One of the more isolated, off-the-beaten-path parks in Austin’s Travis County, Arkansas Bend Park is a total gem. Located on Lake Travis's north shore, this peaceful, scenic, 323-acre park offers excellent swimming, fishing, hiking, picnicking, and boating opportunities. The park recently underwent a large-scale renovation in 2019, and new, improved features include revamped campsites, walking trails, boat ramps, a playground, and more. Those who aren’t familiar with, or haven’t been to, Lake Travis are in for a treat.
The History of Arkansas Bend
Lake Travis is a reservoir that was created when the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) constructed the Mansfield Dam. Built to control the floodwaters of the 600 miles of the Colorado River, the dam is absolutely massive—26 stories high and 7,000 feet long. Although the LCRA also built five additional dams, creating six other lakes (known as the Highland Lakes Region), Lake Travis is widely regarded as the area's crown jewel. For one thing, it’s huge: Its nearly 64-mile-long body twists and loops into several tributaries, with 270 miles of shoreline, most of which remains pristine and undeveloped. Not to mention, every aquatic activity imaginable is possible here—skiing, sailing, fishing, boating, and swimming are all popular water sports on Lake Travis. The lake is also a scuba diver’s dream. Its water is 225 feet deep in places (the deepest part of the lake is between Volente and Hudson Bend) and compared to other lakes in the area, the water quality is startlingly clear: an iridescent blue-green that looks especially pretty next to the stark white limestone of the bluffs.
And located on the north shores of the lake near Lago Vista, Arkansas Bend Park offers a wonderful glimpse of all that Lake Travis has to offer. This wasn’t always the case. Before the park’s fairly recent renovation, the area had fallen into disrepair, with damaged tree roots and grounds (and only very basic amenities). Not so anymore. Today, the park (which re-opened in June 2019, after extensive renovations) boasts plenty of amenities to keep visitors happy, including two boat ramps for public access (one of which is equipped with a courtesy dock and an ADA ramp), grassy, shaded areas for picnicking, 18 campsites, a short loop trail, and a playground perched on a bluff above the water.
How to Get There
Arkansas Bend State Park is roughly 50 minutes from downtown Austin, depending on traffic. The park is also about three hours from Houston and two hours from San Antonio.
From Austin, head north on I-35 and follow 183-N toward Cedar Park. Then, take the FM 1431 exit, and continue on Ranch Road 1431 until you reach the park.
Hours of Operation and Entrance Fee
The park is open every day, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The boat ramp is accessible 24 hours a day, every day. Day use is $5 per adult and $3 for seniors ages 62 years and older. Children ages 12 and younger get in free. Note that the park does not accept credit or debit cards, so you’ll need to bring cash to get in.
What to Do
The water is the main attraction at Arkansas Bend, of course. The swimming here is top-notch, and the scenery is impressive—with the sun-bleached limestone bluffs, glittering, blue-green waters, and lush, dark green vegetation, it feels a little like Provence or southern Italy. After swimming in the crystal-clear waters, enjoy a picnic atop the bluffs at one of the tables in the shade, overlooking the water.
You can do all manner of water activities at Arkansas Bend (though note that the park only provides access to the water; you’ll have to rent equipment elsewhere)—charter a sailboat and park it here for a while, or bring your own boat or kayak and launch from one of the docks. Fishing is also popular; the lake contains catfish, white bass, large-mouthed bass, sunfish, and others. There’s a scenic half-mile loop trail that winds through the park if you feel like taking a stroll.
But, for those who want to beat the Texas heat and swim the day away, there’s almost nowhere better to do so, in the Austin area, than Arkansas Bend.
Where to Stay
- Camping. Reservations are highly recommended if you plan on camping at Arkansas Bend. The park offers a limited number of campsites (18), each of which is equipped with water, a picnic table, 20/30/50 electrical hookups, a fire ring, a lantern hook, and a barbecue grill. Each site is limited to a maximum of two vehicles and eight people. There are also three restroom facilities located within Roadrunner Loop, with 10 individual bathroom-and-shower combos in all. Ground fires are permitted (as weather conditions allow), but all campers must bring in their own firewood—the cutting and gathering of firewood is prohibited in all Travis County parks.
- Glamping. If rustic camping isn’t quite your thing, you’re in luck—there are several cool, unique glamping and other lodging options near Arkansas Bend, on Lake Travis. Hipcamp offers several camping and glamping spots in or near Lago Vista. La Villa Vista, The Cove, and Living Waters on Lake Travis are all great, as well—if you want the true glamping experience, Living Waters, in particular, is fantastic. This quaint, tranquil retreat has gorgeously designed safari tents, eco-cabins, and glamping tents scattered around the property, located right on the lake.
Tips for First-Time Visitors
- Remember to bring cash for the entrance fee.
- To maintain quiet hours, the park suggests that all overnight campers arrive no later than 9 p.m. and keep traffic to a minimum after dark (all radios and generators must be turned off by this time, as well); plan accordingly.
- There’s no lifeguard on duty, so be prepared to swim at your own risk.
- And speaking of swimming at your own risk: Unfortunately, zebra mussels (an invasive mollusk, native to freshwater) have been found along the shoreline here (and all along Lake Travis); the mussels’ shells are sharp and can easily cut bare skin and feet. As such, it’s recommended that you wear water shoes or other sturdy footwear on the beach and near the water. Zebra mussels are often shielded from view, so you don’t see them until it’s too late.
- You can bring your dog to the park, but you do have to keep your furry friend on a leash at all times.