That lazy, lazy river in the noonday sun 
Linger in the shade of a kind old tree 
Throw away your troubles, dream a dream with me.

—“Lazy River,” by Hoagy Carmichael and Sidney Arodin

Summer in Texas ain’t easy. Temperatures—and tempers—rise, and we yearn for a break, for the solace of nature and cool water. I love board games and Netflix as much as the next person, but eventually cabin fever gets the best of me. I’m serene for the first few days after school lets out for summer—cheerfully heading to local swimming holes and neighborhood pools, stopping for frozen treats on the way. I hit the air-conditioned library for stacks of books to read. I see any and all movies on offer, starting with lush period dramas and progressing to action-packed films with explosions and (hopefully) starring the man I still call Marky Mark Wahlberg (youngsters call him simply Mark). 

Eventually, however, despite calming tea and online meditations and long evening walks in the opposite direction from my family, the chaos of kids at home and a wall of summer heat outside starts to make me . . . well, insane. When I’m desperate for escape, I head to a place where I can exhale and float: a lazy river. 

What, exactly, is a lazy river? My definition is that it’s a man-made, slow-moving body of water that will eventually land me where I started, but more relaxed. At the end of a lazy river day, you emerge pink-cheeked and tired, smelling of sunscreen and chlorine. Lazy rivers have a long history in Texas. The Austin Motel Lazy River, a beloved gem of the 1960s, allowed guests to float in a circle around the classic motel in colorful inner tubes. Schlitterbahn Waterpark in New Braunfels followed soon afterward, opening its original Schlitterbahn tubing river in the 1970s.

This summer, you can enjoy lazy rivers from El Paso to Galveston, from Wichita Falls to San Antonio. Some boast exciting water features, such as waterfalls or wave machines, adding an extra splash of fun to your float. Each destination brings its own distinct flavor to the lazy river experience, whether you seek relaxation and tranquility or action-packed thrills.

Some may snobbily judge lazy river lovers, and to those “I prefer the Maine coast” and “My children only swim in Mediterranean seas and eat artisanal gelato” naysayers, I say: haters gonna hate. But if you, dear reader, appreciate a chance to drape yourself across a buoyant tube, raise your face heavenward, and listen to the laughter of other happy floaters, read on for some of my favorite lazy river adventures.

Hyatt Lost Pines (Bastrop)

My summer kicked off with a visit to the Hyatt Lost Pines in Bastrop, with my eleven-year-old daughter and her bestie. The girls packed sunscreen, bathing suits, and hip sunglasses. Within minutes of checking in at the front desk, they were submerged in the Crooked River, which circles the rolling hills of the resort, and I had settled in a lounger with a novel. When the girls swam past, however, I couldn’t help but grab a tube and join the party, abandoning my book and inhibitions. In an actual river, one must navigate and remain on alert, especially with children. But in a lazy river, you can rest. There are no fears (thanks to teen lifeguards), no plans to make, no herding, no cajoling or overheated squabbles. 

The girls soon dove ahead, whooping and waving goodbye, off on their own adventure. I closed my eyes and let the water take me, and it was wonderful. For me, the lazy river experience was an absence of stimuli, a chance to rest. But I learned later that for Nora and her pal, it was a journey of discovery. While I had enjoyed spacing out and not being in charge of anything or anyone, the girls had found landmarks and made a story of the circling river. In the morning, Nora took me on her personal tour of the lazy river, featuring the “bird condos” (nests sparrows had made in the scaffolding of the water slide); the “free neck massage area” under a waterfall; and the perfect spot to catch the craziest rapid (best combined with an underwater somersault).

Perhaps this is the greatest pleasure of lazy rivers: they allow us whatever escape we most need. Submerging in a lazy river requires you to leave your phone behind and feel the waves, hear the birds, bump into strangers and say hello—everyone sun-warmed, everyone taking a break. This summer, as political discourse and temperatures get hot, perhaps we all need a few moments to be thankful for pleasures as simple as sunshine.

Schlitterbahn Waterpark & Resort (New Braunfels)

The first lazy river I ever tried, after moving to Texas from New York at age 29, was at Schlitterbahn. We don’t have lazy rivers in the New York City area (see the terrifying documentary Class Action Park for nearby offerings in New Jersey), so I was gobsmacked. The queen of Texan water parks, located in New Braunfels, offers not just one but three rivers, not to mention such tasty food as turkey legs, Bahn Burger Baskets, and Dippin’ Dots. I still remember wandering around the park, gnawing on a turkey leg, and feeling that I had finally—after a buttoned-up, WASP-y childhood—found nirvana.

I polled my teen sons, Schlitterbahn regulars both, for their park plan. “When Schlitterbahn opens for the day,” they recommended, “start at Torrent River,” taking on its tidal waves while you’re well-rested. When you’re worn out, head to The Falls, a 3,600-foot-long whitewater river, and then Kristal River, which can be entered via the Backsplash, a fast-flowing channel that begins near the Boogie Bahn and flows directly into Kristal River.

At the end of the day, after lunch at Cowabunga Chicken & Cakes or Festhaus Grill and countless free refill sodas thanks to their souvenir cups (or drink wristbands, which give you a free drink every fifteen minutes), they hit the Congo River Expedition. It’s “relatively chill,” except for the Mine Shaft at the end that plunges you down “what feels like at least thirty feet with bumps.”

