EXPLORING LCRA PARKS: Shaffer Bend Recreation Area on Lake Travis is scenic, accessible
Some of the best access points to the fabled hills and shores of the Highland Lakes are through the numerous Lower Colorado River Authority parks and recreation areas. The LCRA is best known for its management of water and energy in Central Texas, but it has also cultivated awesome outdoor opportunities, including at Shaffer Bend Recreation Area.
Shaffer Bend is a gentle spread of riverfront acreage on the north side of Lake Travis, just 10 miles southeast of Marble Falls. A trip on the twists and turns of RR 1431 takes you to CR 343A, which leads you right to the entrance of Shaffer Bend, 706 CR 343A (with a Marble Falls address).
Shaffer Bend, like other LCRA parks and recreation areas, has an entrance fee, so make sure you have cash on hand for your visit. An afternoon of exploring a new Highland Lakes frontier was totally worth the $5 I spent to get in. The park begins in the high hills overlooking Lake Travis, but a winding road takes you all the way to the lakeshore.
Early on, I was greeted with a killer view of the surrounding country and a shining ribbon of the lake from above. The north end of Lake Travis resembles a winding river more than a lake, and Shaffer Bend rests within one of the many curves created by the original path of the Colorado River.
The park entrance seems to be the highest elevation. All other paths lead down to the water’s edge. The roads are somewhat rough on the steeper portions or closer to the water, so keep that in mind if you drive a lowrider.
My visit was in the middle of autumn, so I had forgiving mild weather and many of the trees and grasses were changing color, lending a warmth to the vegetation that really only comes this time of year. I passed rolling oak savannas and migrating butterflies slurping on the last wild sunflowers of the year.
Several trailheads lie on either side of the park road, but I passed them by in favor of exploring the entire recreation area before making a decision on where to go on foot. The nearly 10 miles of trails range from gentle walks to uphill treks. From what I saw, the Lake View Trail has easy access to the water and is long enough to let you get lost in your thoughts and fully experience the outdoors.
I found that the closer I got to the river, the thicker the brush. Ashe junipers and Texas persimmons accompanied plentiful oaks that were shedding acorns like crazy. When I first caught sight of the lake within walking distance, I pulled over and hopped out to look around. While it was sad to see the lake so low, it did provide great beach access and impressive rock-skipping opportunities.
The park side of the shoreline is gentler and sandier, but, looking across the water, you can see the powerful stonework that lies beneath the hills of the Highland Lakes. Walls of crumbling rockline the southern bank and a massive stone slope push out into the water across from the farthest edge of Shaffer Bend.
I continued down the road, passing more trails that snaked up the hillside or into the thickets closer to the water. These trails aren’t just for hiking. I learned later that mountain bikes and horses are welcome in the park, and there are even corrals and hitching posts near the campsites.
The campsites are clustered around different portions of the bend, leading to the far end of the park, which has what I think is the best access to the river. Massive rock formations poke out of the lake, and huge pecans and oaks shade the campsites nearby. An enormous public smoker is just waiting to be seasoned andcampsites have both grills and firepits for your meals. The sites themselves are spaced far enough apart to provide guests with decent privacy.
Reaching the end of the road, I turned around and made my way back up the hill. Dagger Trail is the first trail you come across, and I hoped it would give me an even better view of the landscape. I wasn’t wrong. The view is one of the most scenic, maybe only rivaled by those at the nearby Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. Rolling hills covered in trees transitioning into their fall colors stood out against the evergreen Ashe junipers, and a sinking sun lent its warm light to the scene.
Shaffer Bend Recreation Area is accessible enough to accommodate any age and wild enough to satisfy a hankering for the outdoors. So get out there, jump in the lake, skip stones, roast s'mores, and touch grass.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
HOURS: Sunrise to sunset
- Ages 13 and older — $5
- Ages 12 and younger — Free
- Seniors 65 and older — $2
- Horse and rider — $12
(Two-day entrance fees included)
- Campsite — $25
- Group campsite — $35
- Pets are allowed
- Great fishing opportunities
- Restrooms on site
- Designated equine trails
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