such thing as a bad day in Central Texas boating.