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Lake Travis is a reservoir on the Colorado River in central Texas. The reservoir was formed in 1942 by the construction of Mansfield Dam on the western edge of Austin, Texas by the Lower Colorado River Authority. Lake Travis has the largest storage capacity of the seven reservoirs known as the Highland Lakes, and stretches 65 miles upriver from western Travis County, to the Max Starcke Dam, southwest of the town of Marble Falls. The Pedernales River, a major tributary of the Colorado River, flows into the lake from the southwest in western Travis County. The lake is used for flood control, water supply, electrical power generation and recreation.
Because of its volume, the lake serves as the primary flood control reservoir of the Highland Lake chain. The level of the lake can therefore vary dramatically, depending on the amount of rainfall in the Colorado River basin upstream. Despite this, the lake furnishes one of the most desired locations in the region for outdoor recreation, including fishing, boating, swimming, scuba diving, picnicking, camping, and zip lining.
Lake Travis is generally considered one of the clearest lakes in Texas. The lake is considered “full” when the lake’s water level is at 681 feet above mean sea level. Above 681 feet, flood control gates are opened under the direction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The amount and duration of the releases will vary, depending upon the weather and flood conditions above and below the dam.
Lake Travis is generally divided into “south” shore and “north” shore. There are no bridges across Lake Travis so the drive all the way around the lake can take quite some time. The south shore is known to be more easily accessible to downtown Austin – the main roadways are a little easier to navigate and drive time will be 20 to 45 minutes from most communities.
The north shore of Lake Travis has gained greater popularity in the past few years. Originally more of a retirement destination, new communities have been developed and the area has expanded beyond the original Jonestown and Lago Vista communities. North shore areas are off of FM 1431 which is accessed via Hwy 281 and Marble Falls on the western end and Hwy 183 in Cedar Park at the more eastern boundary.