Each month, topics in this column alternate between cool, new places to go and a family-friendly thing to do at home. This month, we take you out on the water for some paddling action.

You’ve seen them out there, dotting the water anytime you cross Lady Bird Lake on a fine day – brightly colored canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards (SUPs). In fact, there are now so many rental companies that it can be hard to know which one to choose. My family recently tried out several and had a blast. Here, we share the most family-friendly options (due to proximity of parking and wait times). Based on my family’s experience, we found that unless you have uber patient kids, early in the day and weekdays are the best times to go. It’s an easy activity to learn with just a few tips – and a fun way to explore Austin!

The Rowing Dock

Look west as you cross over Lady Bird Lake on Mopac, and you’ll spot bright blue canopies and a long dock stacked with stand-up paddleboards, canoes and kayaks. You can rent pedal kayaks here too (think kayak-sized pedal boats). If you’re looking for a less urban backdrop for your paddling adventure, this is the place to go. While you can easily head east towards the bridge to join the party, the west end of the lake will take your crew beneath tall, tree-filled bluffs with caves. On our trip out, we spotted cranes, ducks and turtles as we paddled towards Red Bud Isle and Mansfield Dam.

Parking is available in the Rowing Dock’s small dirt lot, just past the Austin Nature and Science Center. You can also park under the Mopac bridge or along Stratford Drive. Porta potties can be found on one side of the Rowing Dock’s parking lot and a snow cone truck on the other. Don’t forget to pack an ID and credit card.

Zilker Park Boat Rentals

Located just below Barton Springs Pool, you can see into the water to spot turtles and fish from this section of the lake where clear, cool water flows from nearby natural springs. We watched people plunge in the water from rope swings, glided under bridges hung with hammocks and passed pups on paddleboards. This boat rental location puts you in at a protected section of Lady Bird Lake that makes for calmer conditions, although it’s just a quick paddle around the bend if you want to get out on the open water or tour downtown by boat.

The staff was super friendly and helpful. They tipped us off to the current 2-for-1 weekday discount on the website and the rentable lockers. The easiest way to get to this boat rental is to park near the Zilker playground and restrooms. Then head down to the water and look for boats. For a longer outing, pack a picnic or play at the park.

Epic SUP

This less-populated end of the lake feels entirely different from the craggy bluffs on the west end or the urban cityscape. From here, we paddled along the Boardwalk, past lush parkland and around a secret island near Longhorn Dam. This small, wooden rental spot offers more paddleboards than kayaks. We saw some kids paddling on their own and others on boards with their parents while other families used double kayaks.

At the dock, there are a dozen lockers (without locks), or you can leave small items at the desk. Restrooms are just up the trail. If you’re lucky, you can snag a spot in their small dirt parking lot. If not, street parking is available along Lakeshore Boulevard.

Tips & Tricks:

  • Choose your time wisely. Go early or
    on a weekday to avoid long waits.
    • Use the restroom before you leave.
    • Pack light. Leave towels, drinks and
    snacks in the car.
    • Bring your ID (required as a deposit).
    • Head upwind first, then paddle back.
    * Avoid windy days unless you want a
    challenge and a good arm workout!


Annette Lucksinger is mom of two, editor of Austin Family Magazine and author of the local guide “Exploring Austin with Kids.”

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