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 01h17m 2180 cfs (running)

River Description


This play wave is just below the Longhorn Dam and there is a possibility of getting sucked backwards into the spillway, which could be FATAL. A bubble forms just below the spillway at the end of the concrete pillar (just upstream from the wave). You are in danger when paddling too close to the pillar, when the bubble forms it can create a reverse current capable of submerging a boater and pulling them back into the spillway. It is not a good idea to approach the wave so far upstream, a better technique (but more labor intensive) is to ferry in from surfer's left closer to the wave, avoiding the concrete pillars or paddle up the the eddy in the center.

The Dam itself should not be run.

On some days, early in the morning, you can drive down to Longhorn Dam (on the East side of Town Lake) and find a vast riverbed of Limestone, 200 yards wide, with evidence of moving water, eddy currents and pitted here and there with miniature holes. There are a few large rocks thrown across the far left side, and wagon wheel tracks that date back to who knows when. In fact, just 50 yards downstream from the dam you'll see a cement erosion barrier holding back thousands of gallons of water, a hundred or so turtles and several varieties of fish. You'll probably wonder how these creatures can live in, what appears to be, an over-sized garden pond, fed by a trickle of water seeping from under one of the seven gates.

On other days, you might be lucky enough to witness Longhorn during a low release of say, 500 to 800 CFS. On this day, you'll see the same riverbed, covered shore to shore, with about a foot of water. When this happens, you'll be teased with a rippled wave, peeling over the erosion barrier. If you happen to bring a toy boat, you can side surf it!

But during the spring and summer season, when farmers further downstream are in need of daily releases to irrigate their crops, come by this same spot after 5:00 pm. During the early afternoon hours, the Lower Colorado River Authority begins releasing water from Tom Miller Dam, on the West side of Town Lake. An hour or so later, the bubble makes its way to Longhorn where it peels over its gates and crashes into the erosion barrier creating a fast, shallow, beautifully formed wave. This may be the best park and play spot in the state; maybe three states. At 4000 to 7000 CFS, Longhorn offers a 50-foot wide playground, worthy of any western water boater's wildest dream.

For more info, see Texas Whitewater, 2nd Edition.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2013-05-14 17:04:10


Stream team editor

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Drop the DamHazard
0.0Hazards InformationHazard
0.1Longhorn WaveII+Playspot

Rapid Descriptions

Drop the Dam
Dropping the dam is lethal. This is no joke. Before attempting the drop, leave your name and who you want us to notify. Please do not attempt the drop.

Hazards Information
There are relatively few hazards at Longhorn. Among these are the speed and shallow nature of the water. Remember that the depth, even at high flows, is rarely over 4 feet just below the erosion barrier, and much shallower as the water comes across it. This can pose a risk of head and shoulder injury so helmets are absolutely necessary. Maintain a tight C position should you turn over above the barrier. All the rocks downstream of the barrier have been washed further downstream and pose no hazard. The only other hazard 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 its hauled up to the bridge above. Finally, the current plagues boaters more than anything. Keep an eye on each other. Should you have to bail, it's a tiring swim against a hard current to either side or the river. Remember the river is 200 yards wide and the release is dead center. Throw lines can make a swim easier, but they are not required.

Longhorn Wave (Class II+, Mile 0.1)
Once in the water, you can do one of two things. Depending on which gates are releasing, you can either stay river left and paddle upstream, or ferry across to the flat rocks immediately adjacent to the warning posted on the Dam wall. If the two middle gates are releasing, most boaters elect to enter the wave from river right. In either case, position yourself above the wave in the channel immediately left or right of the releasing gate. This will give you a perfect vantage point from which you can decide your course. Typically, the left part of the wave is the bumpiest. At lower flows, you will be forced to side surf. This is a blast though, since the aerated wave will keep you on your toes. At higher flows, the right side of the wave will crest upwards of 5 feet. You will notice a strong lateral current that will want to push you to the outside of the wave. When this happens, you will need to get as close to the wall as possible and use the hydraulics to carry you in to the wave, allowing you to drop in at the highest point. Also, at higher flows, the wave is really sticky. Once you are in, it is very easy to stay there and enjoy long rides.

No Comments

Users can submit comments.

Do more than just check gauges; join over 5,000 AW members today.

Or, consider donating