Colorado - 4. Austin, Below Longhorn Dam (PnP)

Colorado, Texas, US


4. Austin, Below Longhorn Dam (PnP)

Usual Difficulty II (for normal flows)
Length 0.1 Miles

Spinning in the hole

Spinning in the hole
Photo by R Blake taken 6.22.05 @ 4000cfs

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
Colorado Rv at Austin, TX
usgs-08158000 1800 - 7000 cfs II 00h25m 204 cfs (too low)

River Description

Lake Austin and Lady Bird Lake are constant-level lakes, so when the LCRA releases thousands of cfs from Mansfield Dam/Lake Travis (usually during the summer, to support agriculture downstream), this water is passed through Tom Miller Dam (Lake Austin) and Lady Bird Lake (Longhorn Dam), and a 50-foot-wide ledge 50 yards below Longhorn Dam forms a wide wave-hole combination.  This can also occur if upstream rainfall raises the level of Lake Austin or Lady Bird Lake beyond their maintenance levels.  Refer to the LCRA Daily River Report.

This wave is the only real park 'n' play surf wave in Austin, and as surf waves go, it's not bad.  However, it's also somewhat high-maintenance.  The gate configuration has to be just right for the wave to form, and as of this writing, the city has (perhaps intentionally, or because one or more of the antiquated, manually-operated gates isn't working) not used that configuration in years.  Furthermore, the water quality is relatively poor (Longhorn Dam is a top-release dam, meaning that the water coming over it tends to be warm and polluted), and the wave is shallow at most levels.  A concrete wall that forms the hole on surfer's right has, in particular, caused many boaters to hit their heads and shoulders when rolling.  Longhorn Dam used to run when nothing else did, particularly during dry summers, so it was sort of a wave of last resort for those who needed a surfing fix and didn't want to drive to San Marcos.

Typically the left part of the wave is the bumpiest.  At lower flows, you will be forced to side surf.  At higher flows, the right side of the wave will crest upwards of 5 feet.  Also, at higher flows, the wave becomes stickier.

When the release from Tom Miller Dam is extremely high (> 7000 cfs, particularly if any flood gates are open), the Austin Fire Chief will usually issue a boating ban that extends to the Colorado River below Longhorn Dam.  Police and fire officials can (and do) levy hefty fines or even impound your boat if they catch you breaking the ban.  These bans are not always well-publicized.  Generally the best place to find boating ban announcements is on the Austin Homeland Security and Emergency Management web site.

A swim here is typically not dangerous but could be tiring, since the river is 200 yards wide and the release is dead center.

For more info, see Texas Whitewater.

WARNING:  Use caution when dropping into the wave from above

At higher release levels, the typical way to get into the wave is to ferry off the end of one of the pillars of the dam and let the downstream edge of a surge bubble from the dam push you into the wave from above.  On one occasion, a paddler really bulldogged it and caught the recirculating upstream edge of the bubble instead, and he got sucked backward into the dam.  Fortunately the paddler lived to tell about it, but he had a wild ride during which he was separated from his boat and all of his gear.  Moral of the story:  don't try to paddle too close to the dam.

It also goes without saying that the dam should not be run from above.  Doing so is illegal and deadly.

WARNING:  Shallow Water

The depth below the ledge, even at high flows, is rarely over 4 feet, and the water is much shallower as it comes across the ledge.


There is a rebar structure located 30 yards upstream of the cluster of weeds in river center.  The rebar is slightly river right of center.  Many fishermen frequent this area and always seem to have 5 fishing poles each.  Keep an eye out for their lines.  Although it's rare, do not be surprised to catch a fish against your boat as it is hauled up to the bridge above.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2015-07-14 17:28:38


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