It’s no secret that Texas is huge. Like with most things, we also go big with their lakes. The state has 5,607 square miles of inland water with almost 7,000 reservoirs/lakes with a normal size of 10 acre-feet or larger. Texas has 188 major lakes that are over 5,000 acres or larger. The great thing about lakes in Texas is that most all are open year-round due to the warmer temperatures. [Nothing says Thanksgiving like 80°F temperatures in Dallas.] Due to the sometimes brutally warm climate, Texans love to go to beaches to cool off in or by the water, bird watch, run by the lake, or just sit under a nearby tree.
Here are 15 of the biggest and best lakes in Texas. There are very few natural lakes in the state so many are reservoirs. However, the ones on the list are open to the public for recreation and (sometimes) adventure.
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Located on the eastern edge of Sabine National Forest, Toledo Bend Reservoir is the largest lake in Texas and the fifth largest in the nation. The surface area is over 182,000 acres, making it the largest lake in the south. The lake is located in Sabine, Shelby, and Panola counties in Texas, and parts extend into Sabine and DeSoto parishes in Louisiana. The lake has 1,200 miles of shoreline with both private and public areas for swimming, boating, picnicking, camping, and wildlife sightseeing. This one is cheating a little as most of the best places to access the lakes are in Louisiana along the Toledo Bend Forest Scenic Byway. However, visiting the Sabine National Forest in Texas, you have plenty of marinas and places to stop along the riverway.
The second largest lake over 114,500 acres is Sam Rayburn Reservoir. Angelina National Forest flanks the lake on the north and the south banks. The reservoir is fed by the Angelina River from the Neches River and is popular for fishing and camping. The lake is about halfway between Beaumont and Longview in East Texas. The shoreline has 600 miles of shoreline (all around the lake) and it is 79 miles long. A popular summer activity for Texans is to rent cabins near the lake or at one of the many lake houses, condos, or bed and breakfasts.
The third largest lake is right on the Rio Grande at Falcon International Reservoir at Falcon State Park. At over 83,654 acres, this reservoir is a great place for fishing and nature watching. Falcon State Park is also nice too, as its 570 acres offer water sports, a short hiking trail, and shelters. It’s also very quiet and not as crowded as most state parks. However, the lake is fairly shallow so while you can fish a little, I wouldn’t recommend getting in a boat. The South Texas heat is brutal, so its recommended that you go during the spring, fall, and winter months. Summer months can also lead to very low water levels, so it can be a rockier terrain. The nights are beautiful, however, with a dazzling array of stars (no big city lights to obscure them).
One of the largest reservoirs in the United States, Lake Texoma stretches from the Texas border near Denison up to Durant, Oklahoma along the Red River. The lake offers 1000 miles of shoreline and over 78,000 acres of lake area. About an hour from the ever-growing Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, Lake Texoma attracts around 6 million visitors a year. Along the lake, you can find sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, and fifty-four parks. In addition to the local parks, you can also find two state parks, two wildlife refuges and marinas to dock your boat (or park your car). Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge and Tishomingo Wildlife Refuges are excellent for bird watching and other wildlife, like deer, squirrels, and occasionally, bobcats.
Another large lake on the U.S.-Mexican border is Amistad Reservoir, an excellent place for water-sports, hiking, camping, hiking, and viewing rock art. The lake itself is 64,900 acres and is an excellent place for swimming and boating. People even use the area for SCUBA diving, as a dive cove is located at Diablo East. Each of the eight areas in the National Recreation Area is equipped with tables, shelters, and grills. Hiking trails can be found at the location or in the Diablo East area. A variety of birds, including desert birds, can be found for some great photography sessions. Over 4,000-year-old Native American paintings can at the park and Panther Cave. Guided tours can be accessed by visiting the Amistad Visitor Information Center in Seminole Canyon State Park and Historic Site.
Richland-Chambers Reservoir (Trinity River Basin)
Southeast of Corsicana, Texas on U.S. 278 is Richland-Chambers Reservoir, at 41,356 acres. The reservoir is big for boaters and people who enjoy fishing as it is an excellent source of catfish, crappie, and bass. (I don’t fish, but for those who do, it’s a good spot). There is a lot of vegetation around the lake, but it can still be used for swimming in certain areas. About an hour south of Dallas on I-45, Richland-Chambers has 330 miles of shoreline. You can find campsites, cabins, and a lodge at Fisherman’s Point Marina and Resort and at Oak Cove Marina.
Located in East Texas, just 50 miles from the DFW metroplex, is Lake Tawakoni. The 37,879-acre lake boasts 376 acres of oak forest, sandy beaches, and more than five miles of lakeshore. The lake expands into three Texas counties: Hunt, Rains, and Van Zandt. The water is good for swimming or boating and you can easily reserve a campsite for weekend getaways. Lake Tawakoni State Park also has five miles of trails. Take a walk through the forest for bird watching, hiking, or mountain biking.
Another East Texas located just 15 miles west of Athens, Texas, and 90 miles southeast of Dallas, is Cedar Creek Reservoir. You’ll often hear native Texans call it just Cedar Creek or Cedar Creek Lake. With a surface area of 32,623 acres, the lower end of the reservoir is known for having deeper waters and more submerged vegetation than the shallower northern end. The Lake is 18 miles long and has 320 miles of shoreline. Fisherman’s Wharf, in Malakoff, has restrooms, cleaning stations, parking, and other amenities including camping. Additional local information can be found on the lake’s local website.
300 State Park Rd 65, Livingston, TX 77351-1601
Hidden within the Piney Woods of East Texas, Lake Livingston has public swimming areas, horse riding trails, biking trails, and walking or running trails. Located about 90 minutes from downtown Houston, the park has over 32,000 acres of water surface. The park also has cabins for rent and camping areas for overnight stays. You can rent paddleboards, kayaks, and canoes from the park store. Big Thicket National Preserve and Sam Houston National Forest should also be explored as you drive through the park. Texans camp year-round at this lake due to the reasonably warm weather. Watch out for the weird cold fronts in February; however, firewood is usually available at the park store.
Located an hour (in good traffic) north of the DFW Metroplex, Ray Roberts Lake has almost 29,000-acres of fishing, swimming, and relaxing. The lake offers beach areas, a kid’s fishing pond, and boating activities. Explore the 10 miles of hiking and biking trails that are a part of the 20-mile Greenbelt Corridor that runs between the Ray Roberts Dam and Lake Lewisville. Campsites are available for reservations, as is booking a room at the Lone Star Lodge. Most of the park and the lake lies in a hardwood forest that stretches into prairies to the east and west. A variety of wetlands in the park also provide a home for wildlife such as turtles, frogs, and migratory birds. The Isle du Bois unit (located in Pilot Point, Texas) is a favorite among the locals as it has the widest variety of scenery and activities.
To find other lakes, check out this list of Texas National and State Parks. It’s still being updated because frankly, there are a lot of lakes in Texas ya’ll.
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