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Lady Bird Lake and The Texas Highland Lakes

Mar 15th, 2021

If you live in any of our Austin apartments, then you’ve no doubt spent some time around Lady Bird Lake. Here’s some interesting information about our very own Town Lake and the river that runs into it!

The Colorado River 

If you’ve ever wondered why the Colorado River is called the Colorado River despite having no connection to the actual state of Colorado, then you’re not alone. The name is actually a Spanish word meaning “the color red” or “red-colored.” It’s likely that the Spanish explorers who traversed the area in the late 17th century mistook the present-day Colorado River for the reddish-colored Brazos River, and the name simply stuck. 

Running approximately 862 miles through Texas, the Colorado River is the longest river to both originate and end in the state! Its drainage area covers around 39,000 square miles of land across the middle of Texas, an area referred to as the Colorado River basin.

Why are we talking about the river basin? Well, Lady Bird Lake is one of seven man-made reservoirs that were created to circumnavigate the major drainage issues caused in the basin. 

As all of you must already know, weather is anything but predictable in Texas. Periods of extreme drought can be followed by bouts of severe storms and day-long downpours. This wasn’t so much of an issue before people inhabited the region, but as more and more cities, towns and settlements began to pop up on Texas riverbanks, these weather patterns (or lack thereof) became disastrous for the population. The lower Colorado River basin was one of the areas particularly affected by poor drainage and flooding. 

After years of devastating floods and unreliable water sources plagued those living in the Colorado Basin, the Texas State Legislature created the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) in 1934 to tackle the issue. 

One of the first things that the newly established LCRA did was to create a system of dams along the Colorado River to better manage the flow of water through the lower basin and generate hydroelectric power. These dams became known as the Texas Highland Lakes.

The Texas Highland Lakes

There are six official Texas Highland Lakes that were created as a result of the LCRA’s dams. Lady Bird Lake was constructed by the City of Austin and isn’t an official Highland Lake, but it is still considered an honorary member of the group. Each of these man-made lakes not only provides safety from unpredictable weather, but they also provide abundant recreation to those in the area. 

Here are the six official Texas Highland Lakes and, of course, our very own Lady Bird Lake in Austin!

Lake Buchanan


Located in between Llano and Burnet and just over an hour away from Austin, Lake Buchanan is the westernmost of the highland lakes. The Buchanan Dam was completed in 1938 and was the first dam built as part of the LCRA’s project, since it’s the farthest upriver on the Colorado.

Lake Buchanan is one of the largest of the highland lakes, covering a surface of around 22,333 acres and stretching over 30 miles. The 124 miles of shoreline holds ample opportunity for swimming, boating, hiking, camping and more. There’s even a lighthouse that you can see as you drive across the dam (which is about 2 miles long)!

Inks Lake


This 831-acre lake is tiny in comparison to its neighbors, but Inks Lake provides a peaceful retreat for fishers, campers, swimmers and backpackers alike! A beautiful old bridge that once served as a traffic route across the water is now reserved as a pedestrian-only walkway, offering gorgeous views of the wildlife-rich scenery. 

Lake Lyndon B. Johnson


Originally named Lake Granite Shoals, the lake was re-named Lake Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 after the Texas senator was elected President in 1963. Lyndon and Claudia Johnson even had a home on the lake, which is a popular location for boating and water recreation today!

Lake Marble Falls


If you go to Lake Marble Falls looking for marble or waterfalls, you’re not likely to find either!

That section of the Colorado River used to be known for its waterfalls and limestone formations (which people mistook for marble) in the 1800s. However, after the water levels rose and the LCRA’s dams were built downriver, the falls became submerged. 

Lake Travis


Stretching over 60 miles along the Colorado River, Lake Travis is the largest of the Texas Highland Lakes. The widest point is around 4.5 miles wide and there’s over 270 miles of shoreline, which is enjoyed by boasters, hikers, campers, recreationalists and many more!

Lake Austin


If you’ve ever driven over the Percy V. Pennybacker Jr. Bridge — more commonly known as the 360 Bridge — then you’ve driven over Lake Austin! This highland lake seems more like a river due to its long rather than rotund shape, but it’s certainly still a popular spot for fishing and recreation!

Lady Bird Lake


Last, but certainly not least, is our very own Lady Bird Lake

This downtown lake is named for First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson. While it’s now a popular place for hiking, cycling, kayaking and recreation, the lake was originally built to be a cooling pond for a nearby power plant. 

Although swimming and motor vehicles are prohibited at the lake, the waters are perfect for kayaking, paddle-boarding and canoeing! Trails around the lake offer stunning views of the water and Austin’s downtown skyline, making it the perfect place for an afternoon jog, a morning walk or a lunchtime stroll. 

In fact, we love Lady Bird Lake so much that our South Shore apartments are right on the banks of the lake! 

These highland lakes may not be naturally occurring, but their construction have not only protected Austin residents from flooding and damage, but they’ve given us seven beautiful lakes to swim, paddle and play on! That’s a win in our books!


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Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/debannja

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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