Austin's Lady Bird Lake

The Former Town Lake Is Austin's Crown Jewel

Stevie Ray Vaughan statue
••• Stevie Ray Vaughan statue. Joe Daniel Price/Moment/Getty Images

Located just south of downtown, Lady Bird Lake functions as the city’s town square. Major outdoor concerts are held at Auditorium Shores. People jog and walk their dogs every day on the 10-mile hike-and-bike trail around the lake. Kayakers paddle through its normally slow-moving waters, and fisherman try their luck at catching massive carp, catfish and bass from the shore.

The lake is actually a dammed-in portion of the Colorado River, encompassing 416 acres of surface area.

The lake can quickly become a river again when floodwaters are released upstream, which happened during the Memorial Day Flood of 2015. Originally known as Town Lake, the waterway was renamed in 2007 to honor former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson. She played a key role in the revival and redesign of the lakefront in the 1970s.

Recent Modifications

A major overhaul of the Auditorium Shores area was completed in early 2015. New bathrooms and turf were added, and the leash-free dog park was moved and reorganized. In June 2014, a new elevated boardwalk was opened in east Austin. The boardwalk addressed a longstanding problem on the hike-and-bike trail. The trail originally stopped abruptly at an apartment complex on the shoreline, and joggers had to go around the apartments to get back on the trail. Since they couldn’t move the apartment complex, city officials decided to move the trail out over the water via an elevated boardwalk.

The 10-mile trail around the lake is now uninterrupted. The trail itself is officially dubbed the Roy and Ann Butler Hike and Bike Trail. However, most people still refer to it as the Town Lake or Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail.

Famous Residents

The 1.5 million bats that live under the Congress Avenue Bridge are Lady Bird Lake’s most well-known residents.

A flock of lime-green monk parakeets also calls the area home. You’ll hear their loud squawks before you see them, but they occasionally feed on the ground along with the ubiquitous grackles. Though you may never see them, some of the biggest catfish and carp in the world lurk in Lady Bird Lake’s waters. A 44-pound blue catfish was caught there in February 2015. A 62.5-pound monster fish (species: smallmouth buffalo) was landed in 2006.

Stevie Ray Vaughan Statue

Located just west of the South 1st Street bridge, the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue pays tribute to Austin's most beloved blues guitar player. He tragically died in a helicopter crash in 1990 at the age of 35. Blues fans from around the world often leave flowers on and around the statue. He honed his talents at Antone's Nightclub and helped the club build an international reputation as Austin's home of the blues.

Water Recreation

Motorized vehicles are prohibited on Lady Bird Lake, but kayaks and canoes can be rented by the hour at several spots around the lake. Though swimming is generally not allowed, exceptions are made for major triathlons such as the TriRock race in the fall. Dogs, however, can and do cool off in the lake at any time.

Even if you don’t have a dog, you can watch the excited pooches fetching toys in the lake near the South 1st Street bridge.