1. Horse Around
Lake Whitney, near Whitney

When the summer sun lures you to the lake, you’ll be tempted to hit the water as soon as possible. But cool your spurs. There’s no better way to enjoy the lush landscape of Lake Whitney than to ride horses. Saddle up at Arrowhead Resort, located on the lake’s wide southeast edge, which is the only outfit in town where you can “borrow” a horse for a lazy, forty-minute jaunt. The head wrangler will guide you along a shady path that leads right down to the shoreline. Inexperienced riders (read: city folk) needn’t worry about skittish behavior from the mounts; Hoover, a 23-year-old Appaloosa, has earned the nickname the Mover because he’s so unhurried. If you have your own horse (a Coggins test is required to prove that the animal is free of disease), you’ll want to explore the maze of equestrian trails at McCowan Valley Park, also on the east side of the lake, which ambles through rolling pastures and dense woodlands and has campsites that accommodate trailers. As for beating the heat after a dusty day on the trail, you’ll know what to do next.
Arrowhead Resort: From Whitney, head west on Texas Highway 22 for 3 miles, then turn right on County Road 2105 and follow the signs for 1 mile to resort entrance; 888-412-3044 or arrowheadatlakewhitney.com; trail rides $24, lead-line rides $7.50. McCowan Valley Park: From Whitney, head north on FM 933 for 4 miles, turn left on FM 1713, and go 6 miles. At fork, veer left and continue on Spur 1713; trailhead is at the McCowan campground; 254-622-3332; day use $1 per person (an additional $1 if camping overnight), camping $12 per site per night. JORDAN BREAL

2. Live It Up
Lake Lewisville, near Lewisville

Lots of people who go to the lake don’t own boats and, for that matter, are not particularly wild about waterskiing, bass fishing, or sailing. They go simply to hang out, drink beer, stare at good-looking people in bathing suits, listen to loud music, and shout, “Let’s party!” If you’re such a person, then visit Sneaky Pete’s, the giant restaurant-bar on the southwest corner of Lake Lewisville, the 29,000-acre lake twenty miles north of Dallas. You also need to catch a ride on someone’s boat to the Party Cove, a little inlet just around the corner from Sneaky Pete’s that has been regularly described as “a waterlogged Bourbon Street.” The patrons think of Sneaky Pete’s as their own country club. There is a swimming pool, a beach, four sand volleyball courts, and an indoor sports bar where bands play at night (classic rock, of course). On your first visit there, you’ll no doubt say, “Ah, TTB (trashy Texas bacchanalia) at its finest.” But that’s before you hit the Party Cove, where, on weekend afternoons, dozens of gigantic cabin cruisers, ski boats, cigarette boats, and Jet Skis pull alongside one another. As you might expect, one thing leads to another. If you’re a voyeur, bring a camera. Don’t, however, bring your kids.
Sneaky Pete’s: 2 Eagle Point Drive, 972-434-2500 or sneakypetesonline.com; open daily. SKIP HOLLANDSWORTH

3. Win $100,000
Sam Rayburn Reservoir, near Jasper

If your friends roll their eyes each time you talk about landing a twenty-pound largemouth bass (which, for some reason, looks smaller in your pictures), here’s your chance to show off your skills. Each year the Sam Rayburn Reservoir hosts upward of three hundred tournaments for both amateurs and pros alike. The most famous is the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series Lone Star Shootout, held in March, which attracts more than one hundred professional anglers. (This year’s winner, Louisiana’s Greg Hackney, walked away with $100,000 after landing a total catch of 79 pounds, 10 ounces.) Making a run at that title will earn you plenty of face time on ESPN2, but maybe it’s better to consider putting your jigs in at Mill Creek Park or trying an amateur tournament instead. The reservoir is also the site for the Big Bass Splash, in April, which draws nearly four thousand contestants. Don’t worry. You can always tell your pals it was for pros only.
Mill Creek Park: From Jasper, take U.S. 96 north 21 miles, then go northwest on Loop 149 for 2 miles, then 1 mile west on Spur 165 to park entrance; 409-384-5716 or 877-444-6777 or swf-wc.usace.army.mil/samray/; $3 boat launch fee. BRIAN D. SWEANY

