The Austin area has three bodies of water that draw different crowds, and we’re here to help you understand the differences and the pros and cons.

Lake Austin vs. Lake Travis vs Town Lake (aka Lady Bird Lake) is a popular question for people visiting Austin, but not so much for locals because they are so wildly different and each has a distinctly unique function. Both are part of the Colorado River system, both are dammed, both are geographically stunning, and both attract visitors from around the world.

Town Lake is downtown and looks more like a winding river while Lake Travis is a 20 minute drive northwest, and in some spots, you can’t see the other side of the lake (it’s seriously huge).

view of Lake Austin and the Austin city skyline

Town Lake (formally known as Ladybird Lake, and formerly known as Lake Austin) is the meandering body of water lining downtown Austin’s high rises, City Hall, and miles of crushed granite jogging trails. If you’re visiting from out of town for a music festival or staying downtown and are on a budget, Town Lake is an extremely chill choice.

There aren’t many public transportation options to get you down to the water’s edge, but chances are that you’re already nearby an accessible spot, or a quick Uber ride can fix that.

What is most compelling about spending a day on Town Lake is that there is a distinctly unique feeling of being in a kayak in the middle of nature, but just past the massive old oak trees are high rises. It feels like being inside of a painting, honestly.

That is what most people go to Town Lake for – the ultra chill vibe of the stand-up paddle board or kayak experience beneath oak trees next to skyscrapers. Not much in central Texas is quite as relaxing as private yoga lessons on stand up paddle boards, y’all.

But the downside of Town Lake is that there are limited options beyond that, and boats can’t even access the downtown portion of the lake. So to drop your own boat, there are only a few ramps, and boat rental options are also limited.

Further, deadly blue algae is often a problem, so swimming can be restricted (if allowed at all) and it’s not always safe to bring your dog, so be sure to check the city’s algae status before heading out.

Pros:

  • Beautiful scenery / view of downtown Austin
  • Jogging trails
  • Kayaking / Paddle boarding
  • Easy access from many different areas of downtown Austin

Cons

  • Deadly algae can restrict swimming / be harmful to pets
  • Boat access is limited
view of Lake Austin and the Austin city skyline

Lake Travis

The gem of the Texas hill country is Lake Travis, and y’all, Lake Travis is a big lake. A frickin’ huge lake – it’s 63.75 miles long and has over 271 miles of shoreline.

Because it’s massive, there are a lot more options to hit up and a broader diversity of experiences offered. For example, in one day, you can visit Hippie Hollow to experience Lake Travis in your birthday suit, then take a jet ski to see live music at a restaurant only accessible by boat (we recommend Vincent’s on the Lake at Emerald Point).

To summarize the vibe, Lake Travis is the fun lake, and one of the best ways to have fun on the lake is a pontoon boat.

Better yet, you can snag one of the famous double-decker party barges that has two slides (we happen to have the highest quality options on the entire lake). Then, you and your crew can tie up to other boats in Devil’s Cove for a high-energy party where there are no strangers.

Besides Lake Travis boat rentals, it’s also home to Zipline Adventures. Hovering high above the lake waters, they offer the fastest and longest zipline in the entire state of Texas! If you like adrenaline, this is the way to go.

When it comes to Lake Travis, the options are diverse and the culture is more local, less touristy. We can tell you all about:

There’s no blooming algae problem on Lake Travis, but if we’re honest, spending time on the shore means you’ll need water shoes because there are freshwater mussels and they’re extremely sharp and can end the day with an ER visit, so that’s a definite downside (although not quite as deadly as poisonous blue algae).

Pros

  • A large variety of activities on and around the water
  • A large variety of restaurants, bars, resorts, and more
  • Party boats are available to rent
  • People like to party here
  • Devils Cove is awesome!

Cons

  • A bit of a drive from downtown Austin (30-45 minutes)
  • Harder to navigate if you don’t hire a driver

Lake Austin

Nestled in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, Lake Austin is perfectly located within Austin city limits making it the most convenient Lake if you are looking for water activities.

Lake Austin is a wonderful place for boaters, as it offers a wide range of opportunities to explore its pristine waters. Here you’ll find Party Cove, a great spot to tie up with other boats and meet new people. The bachelor and bachelorette scene is big here, so if that’s you this or Lake Travis would be a great option.

The biggest draw back with Lake Austin’s Party Cove is it’s very shallow and the ground is clay. As people walk around it kicks up the clay make the water have a very brown color. If you compare Devils Cove on Lake Travis vs Party Cove on Lake Austin, Lake Travis would definitely have the better spot if you are willing to make the drive.

Whether you prefer a leisurely cruise, water skiing, wakeboarding, or fishing, Lake Austin has something for everyone.

Pros

  • A large variety of activities on and around the water
  • Convenient location to downtown Austin compared to Lake Travis
  • It has a 3 great restaurants on the water
  • Party boats are available to rent

Cons

  • The water in Party Cove is brown and the ground feels gross on your feet
  • It’s a smaller lake compared to Lake Travis
  • Boat ramps can get backed up as there is not that many options
So if you’re asking yourself Lake Travis or Lake Austin, the answer is - it depends on what you’re up to!

Are you going for a chill kayak in the afternoon and want to see skyscrapers while drinking chilled kombucha? That’s Lake Austin.

Want to rent a party barge and either see cool nature while drinking a hard sparkling water, or have a loud party on the lake where you tie up to other boats and listen to bangers? That’s Lake Travis.

Either one you choose, you’ll have a good time!