Central Texas rivers offer some outstanding paddling opportunities — all just a short car ride away from the state capital. And thanks to mild winters, the five ravishing day trips below appeal to Austin kayakers year-round.
San Marcos River
Just a 20-minute drive from Austin’s southern border is the San Marcos River. Here, cool, clear spring-fed waters wind from Shady Grove Campground to Staples, taking kayakers through pastoral scenes of blue herons winging through cypress trees and turtles basking on half-sunken logs. Rapids are mild, but personal flotation devices are still recommended.
Know before you go: Park at Shady Grove for $5 per vehicle and arrange a shuttle via Spencer Canoe at the campground in Martindale, which also rents kayaks.
Bass fishing, wildlife spotting, and lazy drifting characterize this super-smooth course, with no significant rapids to stir the broad brown waterway. Located in the hamlet of Webberville, 30 minutes from Austin, this six-mile paddle runs from Little Webberville Park to Big Webberville Park.
Know before you go: Drop your kayak in the water at Little Webberville Park off FM 969. Cooks Canoes can help with shuttles as well as onsite boat and safety gear rentals.
Cruise South Llano River State Park to Junction City Park, where fishing and birding are excellent and the lack of dams or other man-made features means no portages. The six-mile paddle down a spring-fed waterway offers mild rifles interspersed with calm, clear pools.
Know before you go: South Llano River State Park is about two-and-a-half hours from Austin via Highway 290, Interstate 10, and Highway 377. South Llano Canoes & Kayaks, south of Junction, supplies shuttles along with boat and personal flotation device rentals.
Even novice kayakers can easily navigate the four-mile stretch of the Guadalupe from Nichol's Landing to Guadalupe Canoe Livery. This passage is lined with towering cliffs and trees.
Know before you go: The put-in is about an hour-and-a-half from Austin via I-35 and Highway 46. Guadalupe Canoe Livery on Highway 281 has rental boats, safety gear, and shuttles.
Located in the heart of downtown, Lady Bird Lake offers matchless skyline views and eye candy galore thanks to plenty of bats, turtles, swans, and stand-up paddlers. Unlike true riverine outings, the lack of a serious current in the dammed-up Colorado means you can meander up Barton Creek or fish at Festival Beach, and still take out at the same spot where you put in.
Know before you go: There are no less than eight official boat launching spots from Red Bud Isle to Festival Beach. Boat and safety gear rentals are available from Congress Avenue Kayak, the Rowing Dock, Texas Rowing Center, and Zilker Park Boat Rentals.