4. Sail, Sail, Sail
Canyon Lake, near New Braunfels

The way to learn to sail Canyon Lake is to hook up with somebody who’s been at it a while. Like Bubba Horner, a retired family doc from San Antonio who’s been sailing in general since his dad built him a two-man Snipe when he was eight—he’s eighty now—and navigating Canyon Lake specifically since he and nineteen buddies founded the Lake Canyon Yacht Club, in 1967. Horner retired from competition last year after winning the one-man Sunfish class, but he still goes to the marina most weekends to officiate races and instruct kids. Get out on the water with Horner and you’ll learn just by listening to him think out loud: If the surface of the Guadalupe River–fed lake, normally the color of pale-green olives, turns suddenly black, then the wind is picking up; races start with the wind blowing into a sailor’s face, forcing boats to avoid the section of water in front of them between ten and two o’clock (“I call that the JC Zone, because nobody but Jesus Christ can get anywhere sailing straight into the wind,” Horner says); and there is no sight prettier than a pack of boats that have rounded the final turn and are headed to the finish line, their spinnakers filled with air. “Sailing’s like golf,” Horner says. “I could teach you in a weekend everything you need to know, and you could do it for the rest of your life, but you’d still never perfect it.”
Lake Canyon Yacht Club: From New Braunfels, take FM 306 west for 14 miles, turn left on N. Park Road, continue for 200 yards, then turn right on Mt. Lookout Drive; 210-590-7100; call for classes and camps or, for more-informal tutelage, show up with a six-pack of beer around 11 on Saturday or Sunday morning, looking eager to learn. JOHN SPONG

5. Go Deep
Possum Kingdom Lake, near Graham

Possum Kingdom Lake is all about the view, whether above water or below. Walls of rock rise up more than 80 feet from the surface, and the shoreline, all 310 miles of it, is dotted with oak and mesquite trees. Hell’s Gate (so called because of the gaping chasm between two dramatic cliffs) is Possum Kingdom’s most famous landmark, and it’s also the place where the beautiful people drop anchor, hang, and talk on cell phones. But the chatter and buzz fade once you take the plunge and make your way under water. Seasoned divers get a thrill exploring structures like sunken boats as they encounter the occasional bass, crappie, or alligator gar swimming past. The water at PK—as the locals call it—is blue and clear; in fact, in early June visibility ranges from 10 feet to 30 feet (the view is always better in deeper water, so those really in the know frequent the dam, where the depths reach 100 feet). Newbies (and those without boats) go to Scuba Point Dive Shop, the only place on the lake to do shore dives, to get their fix. The facility has a water park, where there are boats, trucks, cars, and tunnels to swim through, beginning at 11 feet and going all the way down to 65 feet. In the summertime, the water temperature can be as high as 80 degrees at 40 feet below, but things get chilly past the thermocline. No, it’s not the Caribbean, but in Texas it doesn’t get any better.
Scuba Point Dive Shop: 3201 Redbird Road, on the eastern side of the lake; 940-779-2482 or scubapointpk.com; day use $10 per diver, non-divers $2.50 (certification classes available). PATRICIA BUSA MCCONNICO

6. Let It All Hang Out
Lake Travis, near Austin

I am not a nudist, naturist, or exhibitionist, but recently I spent a beautiful afternoon at Hippie Hollow Park, on Lake Travis, wearing nothing but swimming shoes and a smile. At any other public place in the state, such behavior could have landed me in the pokey, but Hippie Hollow, sitting on the north shore of the Lake Travis basin, is renowned for its public nudity. Owned by the Lower Colorado River Authority and operated by Travis County, it’s the only clothing-optional public park in Texas. Fittingly, it’s only thirty minutes west of Austin. While all 109 acres of this nook-and-cranny-filled day-use-only park can be enjoyed au naturel, most patrons (350,000 annually) can be found basking like herds of sea lions along the steep and rocky banks. In addition to nude sunbathing, other activities include nude birdwatching (although Hippie Hollow is a habitat for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo, this also provides an excuse, albeit a lame one, for the binoculars hanging from your neck), nude swimming (also known as skinny-dipping), nude hiking (also known as streaking), and just hanging out in your gloriousness. Along with lewdness (Hippie Hollow, despite the loose policy on clothing, runs a tight ship, and questionable behavior is not tolerated), activities to avoid are pointing, jaw dropping, going bug-eyed, gawking, and, for God’s sake, jogging. And while the wearing of clothes won’t get you thrown out, it will, oddly enough, make you feel like a weirdo. I recommend doing just what the welcome sign at the Hippie Hollow entrance invites you to do and enjoy the park “naturally.”
From the intersection of RR 620 and FM 2222, outside Austin, follow RR 620 south for 1.3 miles to Comanche Trail. Turn right and go 2 miles to park entrance; day use $8 per person, $2 per vehicle. DAVID COURTNEY

