Lake Travis might be the best known of the Highland Lakes as a hot spot to cool off just outside of Austin, but that’s only half of this body of water. The Colorado River pours over Max Starcke Dam outside of Marble Falls, and that is where Lake Travis truly begins.
The early twists and turns of the lake are indistinguishable from the Colorado River, creating miles of winding waterways waiting to be explored. We’re drawing a line at Pace Bend Park in Spicewood, claiming the north end of the lake; Austin can have the rest.
When planning your trip to the Highland Lakes, don’t count out the wilder waters of Lake Travis.
Here are 5 reasons to stay — and play — on Lake Travis
THE GREATEST OUTDOORS
When it comes to outdoor adventures, the shores and surroundings of Lake Travis are hard to beat. Krause Springs, Balcones Canyonlands, and Pace Bend Park are among the top contenders for places to kick it when visiting the lake.
Krause Springs is a spring-fed swimming hole that bubbles up just outside of Spicewood. This pristine pond remains a chilly 68 degrees year-round and doesn’t go dry, even in extreme drought. Visitors can stay for the day or camp out. While the springs are closed in the winter, it’s hard to beat the cool, clear water during a blistering Texas summer.
Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge is just a few miles north of Lake Travis and offers some of the best — and most natural — hiking trails in the Highland Lakes. Trek through miles of untouched Hill Country habitat, old-growth cedar stands, and crystal-clear creeks as you navigate limestone-crusted hills overlooking Lake Travis.
Pace Bend Park offers everything from lakeside lounging to rugged mountain biking. Hike over 15 miles of trails, camp out, go bird-watching, or watch the sun set cliffside along the banks of the Colorado River.
If you’re looking for paths less trodden, visit one of the many Lower Colorado River Authority recreation areas along the lake, including Muleshoe Bend, Grelle, Turkey Bend, Narrows, Shaffer Bend, and Gloster Bend.
With a sizable portion of Lake Travis within a stone’s throw of Austin, you’d think the shoreline would be dominated by lakefront homes, and you’d be mostly right. The southwest end of Lake Travis is surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the city, but once you head up river, things get a little wild.
The waters between Marble Falls and Pace Bend Park are relatively unpopulated, creating an unexpected natural getaway.
Take a kayak, paddleboard, or canoe through the creeks and canyons that feed into the lake or head up the Pedernales River, which pours into Travis from the southwest, to Milton Reimers Ranch Park, or Hamilton Pools Preserve.
With more than 30 miles of lake between Max Starcke Dam and Pace Bend Park, there’s plenty of room to boat, explore, and relax.
TOWN AND COUNTRY
Choosing the north end of Lake Travis means you’ll get a taste of the true Highland Lakes and the communities that thrive here. The bustling downtown of Marble Falls and the scattered gems around Spicewood aren’t far from the shores of northern Lake Travis.
Grab a beer at Bear King, Save the World, or Double Horn and explore Marble Falls. Sample wine at Spicewood Vineyards, Stone House Vineyard, or Flat Creek Estate. For something stronger, sip spirits at Iron Wolf Ranch & Distillery just outside of Spicewood.
If you’re hungry, Marble Falls has a pile of options, from fresh sushi to traditional Italian. Texas barbecue is not in short supply, and Opie’s BBQ in Spicewood has some of the best around.
Fuel up in the morning with a coffee or tea from Numinous Coffee Roasters in Marble Falls or Yellow Dog Coffee Co. in Spicewood.
A secluded stay among the cedars can still have the comforts of home, so take advantage of all that the surrounding Highland Lakes communities have to offer.
ADVENTURES IN ANGLING
If you’re looking to drop a line, Lake Travis has ample opportunity for fishing around meandering bends, steep cliffs, and shaded banks. The spring and fall are the best times of the year to target largemouth bass, and this coincides with the bi-annual white bass runs.
Blue cats dominate the catfish population of the lake. Use stink bait and cut bait to draw them in. There are populations of flatheads and channel cats as well, but they are caught less frequently. Target flatheads with live bait and channels with the same stink/cut bait you use on the blues.
The terrain and structure of the lake change drastically from one end to the other, with the north characterized by murky waters and shaded banks and the south hemmed in by towering cliffs and holding clearer water. Make sure you have a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department fishing license if you plan on angling anywhere in Lake Travis.
ESCAPE FROM AUSTIN
Austin might call you to the Texas Hill Country, and that is understandable. A thriving capital city full of possibilities, opportunities, and endless amusement is hard to beat. But along with the excitement of a major city comes major headaches such as traffic, outrageous expenses, and unbridled noise at all hours of the day and night.
Lake Travis long has been an escape for Austin locals and visitors looking for relaxation lakeside, but if you’re planning a Hill Country trip, consider setting up your basecamp on the lake’s north shores.
Avoid the clamor of Austin and embrace the quiet of Lake Travis and the true Highland Lakes. Take on the city on your own terms.
Now that you’ve made north Lake Travis your vacation destination, check out our list of places to stay in the Highland Lakes.