By Libby Hoppe
Lots of cities sit on rivers: Baltimore, Baton Rogue, Memphis, St. Louis. Many cities use their rivers for shipping and commerce, and others build hotels along the shore that tout water views. But Austin, Texas has turned its river into something else — a recreational destination perfect for hiking and biking or simply enjoying the view.
Lady Bird Lake, formerly called Town Lake, cuts right through the heart of Austin, dividing the tall buildings and condos of downtown from the hip South Congress neighborhood (SoCo if you want to sound in-the-know) on the opposite side of the river. The lake was formed 50 years ago when the city dammed the Colorado River, creating a chain of lakes called the Texas Highland Lakes. Lady Bird Lake is the easternmost in the chain.
Throughout the day, joggers and bicyclists head to the Hike and Bike Trail, a 10-mile loop around the lake. The trail is made of crushed granite, which is easy on the knees when running or jogging. It’s busy enough to feel safe, but not too busy where it feels crowded. It’s shaded in the summer, but not so shaded that you’ll feel cold in the winter. It’s in the middle of downtown, but it feels like you’re miles away — until you catch a glimpse of the high-rise buildings through the trees.
Because the lake is so clean, people aren’t afraid to get on the water and even in
the water (if they fall off a stand-up paddleboard or out of a kayak, by chance). Non-motorized boats and vessels are welcome on the lake, and you can rent canoes or kayaks from the Zilker Park Boat Rentals
or the Texas Rowing Center
. The natural landscape near the lake extends past the trail. Auditorium Shores and Zilker Park, both on the south side of the lake, are large recreation areas for picnics, soccer and concerts, including Austin City Limits.
The first time I visited Austin, a friend told me to check out Lady Bird Lake. Grab some running shoes, he said, and spend an afternoon there. You won’t run out of things to do, he told me. After living in Austin for almost three years, I still haven’t tired of this natural getaway in the middle of the city.
Image courtesy Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau