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There is so much fun to be had in Austin — live music, delicious barbecue, outdoor bars, chicken-poop-fueled bingo games, and kinetic festivals like South by Southwest — that it’s a good idea to take a breather before you fling yourself back in the fray. Enter Lake Austin. Located a little over ten miles from downtown, this reservoir along the Colorado River invites you to chill out and relax for a while. Swimming isn’t the thing here — you aren’t allowed to swim or float more than 50 feet from the shore. Instead, hop on the watercraft of your choice — canoes, kayaks, paddle boards, and motorized vessels are all available to rent nearby — and make your way through the winding waters, gliding under an award-winning bridge as you pass the stately mansions that dot the shore. After a day on the lake, head to one of the waterfront restaurants, where you can dine under a palapa.
Fly into Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS). If you opt for a rental car, it’s a little over 30 minutes from downtown Austin, or you can hire a taxi or rideshare to drop you off.
Austin runs warm to very hot just about year round. June through August are the hottest months, with temperatures in the 90s and sometimes in the triple digits Fahrenheit. October cools down with temperatures in the 80s, and November through March bring temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees. March and April spike back up into the 80s. If you’re visiting during the summer, you should pack for very hot weather, and in winter expect cool nights and bring layers. You may experience thunderstorms any time of year, especially during spring, so always bring an umbrella and raincoat just in case.
Head to Covert Park to get a whole new perspective of the lake. This hillside park is home to the 775-feet Mount Bonnell, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors have been coming here since the 1850s to enjoy panoramic views of the water, city, and surrounding hills. To get to the top, you’ll have to climb 102 stairs. Once there you’ll find a small stone pavilion, so settle in for a picnic with a spectacular view before making the trek back down.
Also known as the 360 Bridge, the Pennybacker Bridge’s two stately arches span Austin Lake without touching the water — all the better to accommodate the many boats that float beneath it. Designed to blend into its surroundings, its weathered, rust-colored exterior has received awards for its innovative design. The bridge has become such a recognizable part of the Austin landscape, you can find it on many souvenir posters, keychains, and mugs. For an incredible view of the real thing, park in a small lot off the western road of the north span, then complete a short but steep hike to an overlook that offers incomparable views of the bridge, Austin, and — if you time it right — the sunset.
If you truly feel the need to jump into the cool waters of Lake Austin, this is an excellent (and legal) place to do it. This 1,142-acre park features waterfront barbecues and picnic tables, docks, piers, and a designated swimming area with a small sandy beach — where you’re likely to jostle with little ones wearing water wings. There is also a network of hiking trails, including the popular Turkey Creek, a tree-lined 2.8-mile path that winds alongside, and at several points crosses, a babbling creek.