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Formerly Town Lake

Austin, Texas

Excerpts From
Splash Across Texas

by Chandra Moira Beal

Book Hotel Here › Austin Hotels
Town Lake is the most stable portion of the Highland Lakes chain, and in my opinion, Austin just wouldn't be Austin without it. To me, Town Lake is the heart of Austin. The little camp called Waterloo that grew into Austin began right where the Congress Avenue Bridge is today. The Colorado River and all of its resources allowed Austin to grow into a thriving metropolis. The river has also divided north and south Austin for decades. When I have visitors from out of town, I tell them we're going to Town Lake, but when we get there they say, "Why, this is just a river!" Town Lake actually is a lake, created by the City of Austin in the 1960s as a cooling pond for the Holly Street Power Plant, with Tom Miller Dam and Longhorn Dam containing the water. Town Lake Metropolitan Park extends the entire length, five miles, on the north and south shores. The park includes seventeen ball parks, places to rent rowboats, canoes, kayaks and paddleboats, swimming pools, volleyball courts, picnic tables with grills, and lots of great scenery.

Cold Springs near Deep Eddy is a source of water for the lake. Today it is covered by Town Lake but it still flows and can only be seen by boat. It's on the south shore between Red Bud Isle and MoPac. A man-made pool has been built under a 100-foot waterfall.

Sailing and canoeing are permitted on Town Lake, but swimming and powerboats are not. However, you can swim in several swimming pools in the park within a stone's throw of the lake.
Lady Bird Lake, or Town  Lake Hike And Bike trail, Austin Texas
The hike and bike trail in Austin
Photo courtesy Chandra Moira Beal
A popular feature of Metropolitan Park is a 10-mile hike and bike trail. The gravel and concrete trail begins at Riverside Drive and Congress Avenue, near the Hyatt. It goes west past Auditorium Shores, which has parking and rest rooms; Butler Shores, which also has parking; Zilker Park (includes a short skirt around Barton Creek); and crosses under MoPac, which also has a rest room. From there it is a short jog west to Deep Eddy where there is a shower; past Austin High School; across Lamar Boulevard; past Shoal Beach and the Buford Tower; past the trailhead to the Shoal Creek Greenbelt; and across South First and Congress Avenue Bridges. It intersects with Waller Creek Walkway, goes under IH35, past Festival Beach, Martin Pool and the U.S. 183 Bridge and follows Lakeshore Boulevard until it ends about one-half mile west. The trail crosses the river via footbridges at MoPac, South First Street, South Congress Street, and the frontage road of IH35.
Congress Bridge Flooded Austin TX
Congress Bridge flooded in 1935
Photo courtesy TXDoT

On the North Shore of Lady Bird Lake:

Holly Beach
A small 2.5-acre park between Longhorn Dam and Metz Park.

Fiesta Gardens
Popular for Hispanic celebrations, this sixty-acre park also has displays of exotic flora and a lagoon. Fiesta Gardens also has a boat launch and lots of open grassy space.

Waller Beach
Twenty-six acres of grassy park between IH35 and Congress Avenue. The park is filled with gazebos, boat launches and docks.

Congress Avenue Bridge
Built in 1910. A relief exhibit at the intersection of Congress Avenue and East Cesar Chavez (north of the river, in the southwest corner) shows Austin as it looked in 1889. It is displayed from the perspective as it would have appeared had you been standing in the same spot in 1889.

South First Street Bridge

Also known as the W.F. Drake, Jr. Bridge. Drake was mayor of Austin between 1951-1953.

Shoal Beach
An eighteen-acre stretch between Congress Avenue and Lamar Boulevard. This section includes Buford Tower, dedicated in 1978 to Fire Department Captain James T. Buford for giving his life in the line of duty to the citizens of Austin during a water rescue. Buford Tower was originally built in 1930 as a training place for Austin's firefighters.

Lamar Beach
Extends from Lamar Boulevard to Johnson Creek. This forty-acre park includes several ballfields.

University Beach
Parallels the University of Texas property west to Red Bud Trail and has one acre of lake access.

Red Bud Isle
Thirteen acres of primitive wilderness just below Tom Miller Dam. It is literally an island; you can picnic and access the lake from a circular drive of very rough road.

Emmett Shelton Bridge

This bridge was the first low-water bridge over Town Lake. Originally built in 1849, it was the gateway to the foothills west of Lake Austin. Shelton is an attorney, author, land developer, marine captain, community benefactor, historian, and poet. There is a historical plaque just west of the bridge with an original block of Texas red granite that was part of the first dam built on Lake Austin in 1893 and destroyed by the flood of 1900. Portions of the bridge remain submerged by the water.

Tom Miller Dam
Finished in 1940, this was the third dam built in this spot, the previous dams having been destroyed by flooding of the Colorado River. The dam is accessible from Lake Austin Boulevard at Red Bud Trail. Tom Miller was mayor of Austin.
Tom Miller Dam
Tom Miller Dam - with three and half floodgates open
Photo courtesy Rob Hafernik, July 2007

On the South Shore of Lady Bird Lake:

Longhorn Dam
Has scenic overlooks and picnic areas.

Lake Shores
Thirty-five-acre undeveloped park east of the Kasuba property to Pleasant Valley Road.

Auditorium Shores
A popular gathering place for free concerts and other public festivals. It is a flat, grassy area from the South First Street Bridge to Lamar Boulevard. Twenty-five acres in all, it has a gazebo, a reflection pool, and numerous rest areas.

Butler Shores
Named for Roy Butler, mayor of Austin in the early 1970s. Butler Shores has parking and is adjacent to the Parks and Recreation Department headquarters. It extends from the Lamar Bridge to Barton Creek, and has seven acres of lake frontage.

For a spectacular view of Town Lake and Austin's skyline, check out Lou Neff Point located in Zilker Park. Isabella Neff was the namesake of the very first state park in Texas, and Lou Neff is a relative.

As of this writing, Austin is considering converting Town Lake Park into a performing arts center, parking garage, and park land
Buford Tower Austin TX
Buford Tower
Photo courtesy Chandra Moira Beal


A discussion of Town Lake would not be complete without a word about the bats. Between April and October, North America's largest urban colony of Mexican freetailed bats make Austin their home. More specifically, they live under the Congress Avenue Bridge and can be heard squealing as you walk under it. Hundreds of people gather on the bridge or shores to watch the colony, literally millions of bats, leave in a swarm at dusk to devour mosquitoes and other insects. The Austin America Statesman has set up a grassy beach and informational stand for viewing from the south side of the bridge. Another way to watch the bats is from your table at the Shoreline Grill. August is the prime month for viewing.

Excerpted from Splash Across Texas, 1999
Copyright Chandra Moira Beal and La Luna Publishing
Related Topics:

  • Splash Across Texas
    by Chandra Moira Beal

  • Austin, Texas
  • Texas Rivers
  • Texas Lakes
  • Texas Trips

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