2201 Barton Springs Road
Similar to a pool, Barton Springs is shallow on one end (to the west) and about 18 feet deep on the other end (to the east). Like open water, it has plants, animals, and a rocky bottom. The stable 68–70 degree temperature makes it popular for year-round wetsuit swimming. During hot, summer afternoons, the pool can get extremely busy, making a swim workout almost impossible.
Admission is $3 per person, but is free during non-guarded hours (from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. and from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.). On summer weekends, there’s often a charge for parking. No boats of any kind are permitted. austintexas.gov/department/barton-springs-pool
9100 Decker Lake Road
A power plant cooling reservoir, Lake Walter E. Long is slightly warmer than other area lakes in early spring. A boat ramp and several sandy areas located on the east side (toward the dam) provide access to the water, and a line of “no wake” buoys makes for easy sighting. Despite being less well developed and maintained than other local parks, the lake attracts many picnickers, boaters, and fishermen year round. Triathletes like to practice here since hydrilla is less prevalent than in other local lakes. It’s also the site of The Rookie, Skeese Greets, and Couples triathlons.
Admission is $10 per car or $1 on foot. Parking outside the gate is free and legal. austintexas.gov/page/lake-walter-e-long
18216 Weiss Lane
Maintained as a drinking water reservoir for the City of Pflugerville, the almost constant-level lake prohibits motorized watercraft. The park area on the north side provides easy entry to the water. Because the Lake Pflugerville Triathlon and Jack’s Generic Triathlon are held here, several orange buoys can be seen bobbing in the water. On most Friday afternoons, triathlon groups can be seen practicing in the lake. A “coast to coast” round-trip swim from the north shore to the south is about 1.2 miles—the same as a half Ironman. Located 20 miles from downtown Austin, the driving distance is less of a hindrance than the lake’s overgrowth of hydrilla; a nuisance sometimes so challenging that triathlon organizers must hack out a swim course. However, the center of the lake is free from hydrilla. Popular with families and windsurfers, the area can become crowded on weekends in the summer.
Admission is free. The lake is open from dawn until 10 p.m. pflugervilletx.gov
Covering an area of 21 miles, Lake Austin is the longest lake in town. Because private homes line both shorelines, there are a limited number of access points. The two best public places to enter the water are both boat ramps—one on the south side at the Loop 360 bridge and one on the north side at the Walsh Boat Landing off Lake Austin Boulevard. Hydrilla is minimal in Lake Austin because the lake is lowered every winter to discourage growth of the invasive weed. tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/austin/access.phtml
2100 Cedar Breaks Rd, Georgetown
The best place to swim in Lake Georgetown is at Cedar Breaks Park. In today’s drought conditions, the low water level of the lake—located 30 miles from downtown Austin—makes it advisable to swim near the dam on the east side of the park. Not many motorized boats come to this area. Hydrilla is minimal, and members of the Georgetown Triathlete group practice here.
Admission is $4 per car. Park hours are from dawn to 10 p.m. tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/georgetown/access.phtml
Quarry Lake is privately owned by Pure Austin and, aside from sanctioned events, swimmers must be members or guests of Pure Austin to swim here. Quarry Lake has steep banks, and the only easy place to enter the water is from the dock or the sandy area adjacent to the dock. A set of five, “25-meter practice buoys” near the dock is a good place for beginner swimmers to start. The Splash & Dash mini-triathlon series is held at Quarry Lake the third Tuesday of every month from April to September. pureaustin.com
The largest lake in Central Texas, Lake Travis should be the best place to swim, but drought conditions can often close public boat ramps. If a long rocky climb down to the water seems manageable to you, swimming is permitted at Pace Bend Park (2011 Pace Bend Road North, Spicewood) and Mansfield Dam (4370 Mansfield Dam Road, Austin). Both areas charge $10 per carload for day use. lcra.org/parks/developed-parks/Pages/pace-bend.aspx
Although the water quality at Lady Bird Lake is as good as most other Austin area lakes, swimming is only allowed during approved events such as triathlons and swim races. This is due to construction debris such as rebar and other sharp metal lying in many areas of the shallow lake. Those who choose to swim in Lady Bird Lake can be fined up to $118. The areas used for swimming events are cleared of most sharp debris, so there’s no need to worry about swimming into sharp metal objects at the CapTex Triathlon, the TriRock Triathlon, or the Cap 2K Open Water Race. austintexas.gov/austinlakes