Aquatica (San Antonio)

No summertime trip to San Antonio can be complete without heading to Aquatica Water Park, located next to SeaWorld (but requiring a separate ticket). Prepare to be amazed at Aquatica’s 1,200-foot-long lazy river, Loggerhead Lane, which includes foam shooters, misters, and tunnel jets. The tunnels, which have translucent ceilings, allow a float with views of fish in overhead aquariums. 

Castaway Cove (Wichita Falls)

Owned by the city of Wichita Falls, Castaway Cove is a one-stop shop to beat the heat. The tropical-themed Nellie’s Rolling River at the fifteen-acre Castaway Cove is connected to other water attractions, including the artificial beach and wave pool. 

Great Wolf Lodge (Grapevine)

Don’t be worried about the giant wolf statue guarding the entrance to Great Wolf Lodge in the Dallas suburb of Grapevine. The 80,000-square-foot indoor water park entertains stir-crazy children and their overwhelmed caregivers alike with a range of dining options, interactive games, an adult-friendly “wine down” service, and more—all under one roof. The Crooked Creek river has the gentle current to carry you along for as long as you like, even until bedtime, for your bedroom and the lazy river are in the same building.

Hawaiian Falls (Roanoke)

The Rainforest River Adventure lazy river beckons in Roanoke, a half hour northwest of Dallas–Fort Worth. (There are also Hawaiian Falls locations in Waco and Mansfield.) From your tube, you can enjoy floating past waterfalls with frogs and turtles before exploring the park’s many other attractions. Be sure to say aloha to the “Tiki Man” interactive water feature as you pass him by.

Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa (San Antonio)

Open and heated year-round, this five-acre water park offers a lazy river that replicates the experience of floating in a real river, complete with a dark bottom and the shade of live oak trees. My teens also loved the FlowRider Wave Machine, which allowed them to go nuts before their relaxing lazy river time, and I enjoyed the wooden rocking chairs on the back porch of the resort, where I can read, order a drink, and remember why I love my chosen home.

JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa (San Antonio)

The JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa boasts a nine-acre water park, the River Bluff Water Experience. Views of the surrounding Hill Country are stunning; the JW Marriott may very well have the most scenic lazy river of the bunch. The rest of the resort offers activities and food aplenty, and you may even get a moment to yourself as your family takes part in a Build-A-Bear Workshop, water-balloon toss, finger-painting party, balloon artist performance, cookie decorating, or Longhorn Scavenger Hunt. Or maybe they’ll pass on all that and float right alongside you.

The indoor waterpark at Kalahari Resorts and Conventions in Round Rock.
The indoor waterpark at Kalahari Resort in Round Rock. Courtesy of Kalahari Resorts and Conventions.

Kalahari Resort (Round Rock)

Could the herd of life-size elephants guarding the African-inspired Kalahari Resort take on the wolf at the Great Wolf Lodge? I think so! Kalahari is 223,000 square feet of indoor mayhem and includes a lazy river. Choose this park to enthrall the younger kids and those who want to enjoy an indoor water park while dreaming they are on an African safari. You can meet fellow adventurous parents at the Baobab Social cocktail bar in the center of the resort.

Oasis Water Park (El Paso)

Pack some snacks and cue up your favorite playlist (or an audiobook—might I suggest Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas, by Steve Harrigan, or The Guardians, by Anna Castillo?) and head to El Paso’s newest water park, Oasis, which is located at Eastside Regional Park. Relax in its meandering lazy river, the Driftwood Channel, or brave the Gravity Challenge, which offers a climbing wall and spiraling Tumbleweed slides. Be sure to check out the Hueco Dwellings for a cabana break and the Wanderlust Café in the Desert Haven Plaza, where you can feed the whole family and yourself without ever leaving the water park. 

The Riders Field Lazy River in Frisco.
The Riders Field Lazy River in Frisco. Courtesy of Frisco RoughRiders

Riders Field Lazy River (Frisco)

Prefer a game of baseball during your float? Head to Riders Field, where fans can watch the Frisco RoughRiders play ball from a 68,000-gallon lazy river. It’s the largest pool in a pro sports stadium. Rising above the right-field wall at Riders Field, the river provides one of the most unique viewing and entertainment experiences in all of professional sports. All guests with a lazy river ticket can enjoy full 360-degree access to the over-3,000 square-foot river and amazing views of the entire ballpark. It’ll keep you cool on a hot summer day or warm on a chilly spring evening, when the heater kicks in. Fun facts: Former Dallas Mavericks player Dirk Nowitzki was the first occupant of the river. The park claims 1,267,973 baseballs could fit inside, as well as 8,706,944 ounces of nacho cheese (but I am not saying they should).

Six Flags Hurricane Harbor Splashtown (Houston) 

Splashtown is Houston’s largest water park and features more than forty attractions, including a lazy river called Paradise River. In addition to the relaxing lazy river, there are activities for the whole family, an interactive play area, and plenty of shade and other water features. If you’re an adrenaline junkie (who’s over 48 inches tall) Splashtown has the rides for you, including the Big Spin, which combines steep drops with multidirectional forces; the Vortex, which has dark tunnels; and the Tornado, billed as the “ultimate storm,” but I can’t tell you what that means because I’m too scared to try it.

Waco Surf Park (Waco)

Waco Surf Park is the place my older teenagers revere for its massive wave pool that surfs like Hawaiian waves—no plane ticket required. But it’s the lazy river we’ve come to see, and it’s a doozy! Waco Surf Park’s lazy river takes 45 minutes to complete one lap; it’s allegedly the longest lazy river in the world. Personal tubes can float the river for free, and if you rent a cooler tube, you can bring your cooler full of cold drinks along for the ride. Hang ten, my friends.