Starnes Island was once a simple hill among many in the Texas Hill Country, but in the 1940s, Lake Travis was completed as a man-made reservoir designed to control flooding on the Colorado River that for decades, destroyed local crops and livestock.

Mansfield Dam was finished in 1941 to cap off the lake, which is now 210 feet deep at its deepest point and has over 271 miles of shoreline. Today, Starnes Island is one of the few Lake Travis islands, poking its head gently above the lapping water which has an average temperature of 84 degrees during the summer.

Starnes Island is a popular spot for party barges that anchor and while it can be hard to find a spot to pull up on holidays, it is a bit more laid back and family friendly than Devil’s Cove (which is easily the best party spot in all of Lake Travis).

Starnes Island Is Adored by Scuba Divers

This spot is also really well known to scuba divers because there are depths of up to 100 feet alongside the island, but it is an easy dive, so beginners and veterans alike enjoy this hotspot.

Everything Starnes Island Is and Isn’t

If you read anything online, you’ll be told that Starnes Island is great for cliff diving, but that’s about as true as Bigfoot having a lovechild with JFK (sounds neat and potentially plausible, but the writer has no idea what they’re talking about). What is fun to do at Starnes is to slither on down the slide on your rented party barge, and fun fact, one of ours has TWO slides, just sayin’.

You’ll also read that it’s a fabulous fishing spot, but y’all, it really isn’t. Again, folks that say that probably haven’t even been to Texas before, much less Lake Travis. The people activity is extremely high at Starnes Island above and below the waterline, with jumpers and divers, so don’t bother bringing the poles.

Another ridiculous notion some folks have about Starnes Island is that it’s a beloved kayaking and canoeing spot and that you should bring a kayak and launch it from the island. Okay whut!? It’s not unheard of for folks to kayak from other spots TO the island, but it’s more of a sidequest, and definitely not a starting point, especially since you can’t drive to it. It’s literally an island, you guys.

One of the best days to spend on Starnes Island is the 4th of July, because nearside Beachside Billy’s at Volente Beach puts on an amazing fireworks display on the island, the biggest on Lake Travis. So even if you can’t get a spot along the island’s shore because you didn’t show up at the crack of dawn, we can get you close enough to experience massive fireworks directly overhead, it’s incredible!

The Urban Legends of Starnes Island

What’s fascinating about this island is that you can tell how long someone has lived in the area based on what they call Starnes Island.

Locals in the 50s and 60s called it Snake Island because there was an urban legend (which could be true, but it’s only anecdotally documented) that when Mansfield Dam was completed and the waters filled the lake for the first time, all of the snakes on land (that would soon be lake) sought higher ground. Which was Starnes Island. Some folks believed there were snakes on the island for years, but that was never true beyond the first few months in the early 40s when the lake was filled.

Then, it was colloquially known as Monkey Island because of the urban legend that a local with a pet chimpanzee visited the island and it escaped, so folks in the 70s and even into the 80s would refer to it as such because people never stopped looking for the dang monkey, wishfully hoping to meet a chimp in a tree. People whose parents grew up in the area during that generation also still refer to it as such since they grew up knowing it as Monkey Island (even without knowing why).

But today, the majority of people call it Starnes Island. It was named after a Texas politician who was a primary driver behind funding Mansfield Dam (and thereby the creation of the lake), Judge C. Rhea Starnes. Starnes was a famous mentor to President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) for decades, and he built a home in 1947 near the first marina on the lake.

Starnes Island has a lot of history most people don’t know, and there is a lot of misinformation about popular activities, but what you really need to know is that it’s a chill spot for anchoring, and maybe taking a teensy hike up some rocks to maybe see a bird, but it’s mostly for drinking and swimming with friends and family. We’d love to take you out some time!