The most popular place to kayak in Austin is Lady Bird Lake, which runs through the center of our city. Kayaking on Lady Bird is perfect, because the lake is beautiful, wide, and doesn’t have a strong current. There are ample places to explore via boat. Paddle up Barton Creek, and enjoy the crystal clear waters that afford excellent views of passing turtles and carp. (I love this little jaunt.) Paddle down to Longhorn Dam at the end of the lake, and get your workout in. Or, paddle as far up as Red Bud Isle, a charming island where you will see labs bellyflopping in the water and chasing after tennis balls.
How cute is this guy?
Given the lake’s perfection for kayaking, there are several businesses that can cater to your paddling needs and today I’ll tell you the ones I have tested and approve.
Option 1 – Texas Rowing Center
The first and probably the easiest to find is the Texas Rowing Center. This is the best choice if you want to be in the middle of the action on the lake.
(Which can be a lot of fun, and can be hectic. If you don’t like crowds, then wait for my second and third options.)
How to Get There
Park at Austin High, at the intersection pf Mopac and Cesar Chavez. The TRC sign is just around the bend from the tennis courts.
When you get to this sign, you’ll know you’re in the right place, because you will see paddles, boats, boards, life jackets, and dozens of people in Chacos.
Go down these steps to the shack on the left. First you must sign a liability release and then you take the form up to the cashier and tell her what you want to rent.
What to Rent
They have one person kayaks, two person kayaks, stand up paddleboards, and canoes.
How Long To Rent
You can either rent for an hour or for the whole day. I prefer more than an hour.
How to Integrate Delicious Food into this Experience
Pack some charcuterie in your lunch sack. A little smoked gouda never hurt anyone. Kayak up to Red Bud Isle, get out, and have a picnic. Or, kayak up Barton Creek, and take a breather while you eat lunch, and let the current carry you downstream. I’m all about the picnic, can you tell?
Option Deux – Austin Rowing Club
This option is great because you can rent the boats for a half day (four hours), which I deem to be the perfect amount of time for a satisfying kayak experience.
Shout out to our friends Kevin and Lindsay. Kevin gives ARC a thumbs up.
How to Get There
Park near the intersection of Trinity and Cesar Chavez, and walk south on Trinity Street until it dead ends at the boathouse. Parking can be a nightmare in this area. Austin Rowing Club boathouse is two floors, and you will take the stairs down to the lake level to find the kayak kiosk. Kayak kiosk. Kayak kiosk. (Say that ten times fast.)
How to Integrate Delicious Food into This Experience
The ARC boathouse is a beauty, and perhaps the classiest looking place to rent a boat on the lake.
Grab a glass of wine or cup of joe and a sweet pastry from Alta’s coffee shop, in the boathouse, and sit out on the patio one afternoon…you won’t regret it.
How Long to Rent
If you are planning on kayaking to Barton Creek from ARC, you will want to rent your boat for a half day. The creek is a little ways away. It’s not strenuous or exhausting to get there, you just can’t do the round trip in an hour without hustling.
Bonus – People Watching!
One benefit of renting from ARC is that you can easily get downriver, across the I-35 bridge, to our city’s new boardwalk, where you’ll see people biking, walking, running, and pushing strollers.
This section of the river is less crowded, too—another perk.
Continuing on down the lake, there is The Expedition School. Out of the three options, this offers the most diversity of classes and events. They host everything from a full moon paddle potluck to wilderness first aid. If you ever want to have a lesson before you get out in the boat, this is the place to go. See their website here for a full list: www.expeditionschool.com.
Nothing like a good haiku to start your paddle off right!
Call before you go and make sure that they’re available. One year I called and I said I want to stand up paddleboard, and they said, Come on down! When do you want to come? And I said, Well, I’d like to come this Friday. Do I need a reservation? and they said Nope! Just show up! So I did, and had a great day on the water. Then this year I showed up there without a reservation, and they had classes all day and couldn’t rent me a board.
Why choose the Expedition School?
One perk of TEDS is that it sits on a lagoon, away from even the slightest current. (Translation: much easier to balance on a board!) Once you have your sea legs, you can head out into the main stretch of the lake.
However, in all honesty here, from a person who is neither coordinated nor daring, there’s nothing to fear in kayaking or stand up paddling for the first time. It’s not as hard as it looks, and I think SUP-ing looks really hard!
One thing I like about The Expedition School over TRC or ARC is that you can paddle downstream to Snake Island (sounds creepier than it looks) near Dam Longhorns—ahem, I mean Longhorn Dam—sorry—and have a picnic there.
How to Integrate Delicious Food Into This Scenario
After you’re done paddling, go get some pizza at Bufalina. Or, get tacos and queso fundido on the patio at Takoba! You will have earned it. Like I said, anytime you can integrate food into something, it’s much more fun.
Have fun out there! Leave your questions in the comments.