Situated in central Texas, Canyon Lake is a reservoir built by the US Army Corps of Engineers to prevent flooding of the lower Guadalupe River Basin. Completed in 1964, the deepest sections of the lake plunge to 130 feet and the surrounding forest of oak and juniper trees house various local wildlife. Popular activities at this COE park are swimming, fishing, hiking, and boating. Scuba diving is also common as is horseback riding and picnicking.
The water at Canyon Lake, almost exactly between San Antonio and Austin, is a vibrant blue as a result of its limestone bottom. Bring your camera to capture the gentle-sloping shores, views from the dam, and colorful wildflowers.
The Army Corps of Engineers camping options are numerous at Canyon Lake. Two campgrounds with excellent amenities that accept reservations await campers. On a first-come, first-served basis you can stay at two additional, more primitive COE campgrounds.
If you happen to run out of things to do at Canyon Lake and in the surrounding area, you can also hop in your RV and travel east to the major city of Houston. The drive, lasting around three and a half hours might seem a bit long, but from Houston, the Davy Crocket National Forest and the Sam Houston National Forest are easily explored.
Chances are, if you're traveling to Canyon Lake, you'll be coming from either San Antonio or Austin. The drive southwest from Austin is generally trouble-free on well-maintained roads. You'll stay on the large I-35 for the majority of the trip through rural Texas countryside until you hit the city of San Marcos.
For travelers from San Antonio, you will head northeast through the quaint small Texas towns of Selma, Northcliffe, and New Braunfels, also on the large, paved I-35. Whatever direction you come from, roads are wide and well-paved, virtually made for RV travel.
Most of the day use areas of the COE lake have large parking areas for visitors. Larger rigs are welcome most places in the park with the exception of the Canyon Beach Park Day Use Area. No RVs or trailers are permitted here. If you are traveling to this area, you'll need to drive a different vehicle or make alternate parking arrangements.
The COE campground at Potters Creek Park is open all year, and reservations for one of the 132 campsites must be made in advance. The area is pet-friendly, and every site has its own grill, fire pit, and picnic table. Each site also has electric and water hookups, and RVs up to 60 feet in length are welcome.
Options for all different types of campsites exist here. There are some waterfront sites, and all have picturesque water views. The sites closest to the water are typically full sun. As you head away from the water, you are more likely to a fully shaded site.
The campground's location on the north shore of the lake provides the opportunity to take your boat on the water using one of the two nearby boat ramps. There is a fishing pier and beach access as well.
The convenience of home is available at Potters Creek. Campers enjoy access to showers, flush toilets, and drinking waters. Two dump stations can also be used.
Open year-round, Cranes Mill Park Campground is a popular spot for visitors to spend the night. Found on the lake's southwest shore, on a long peninsula, Cranes Mill Park features 64 campsites - 30 RV-friendly sites and 34 tent-only sites. All the RV sites have both water and electric hookups. Rigs measuring up to 80 feet will find suitable accommodation here.
Anglers will love staying at this waterfront location. There are two fishing piers and a dock, as well as a boat ramp to head out for a day on the water. There is also a marina within the COE park. Hikers and photographers will be glad to learn that wildlife is plentiful in the surrounding untouched acres.
Three restroom buildings and facilities for hot showers are conveniently placed throughout the COE campgrounds. If needed, registered campers can use the onsite dump station.
The Canyon Park Campground is available for tent camping only on the north side of the lake. It's open from the beginning of April to the end of September annually. Camping here is a primitive experience with no hookups at any of the 150 campsites. The perks of staying here are the easy access to over eight miles of trails and the use of the beach found at the park's entrance.
In terms of the provided services and amenities, there are vault toilets and water fountains for campers. You can also make use of the dock for fishing and the boat ramp.
Reservations for this COE campground are done on a first-come, first-served basis only. Pets are not allowed to stay here so if you are traveling with your dog, you'll need to find accommodation elsewhere.
Popular with scuba divers, the North Park Campground has 19 campsites for tents only that are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Open from April to September, the facilities here are primitive with no hookups. You'll find this scenic park on the north side of the Canyon Lake Dam, and the day-use area is only open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
There is little to offer in terms of comfort here as there are no showers, and the toilets are non-flushing vault toilets. There is no access to the water via a boat ramp at this park, either. Swimming is possible with the water close by.
The main reason that Canyon Lake sees an abundance of summer visitors is due to the invigorating, clear waters and sandy beaches that dot its shores. There are a total of three designated swimming beaches here. The beaches at Comal Park and Canyon Park are open to the general public, whereas the beach at Potters Creek Park is uniquely for registered campers.
None of the swimming areas at this COE lake provide lifeguards. Always keep an eye on any members of your group enjoying the water and if necessary, loaner life jackets can be procured at Comal Beach.
Getting your boat on the water is convenient at Canyon Lake using one of the 23 boat ramps scattered around the area. One of the ramps is on the upstream portion of the Guadalupe River which leads into the lake. The remaining 22 provide direct access to the main body of the lake.
Waterskiing, tubing, and fishing are common practices for visitors with boats. The quieter waters of the river are the ideal place to drift in your canoe or kayak. Luckily, both the Canyon Lake Marina and Cranes Mill Marina offer boat rentals.
Aside from navigating the COE lake waters by boat to find the ideal fishing spot, visitors can also fish from one of the three piers available to the public. The North Western Pier is just outside Potters Creek Park and the South Western Pier is found in Cranes Mill Park at the point where the Guadalupe River joins Canyon Lake. The Eastern Pier is accessible and is the location used to deposit the stocks of rainbow trout.
Anglers can expect to catch a wide variety of fish throughout the lake and river. Both Guadalupe and spotted bass are native to the river. Many species of sunfish and walleye are also common catches here. You may find blue, channel, and flathead catfish as well as black and white crappie.
Consult the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for information on fishing licenses.
Many of the recreation/day-use areas at Canyon Lake have excellent picnic facilities. There are areas with picnic tables and grills at Little Jacob's Creek, Canyon Park Beach, Comal Park, and Jacob's Creek Park. Each picnic area is close to restrooms.
The facilities at Canyon Park Beach are open for a fee and usually require a stay at the Canyon Park Campground. No pets are allowed here, and this rule is strictly enforced. There is a trail close to the picnic area at Canyon Park Beach, whereas the other picnic areas don't have the option to hike close by.
There are five different trails at Canyon Lake open to various activities. For visitors who travel with horses, you can check out the Old Hancock Trail. It's the only one that permits equestrians and is a seven-mile round trip. Hikers and cyclists can also use this park trail.
Cycling is popular on the Madrone Trail located in Canyon Park and allows you to travel through the forest on over eight miles of trail.
The Guadalupe North and South Trails as well as the Overlook Park Trail complete the trails within this COE park and are open to hikers only. Overlook Park offers some of the best views over the lake and dam.
The many trails of Canyon Lake are the perfect place to spot some of the park's wildlife. Acres of surrounding forest are the perfect habitat for deer, fox, squirrels, and raccoons. You might even see the official state small mammal of Texas - the armadillo.
Birdwatchers will also find plenty to keep them interested at this COE lake. Birds like cardinals, finch, swallow, and doves make their homes in the dense trees. Keep your ears open for the copycat call of the local mockingbirds as well.