Lady Bird Lake holds a special place in Austin hearts. We have to go back to the 1970s to find that Texas’ population grew more than twice as fast as the national average during the 1970s. And we go even further back to President Kennedy’s assassination and the power of Lyndon Baines Johnson’s (LBJ) presidency and his popular wife, Lady Bird Johnson. 

What Is the Story Behind Lady Bird Lake?

When LBJ left the Whitehouse on January 20, 1969, The Johnsons retired to their Texas home, the LBJ Ranch west of Austin. Lady Bird went to work beautifying Texas. At that time, Lady Bird Lake was known as Town Lake. Lady Bird Lake is a Colorado River Reservoir facing central Austin from the south with a view of the Downtown Austin skyline. 

After the Longhorn Dam created Town Lake, Lady Bird and colleagues spearheaded the visionary team of the Town Lake Beautification Committee. The Committee dedicated the Women in Construction Gazebo in 1970, which jump started its Town Lake beautification projects. 

The Capital Improvement Program bond funding was approved in 1975 to the Town Lake Park Project to improve the Festival Beach area. Fifty-four years later in 2024, Austinites and their visitors are enjoying the Committee’s labors of love that established Austin’s urban oasis more than ever before.  

The Town Lake beautification projects were a series of construction projects that culminated in landscaped flora, trails around the lake, the Auditorium Shores terraces, and the Bicentennial Fountain. In 1998, Town Lake received another boost in beautification. 

Austin voters approved a bond proposition that funded the creation of the Town Lake Park Master Plan. While she was alive, Lady Bird objected to renaming Town Lake after her. She died on July 11, 2007. On July 26, 2007, the Austin City Council voted to rename Town Lake to Lady Bird Lake.

Lady Bird Lake FAQ

Can You Swim in Lady Bird Lake?

The City of Austin owns and operates Lady Bird Lake in cooperation with the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA). The LCRA operates six other dams on the Lower Colorado River that form the Highland Lakes Chain. The LRCA reports that the region’s steep terrain, shallow soil, and fast-moving waters when it rains heavily create environmental hazards.

No, you cannot swim in Lady Bird Lake. Floodwater may contain dangerous debris, livestock waste, rodents and snakes, and urban runoff. An estimated 50,100 people moved to Austin between mid-2022 and mid-2023. Urban sprawl results in more development taking over natural landscapes and leads to harmful pollutants seeping into the lake along with human trash, especially after heavy rains.

From the Austin City Code of Ordinances Chapter 8:

Swimming: “It is illegal for any person to swim, bathe, wade or go into the waters of Lady Bird Lake, except in efforts to rescue and recover human beings.”

Jumping/Diving: “It shall be unlawful for any person to dive from or jump off any bridge that crosses the Colorado River within the city limits.”

Can You Drink Alcohol on Lady Bird Lake?

Alcohol is prohibited on Lady Bird Lake by a City of Austin ordinance. There are several restaurants and bars near Lady Bird Lake that serve beer, mixed drinks, and wine. Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) is also against state law. Events may serve alcohol with permits from the city. 

How Deep Is the Water in Lady Bird Lake?

Lady Bird Lake’s maximum depth is 18 feet. Depending on the water level, Lady Bird Lake covers 471 acres, is about six-miles long, and has 18.3-miles of shoreline. Lady Bird Lake is used for flood control, water supply, and recreation, including kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, and rowing.

How Much Does it Cost to Go to Lady Bird Lake?

Accessing Lady Bird Lake is free. Several local lakeside businesses charge equipment rental fees. Some of the trails in Austin charge a fee.

Biking, Hiking, and Kayaking at Lady Bird Lake

There are several parks and trails around Lady Bird Lake. These trails give access to other popular parks and other trails. 

Sections of the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail:

  • Boardwalk Trail East
    • Length: 1.3 miles
    • Elevated boardwalk over the lake’s surface with city skyline views.
  • Zilker Park Section
    • Connects to the extensive trails in Zilker Metropolitan Park and the Barton Creek Greenbelt.
  • Auditorium Shores
    • Popular area for events and gatherings with expansive lawns and concert spaces.
  • Shoal Beach at Town Lake Metropolitan Park
    • Offers a trailhead and access point to the hike-and-bike trail.
  • Vic Mathias Shores
    • Features open spaces and access to the trail.
  • Johnson Creek Greenbelt Trail
    • Connects Lady Bird Lake to the northwestern parts of Austin.
    • Runs through a greenbelt with a natural trail experience.
  • Barton Creek Greenbelt
    • Trailhead leads from Zilker Park and it is accessible from Lady Bird Lake. It offers rugged hiking and biking trails.
  • Shoal Creek Trail
    • Connects to Lady Bird Lake from the north.
    • Follows Shoal Creek through downtown Austin with a scenic, urban trail experience.
  • Waller Creek Trail
    • This trail runs through downtown Austin and connects to Lady Bird Lake, providing an urban greenway experience.

