Cruise Control: Tour Austin’s Waterways by Bike, Boat and Kayak

Take to the water in Austin and glide down the Colorado River in Zilkar Park
Take to the water in Austin and glide down the Colorado River in Zilkar Park | © Horizons WWP / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Emilie Hall
24 March 2021

On this scenic, slow-travel trail through the Texas state capital, you’ll experience the city’s lakes and creeks and check into a nature-laced hotel.

Crisscrossed by biking and hiking trails, dotted with lakes and straddling the Colorado River, Austin is a natural haven for outdoorsy types. “One of the most popular aspects of Austin is the lake scene,” says Ben Mantor, founder of Austin Watersports, a private boat-charter company that also offers wakeboarding, wakesurfing and waterskiing lessons.

“These waterways combine scenic views of Austin hill country with social interaction and recreational activities. Whether you’re a seasoned watersports enthusiast, just looking to sip a craft beer and enjoy the rays or keen to party it up in one of the many still-water coves, the city’s lakes don’t disappoint. Plus, residents and visitors can quickly transition from the city’s beautiful waters to the booming nightlife of the downtown, South Austin and East Austin corridors.”

Ready to dive in? Whether you want to see Austin by bike, from a kayak or aboard a pontoon boat, we’ve found three pulse-quickening tours and one outwardly active hotel that together pave the way for urban adventures in Austin, all bookable right here on Culture Trip.

Gorgeous view of the Pennypacker bridge over the Colorado River. You can see the Austin Country Club and downtown Austin, TX in the background.
TEXAS Austin Multiuse trail along Town Lake runners and cyclists ride by Colorado River late afternoon tree lined
The Colorado River flows through Downtown Austin | © Galinast / Alamy Stock Photo A little out of town is the gorgeous Pennypacker Bridge | © Kevin Grubbs / Alamy Stock Photo The trail around Town Lake is a lovely spot for a cycle | © Kim Karpeles / Alamy Stock Photo

Where to Stay: the Hotel…

Omni Barton Creek Resort and Spa

Hotel, Resort, Spa Hotel
Map View
Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa
Courtesy of Omni Barton Creek Resort and Spa / Expedia

A lush resort, just a 15-minute drive west from downtown Austin, the Omni Barton Creek is famous for its four championship golf courses. However, if birdies, bogeys and bunker shots aren’t on the agenda, you certainly won’t be bored. The hotel boasts a 13,000sqft (1,208sqm) signature spa, a state-of-the-art fitness center, tennis courts and nature trails. When you’ve worked up an appetite – or a thirst for something stronger – there are seven different restaurants to suit your mood, including a traditional steakhouse, a sports bar and a poolside taco spot with tantalizing tequila-based cocktails.

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW

What to Do: the Experiences…

ToursLady Bird Lake Bike Tour in Austin
From $61 per person
2 hours
4.6 (7)

On this easygoing two-hour bike tour – suitable for all ages and skill levels – you’ll loop Lady Bird Lake on the lush hike-and-bike trail that meanders along the water’s edge and affords scenic views of downtown Austin. You’ll pedal over the boardwalk, past the 350-acre (142ha) Zilker Park, the Colorado River and natural spring-fed Barton Springs Pool (Austinites’ favorite place to cool off in the summer) and see the popular outdoor music venue Auditorium Shores.

ToursCruise Lake Austin on a Bentley
From $69 per person
1 hour 30 minutes

This BYOB cruise onboard a comfortable Bentley pontoon boat lets you take in the sights around Lake Austin. After pushing off from the Loop 360 Boat Ramp, below Pennybacker Bridge, you’ll cruise by the picturesque Austin Country Club golf course and see luxurious lakefront mansions. You’ll continue past Mount Bonnell (the highest point in Austin) and stop for photos at a lakeside grotto known as Little Venice.

ActivitiesCongress Avenue Bat Bridge Kayak Tour in Austin
From $55 per person
2 hours
5 (2)

Did you know that Austin is home to a colony of more than 1.5m Mexican free-tailed bats? Every evening in the summer months, they emerge from under the Congress Avenue Bridge (also known as the Bat Bridge) and put on a stunning show as they swoop over the lake. You can escape the crowds and witness this unforgettable natural spectacle from your kayak on this serene two-hour sunset tour. You’ll see why Austinites are fiercely proud of their nocturnal neighbors and learn about their crucial role in the urban ecosystem.

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