The waters of Lake Travis bring people from all around the world, hoping to catch a glimpse of the stunning landscape with rolling limestone hills and endless cedar trees, to experience life on the water, where time stands still and worries fade away.

While we spend our lives as boat captains on the water, people reserving any of our party boats are often worried about whether or not it is safe to swim in Lake Travis. We understand.

So is it safe to swim in Lake Travis? And more importantly, is it safe for dogs to swim in Lake Travis?

There are several reasons people ponder these questions of water safety, so let’s address the top 4 things to keep in mind when considering swimming in Lake Travis.

people swimming in Lake Travis on a lily pad provided by Lone Star Party Boats

1. Nearby lakes *do* restrict swimming due to blue-green algae

Many people ask us about water safety because as part of the Colorado River and the Highland Lakes system, Lake Austin has closed over the year to swimmers due to blue-green algae.

Lake Travis is part of that same system, so visitors don’t always know that Lake Travis is separated by a massive dam and that Lake Austin is downstream and completely separated from the manmade glory that is Lake Travis.

Further, Lake Austin is very shallow in many areas, giving rise to the blue-green algae blooms, while Lake Travis is considerably deeper, 210 feet deep in some spots when lake levels are normal.

So what’s so bad about blue-green algae?

Blue-green algae from the lakes can be harmful, producing toxins that can cause illness (vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, eye irritation, throat irritation, dehydration), and even death in humans, pets, livestock, and fish. It’s terribly invasive. In some years, Lake Austin is drained in parts to kill the dangerous algae populations.

Lake Travis, however, is geographically different and doesn’t typically support the massive outbreaks of blue-green algae that the beautiful Lake Austin unfortunately does, but with harsh weather conditions in recent years, it has happened (LT is not immune). In 2021, huge storms rolled in and dumped unexpected levels of water into the lake causing algae outbreaks.

The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) oversees all water in the area. At the time, John Hofmann, LCRA executive said they would continue testing the waters by taking algae samples, and that “While the rains and higher lake levels could dislodge some of the algae, the rain will also wash additional nutrients into the water, which could spur new algae growth.” But instead, it cleared up and we all went about our business.

So swimmers and pets are not typically restricted from swimming in Lake Travis because of the algae outbreaks, but we always recommend checking the LCRA website before hitting the water.

2. Nearby swimming holes *do* close due to pollutants in runoff

Over the years, Hamilton Pool has closed due to bacteria because of runoff, and while you may look at a map and feel that it’s quite far away (a 10-mile drive, but a 4-mile separation from the lake), locals often consider it part of the same area as Lake Travis.

In the summer of 2022, Hamilton Pool once again closed as did nearby Jacob’s Well, both due to bacteria and pollutants in the water from nearby runoff.

Hamilton Pool was actually closed for many years in the late 90s and early 2000s and was part of a contentious battle with nearby golf courses. That left a stain on many locals’ memories, many of whom remain trepidatious about dipping into the otherwise surreal surroundings of caves and hanging moss as if you’re in a Lord of the Rings scene.

While local swimming areas are sometimes shut down because of bacteria and pollutants, they’re pretty far off from Lake Travis, and again, are completely different geographies. LT is safe to swim in and not part of the problematic runoff challenges other spots continue to be plagued with.

3. Zebra mussels *do* invade central Texas lakes

If you take a drive through Texas, you’ll see billboards warning of the dangers of zebra mussels – they’re these little shells that attach to boats, docks, and underwater rocks. But the warnings typically pertain to boat owners, because we must clear them out of motors and from the underside of vessels at great expense.

But do zebra mussels have anything to do with whether or not it is safe to swim in Lake Travis?

Kind of! Zebra mussels are pretty sharp and can slice a person or pet’s feet open, and is the reason most people swimming in the shallows of Pace Bend Park, Hippie Hollow, or Bob Wentz Park, wear water socks or shoes.

But if you’re swimming in the open lake, zebra mussels don’t swim up and bite you or anything, so you’re safe – they just want to attach to boats, docks, boat ramps, and rocks.

4. Boats and jet skis *do* present certain dangers

During the peak season on Lake Travis, boat traffic and jet ski use can endanger people or pets swimming too far out in the open. They can create unsafe wakes if too near swimmers and can collide with people swimming outside of safe zones.

Typically, area parks have buoys marking where swimmers should not pass and boats should not approach. Boats and jet skis can create annoying wakes when you’re swimming in a safe zone, but that’s about the worst of it. Historically, it has not been a restrictive danger on Lake Travis.

For all of our party barges, we focus on safety, not just while people are on our fleet, but as guests swimming around the boats.

We provide life jackets and a lily pad with every rental, and, we always have extremely professional captains who are focused on your well-being and have safety training. Our company owner is a former Firefighter and EMT, so this is something we take extremely seriously.

So what is the verdict - is it safe to swim in Lake Travis or not?

Is it safe for you to swim in Lake Travis? Is it safe for dogs to swim in Lake Travis? The argument we laid out above shows that it is the safest place to swim anywhere in the area for humans and dogs, but if you’re on shore, you’ll need to stay within the safe zones and wear shoes, and if you’re swimming in the open, stay very near your boat.

Lake Travis is gorgeous, but more importantly, it is safe to swim if you’re smart about it. We invite you to join us in the water!