7. Gear Up
Joe Pool Lake, near Dallas

Tucked away at the southwest end of Dallas County is this jewel of a state park, set on the shores of a lake that was filled only in 1989. While most visitors come here for the fishing and boating (you can rent all kinds of craft at Joe Pool Marina), Cedar Hill State Park offers outstanding recreation that’s not too far from your downtown loft. You will enjoy a walk around the historic farm buildings built by John Penn, who settled his family here in the mid-1800’s, while your spirit will be restored by the park’s abundant flora and fauna. Rugged limestone hillsides are covered with forests of elm, mesquite, and juniper, and below them patches of prairie that harbor endangered tall grasses and other plants (who could resist the chance to see an antelope-horn milkweed or a trout lily?). Bobcats and raccoons shelter among the trees, and in the fall more winged guests arrive—kinglets, warblers, and flocks of cedar waxwings. But my favorite attraction is the twenty or so miles of mountain biking trails that were built by the avid cyclists of the Dallas Off Road Bicycle Association. Three separate loops snake through the forests all the way down to the shore, and they range from three to just over twelve miles long, so everyone can find a comfortable challenge. Just watch the weather; the trails are closed after a heavy rain.
From Dallas, take Interstate 20 west for 6 miles, then head south on FM 1382 and travel 4 miles; 972-291-3900 or tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/cedar_hill/; day use $5 per person. CHARLIE LLEWELLIN

8. Get Lost
Caddo Lake, near Karnack

Standing near the familiar gray cypresses draped with Spanish moss, I look out at a wind-ruffled channel that must eventually lead to Caddo Lake. I’ve been to the town of Uncertain before, I’m sure—I remember drifting along Big Cypress Bayou in the spring, when the dogwoods sparkle from among the pine trees—but I’ve never really seen the lake. Somewhere out there is a big expanse of open water, but all I can see are tree-lined back channels. At nearby Caddo Lake State Park you can rent a canoe and float around a mysterious cypress-shaded inlet, but the lake is a long paddle down the bayou. Johnson’s Ranch, at the end of Farm-to-Market Road 2198—where the sign says you can fish from the dock for $1—is closer, and you can get a canoe there too, but even so, the big water is still a workout away. The nearest I got was driving down FM 9, which dead-ends at the south side of the lake. I turned right, following the signs to Tucker’s Fishing Camp. At this point in my journey I was out of time, but you can take one of Mr. Tucker’s flat-bottomed aluminum boats and a trolling motor to find open water. If you make it, let me know what Caddo Lake really looks like.
Caddo Lake State Park: From Karnack, head north on Texas Highway 43 for 1 mile and turn right onto FM 2198. Continue for .5 mile to park entrance; 903-679-3351 or tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/caddo_lake/; day use $2 per person; canoe rentals start at $10 per hour (reservations recommended). Johnson’s Ranch: 5131 E. Cypress Drive, Uncertain; 903-789-3213 or johnsonsranch.com; canoe rentals $20 per day. Tucker’s Fishing Camp: 121 Private Road 2622, Karnack; 903-679-3137; boat rentals start at $7 per day. CL

9. Walk , Run, Ride
White Rock Lake, in Dallas

When residents of some cities think of Dallas, they imagine only two things: concrete and sprawl (I’m talking to you, Austin). So what to make of White Rock Lake, a 1,088-acre oasis nestled inside the city limits? The sailing is great. The crappie and largemouth bass are plentiful. What draws the biggest crowds, however, are the nearly ten miles of wide, paved hike-and-bike trails that circle the shore. On a sunny day, they attract hard-core cyclists on their Specialized road bikes and young families with a tricycle pulling up the rear. Okay, so there was that issue of crossing the north end of the lake on Mockingbird Lane, which required a death wish because of the heavy traffic. But earlier this year, a $2.3 million pedestrian bridge opened, allowing you to stroll over the water without risking your life. And there’s no better way to catch your breath than by climbing to the top of Winfrey Point and taking in a stunning view of the downtown skyline. From here, the concrete and sprawl feel as if they’re a world away.
From downtown Dallas, head north on Central Expressway for 4.5 miles. Exit Mockingbird Lane, turn right, go 4 miles, and turn rightat W. Lawther; 214-670-8281; free. BDS