Parks and Access Points Along the Trail:

  • Zilker Metropolitan Park
  • Auditorium Shores at Town Lake Metropolitan Park
  • Festival Beach Park
  • Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Metro Park
  • Butler Shores
  • Edward Rendon Sr. Park at Festival Beach
  • Longhorn Shores at Town Lake Metropolitan Park

Canoeing, Kayaking, Paddle Boarding at Lady Bird Lake

Watercraft Rentals

A variety of watercraft rentals are available around Lady Bird Lake. The City of Austin awards contracts to these rental businesses. Visitors can canoe, kayak, paddleboard, and rowboat at Lady Bird Lake. 

Public Lake Access and Launch Areas

  • IH 35 and East Avenue: Unimproved boat ramp.
  • IH 35 behind the Holiday Inn: Unimproved boat ramp.  Paid on street parking.
  • Stephen F Austin Drive under Mopac: Unimproved path to north shore.  Paid on-street parking.
  • Red Bud Isle: Shoreline access is available at Red Bud Isle in the upper end of the reservoir near Tom Miller Dam and on the hike-and-bike trail, which circles nearly the entire lower two-thirds of the lake.
  • Stephen F Austin Drive: Approximately 600-feet south of Cesar Chavez. Unimproved boat ramp. Paid on-street parking.
  • Festival Beach Boat Ramp: Nash Hernandez Senior Road. Limited parking on site.
  • The Rowing Dock: Stratford Drive. A small public dock on the side of the Rowing Dock Facility. Extremely limited parking is mostly used by Rowing Dock customers.

Fishing Lady Bird Lake

Austin City Code of Ordinance on Fishing: It shall be unlawful for any person to fish from the deck or other portion of any bridge that crosses the Colorado River within the city limits. 

  • Black Bass: 
    • Largemouth bass: length limit is  14 to 21 inches. Bass 14-inches and less or 21inches or greater in length may be retained. Only one bass 21 inches or greater may be retained. 
    • Smallmouth bass minimum length limit is 14 inches. No minimum length limit on Alabama, Guadalupe, and spotted bass. Daily bag limit for all black bass species is 5 in any combination.
  • Carp: For common carp, only one carp 33 inches or greater may be retained each day. There is no daily bag limit for carp less than 33-inches in length.
  • Catfish: For channel and blue catfish, their hybrids and subspecies, 25 in any combination. Only 10 can be 20 inches or greater in length. For flathead catfish, minimum length is 18 inches and daily bag limit is 5.
  • Crappie: For white and black crappie, their hybrids and subspecies, minimum length limit is 10 inches. Daily bag limit in 25 in any combination.
  • Alligator Gar: Daily bag limit is 1 fish of any size. No bag limits on other species of gar.
    • Mandatory Harvest Reporting – All alligator gar harvested from the public waters of the state other than Falcon International Reservoir must be reported within 24 hours to the department via mobile app or online. Report your harvest with the “My Texas Hunt Harvest” app.
    • Certain areas may be temporarily closed to alligator gar fishing when optimum spawning conditions occur. 
  • Sunfish: There is no minimum length or daily bag limit on bluegill, redear, warmouth, or other species of sunfish.
  • Trout: For rainbow and brown trout, their hybrids and subspecies, there is no minimum length and daily bag limit is 5 trout in any combination.
  • White bass: For white bass, minimum length is 10 inches and daily bag is 25.
  • Striped bass and their Hybrids: For striped and hybrid striped bass, minimum length limit is 18 inches and daily bag limit is 5 in any combination.

Things to Know when Visiting Lady Bird Lake

  • An Austin Police Department speedboat patrols the lake on occasion.
  • Please leave your valuables at home. 
  • Bring water or other drinks in non-glass containers, preferably reusable containers.
  • Splash bags are good for small items like your ID and credit cards, or other items that can get splashed. Splash bags are not waterproof and not recommended for electronic devices.
Kendall Davis
Author: Kendall Davis

Author: Kendall Davis Company: Lumini Services Kendall currently lives on the shores of Lake Texoma in Texas. She traveled across two-thirds of the U.S. for many years camping at lakes, rivers, and three oceans before motels and hotels if at all possible, and she continuously saw God's presence in nature. Writing for Lakehub allows Kendall to share her experience with God's creations.

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