How Many Natural Lakes Are in Texas?By Jodi Thornton-O'Connell; Updated June 08, 2017
All the help you need to discover the lakes of Texas
Whether you want to bait a hook, take a relaxing canoe ride or just dangle your feet in the water, you'll find plenty of places to do so within Texas' 268,581 square miles. Lakes, reservoirs, resacas and playas are all part of the state's watery repertoire. Check out which ones are best suited for your activity of choice.
A lake by any other name
When you're standing on the shore, a Texas lake and a reservoir might look pretty much the same. Further muddying the waters, some reservoirs have the word "lake" in their name, such as Possum Kingdom Lake and Lake Granbury. Look for a couple of ways to tell the difference:
- A reservoir is made by damming a river, so you'll see the tell-tale structure on the downstream side. They have irregular shapes because of the water filling up the natural topography between canyons and hills.
- Lakes are generally rounder than reservoirs as they form in natural bowl-shaped depressions. As a result, they're usually deeper in the center. Reservoirs are deepest near the dam.
- Resacas: In Texas, some small natural lakes formed at horseshoe bends in rivers that were left as separate water bodies when the river changed course. Look for these in the lower Rio Grande Valley.
- Playas are small natural lakes that range from 15 acres to 800 acres. The shallow, circular wetlands depend upon rainfall or runoff from irrigation. About 19,300 playas are in the Texas high plains. In central Texas, Big Lake fills during wet weather, but since the 1970s, it has been mostly a dry lake bed.
The natural lakes of Texas
The state's most famous and largest natural lake, Caddo Lake, was formed by a fluke of nature. Toppled cottonwood trees formed a natural dam on the Red River, creating a backup of waters more than 100 miles long. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers blasted away the natural dam in 1873, and by 1914, they had replaced it with a concrete dam. Head to the lake in northeast Texas to paddle your canoe through stands of moss-covered cypress and angle for bass, catfish and crappie.
Resaca de la Palma State Park is one of the largest resaca-type natural lakes with 1,200 acres providing habitat for birds and other wildlife. Hike 8 miles of trail leading to decks that overlook the resaca or see it from a tram winding 2.76 miles through the park.
Playas are vital rest stops for migratory birds and make ideal bird-watching areas. Head to the Playa Lakes, Taylor Lakes Unit in the Texas Panhandle. Explore more than 500 acres of wetlands, grasslands and pasture lands in the unit or look for migratory waterfowl from the wheelchair-accessible wildlife observation blind.
How many major reservoirs are in the state of Texas?
Before the state impounded many of its rivers with reservoirs, heavy rains gave way to devastating floods that destroyed property and killed many people and cattle. Around 200 reservoirs are in the state along 15 major rivers.
Going to the lake
Spending a day at the lake might entail picnics, hikes and splashing along a sandy beach. Most Texas reservoirs have natural shorelines, meaning you're more likely to wiggle your toes in mud than sand. Lake Grapevine 30 miles northwest of the Dallas Fort Worth metro area maintains a roped-off swim area with an adjacent playground for kids at Children's Beach. You can rent a kayak at the lake, camp or even play a round of golf.
Each reservoir comes with its own set of restrictions, so check before you go. For example, you can't swim in Austin's Lady Bird Lake, but you can enjoy boating in any craft that's not gas powered. You will need a state fishing license if you intend to wet your hook. Register your boat and take the state's boating education course online if you plan to operate a boat with greater than 15 horsepower or a sailboat over 14 feet.
More Travel Content
- United Nations Environment Programme: How are lakes and reservoirs the same and how are they different?
- Texas Almanac: Natural Lakes
- Texas Parks & Wildlife: Panhandle Playa Lakes
- Texas Parks & Wildlife: Resaca de la Palma State Park
- Texas Parks & Wildlife: Caddo Lake
- Texas Monthly: The lake no one knows
- Brazos River Authority: Water School
- Texas Water Development Board: Texas Lakes and Reservoirs
- Grapevine, Texas: Lake Grapevine
- Austin, Texas: Lady Bird Lake
- Boat Texas Course: Do you need Texas boating education?
- Boat Texas Course: Which boats require registration
- Los Angeles Times: Texas mayor's pipe dream: Refill the dried-up lake