Weekend Getaway

Weekend Warrior: Lake Travis


Just outside Austin, the distinctive blue-green waters of Lake Travis flow in serpentine loops and bends through small communities, rolling hills and towering limestone cliffs. At 10 knots, it’s less than four hours from Mansfield Dam at MM1 to Turkey Bend, MM45. To truly appreciate this lake created by the damming of the Colorado River, take time to explore the unique characteristics of each area.

When full, lake depths range to 190 feet, but current low water levels from the ongoing Texas drought make depths deceptive. “Pay attention, navigate cliffside or follow the mile marker buoys, and use radar to pick up shoaling not yet appearing on charts,” cautions Capt. John Males of Fathom Yacht Charters.

Day 1: Lower Lake Travis

Mansfield Dam to Point Venture — 4 NM

View from the Oasis on Lake Travis | Credit: RoschetzkyIstockPhoto from Getty Images

A short jaunt from the shoreline, The Oasis on Lake Travis is an iconic dining and dancing venue (with its own Wikipedia page) and a multi-deck complex on a 450-foot bluff northeast of Mansfield Dam, perfect for watching a blazing sun submerge into the lake.

Just six miles upstream on the busiest section of the lake, Lake Travis Zipline Adventures takes you from water level to sky level and back down 2,800 feet at speeds up to 65 mph! Then test your agility over an adrenaline-pumping water obstacle course at nearby Waterloo Adventures. Recover on the shoreline with beach games, food, drinks and more!

Just a mile farther at the entrance to Sandy Creek is Starnes Island, a popular raft-up spot for the young party crowd. The fun continues at nearby Beachside Billy’s at Volente Beach Resort & Waterpark, MM6. The building dates back to the 1950s when it was a hangout for builders of Mansfield Dam and reputedly a hideout where Lyndon B. Johnson could avoid a Texas Senate vote.

Heading north into Sandy Creek, Shack 512 is to the starboard. Catch mellow breezes on the huge deck while dining on elevated pub grub finished with tableside s’mores for sharing.

Award-winning Northshore Marina at MM9 is a deep-water floating marina with depths to 15 feet, making it fully accessible during drastic water level changes. They have slips to 80 feet, a fuel dock with pump-out and a well-stocked ships store.

Just past the marina is Devil’s Cove, another infamous weekend party spot. When entering, veer left to Little Devil’s Hollow, a calmer arm of the cove tucked away from the crowds. Cruising southwest brings you to Lakeway, a vibrant waterside community. Locals gather at Sundancer Grill on Hurst Creek for a generous happy hour and casual good food. For more upscale dining, dock at Lakeway Marina home of Lakeway Resort and Spa for a range of family amenities including an inviting pool area. Its signature eatery, TR Restaurant & Lounge, serves seasonal southern food in a rustic atmosphere.

Across the lake at MM18 is Captain Pete’s Boathouse, a floating facility with a fuel dock and restaurant known for its neighborly atmosphere. Less than a mile upstream, it’s easy to anchor close in and swim to a remarkably long sandy beach (a result of the drought) at Point Venture’s public park. This is a perfect place to stay overnight.

Where to Dock: Northshore Marina (north) or Lakeway Marina (south)

Lake Travis | Credit: RoschetzkyIstockPhoto from Getty Images

Day 2: Middle Lake Travis

Point Venture to Travis Oaks — 6 NM

Winding past Point Venture, the lake becomes more secluded with increasingly dramatic views. The village of Briarcliff has a generous sprinkling of nature trails and parks, and Willie Nelson’s nine-hole golf course. Grab ice and snacks while refueling at Briarcliff Marina, MM26. Above the marina awaits The Lighthouse Restaurant & Lounge, the last westbound eatery serving three meals daily with regular live music in a stunning location with trees growing through the deck.

When the towering cliffs of Pace Bend Park come into view, it feels like you’ve entered a wild, uncivilized dimension. It was once a popular spot for cliff-diving, but with current water levels, the drop to the water is a hazardous 80 feet, twice the norm.

Cow Creek Cove at MM32 is a secluded, curving anchorage with glass- flat water that’s perfect for an overnight. Here the lake’s green-blue span is hemmed in by the jagged limestone bluffs carved by the Colorado River over millions of years. The cove backs up to the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge guaranteeing a wildlife sighting or at least a grazing cow or strutting turkey, and hopefully, catching the song of the endangered golden-cheeked warbler.

Where to Dock: Briarcliff Marina

Day 3: Upper Lake Travis

Marina on Lake Travis | Credit: RoschetzkyIstockPhoto from Getty Images Pro

Travis Oaks to Muleshoe Bend Recreation Area — 5 NM

Heading west, the scenery evolves to gentle hills and pastoral farmland. Your last fuel stop is at Resort Ranch Marina, MM37, sited at the confluence of the Pedernales and Colorado Rivers. The ships store stocks marine essentials, ice, snacks and spirits. It’s worthwhile to explore a few miles upriver on the Pedernales.

Cruise 10 more miles of bends through rolling hills covered with wildflowers and grasslands dotted with cattle to lake-side Gloster, Muleshoe and Turkey Bend Recreation Areas. In spring, iconic Texas bluebonnets blanket the fields with their singular joyful blue color. Gloster Bend has a mile of alluring shoreline, two secluded coves and several good spots to drop a fishing line and catch a largemouth bass. Muleshoe Bend’s 10 miles of multi-use trails curve through the Hill Country’s sloping green grass. Turkey Bend is populated with diverse wildlife — deer, armadillos and geckos — that call this park home.

With clear blue water gently lapping the shore, it’s easy to find a secluded cove to burnish your tan or catch a quick snooze while floating on a lily pad. Then, refreshed and reset, meander back eastward around the bends and stop at some of the places you passed along the way.

Where to Dock: Resort Ranch Marina

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