10. Sleep Under the Stars
Inks Lake, near Burnet

With its pink granite outcroppings, abundant live oaks, and accessible swimming coves, the 4.2-mile-long Inks Lake has to be the prettiest little lake in Texas. So pitch a tent and stay awhile: Inks Lake State Park, which boasts a range of sites (from the no-water variety to air-conditioned cabins), has the best scenic camping in the Hill Country. Although you reserve only by site type (not number), there are enough lakefront spots to give you a good chance of waking to a view of the water—not that the shady set-back areas are shabby either. (For the least-crowded spots with lake access, opt for the water-only sites on the west side of the park.) You can count on fishing, boating, and swimming—especially at the spectacular cliff-lined Devil’s Waterhole—almost year-round. Add 7-odd miles of hiking trails, eager park volunteers, and the Texas State Park Store that meets all your bug repellent needs, and it’s no wonder this lake attracts campers like ants to a s’more.
From Burnet, head west on Texas Highway 29 for 9 miles to Park Road 4, then go south 3 miles to park entrance; day use $5 per person. Camping reservations $8–$45 per site per night, 512-389-8900. Park information 512-793-2223 or tpwd.state.tx.us/parks/inks/. KATHARYN RODEMANN

11. Get Up To Speed
Lake Texoma, near Denison

I’ve got a bit of a history with Lake Texoma. My wife’s great-grandfather Ernest never forgave Congressman Sam Rayburn for his plan to dam the Red River, taking the family farm along with it. On a lighter note, when I received my driver’s license some four decades later, Texoma represented the perfect place to skip school with my friends. Back then, we could have only dreamed of barreling past Denison Dam on a pair of skis. With 89,000 acres of water, even on crowded days there’s room to roam. And for my daughter, who recently took her first boat ride, there’s always the allure of zipping past Treasure Island or dropping anchor and exploring the sandy beaches. Don’t let the lack of a boat slow you down. The Eisenhower Yacht Club, in Eisenhower State Park, rents ski boats for the morning or afternoon for $175 or all day for $250 (gas and oil extra; reservations recommended). I almost feel guilty for having so much fun. Please forgive me, Grandpa Ernest.
Eisenhower Yacht Club: From Denison, head north on Texas Highway 91 at U.S. 75 for 4 miles, turn left at FM 1310 West, and continue for 1.8 miles to park entrance; 903-463-3999 or eisenhoweryachtclub.com; day use $3 per person. BDS

12. Catch The Limit
Toledo Bend Reservoir, near Milam

If you are like me and pick up your fishing tackle two or three times a year, you may not be aware that tucked way away, deep in the Piney Woods of far East Texas, there is a spot on the Sabine River that offers some of the best fishing opportunities in the state: 185,000-acre Toledo Bend Reservoir. Located in the verdant Sabine National Forest of Shelby, Sabine, and Newton counties, Toledo Bend is the largest man-made body of water in the South. I spent the night at Holly Park Marina near the town (crossroads, more like it) of Milam and set out at the crack of dawn with my guide, Ronnie Sheeon, who has led fishing trips on Toledo Bend since 1970. With Sheeon’s expertise and a U-99 lure in watermelon-red on my line, I caught a number of black bass. Surprisingly, he came up empty, explaining later that “sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.” In one morning I witnessed a majestic bald eagle in flight, trolled right up next to a six- or seven-foot-long alligator, and landed some Toledo Bend lunkers. Lucky? I’ll say.
Holly Park Marina: From Milam, head north on Texas Highway 87 for 5.1 miles to FM 276, then turn right and go 2.7 miles; 409-625-4424 or hollyparkmarina.com. Guide: Ronnie Sheeon Bass Fishing, 409-625-4125; call for reservations and fees. DC

13. Cruise in Style
Lake Buchanan, near Burnet

Not to sound alarmist, but the drought has given new meaning to Lake Buchanan’s Vanishing Texas River Cruise. But a dip in the water level (two feet as of early May) shouldn’t keep you from boarding the General Johnson, a fifty-passenger boat, and touring the northernmost of the Highland Lakes. Although the excursion has been shortened to ninety minutes, down from two and a half hours, it’s still breathtaking. You’ll glide past the wildlife sanctuary of Garrett Island, the old villages of Tow and Bluffton, and the travertine formation of White Bluff, while a khaki-shorts-wearing guide points out landmarks, using the boat as a clock (i.e., “At one o’clock you’ll see Shaw Island, which is actually a peninsula that’s full of pyrite, or fool’s gold, and has some of the best beaches in the Hill Country”). Bring binoculars to zoom in on blue herons, white egrets, Forrester terns, and—if you time your trip during the winter months—American bald eagles. Go ahead and make your outing a mini-vacation by booking the Great Escape package, which includes cruise tickets and box lunches (ham-and-cheese croissant sandwiches, fruit cups, chips), accommodations at the gorgeous 64-room Canyon of the Eagles Lodge, and admission to nearby Longhorn Cavern State Park.
From Burnet, head west on Texas Highway 29 for 3 miles and turn right on RM 2341. The gate house is 14 miles from the turnoff; 800-474-8374 or vtrc.com; 90-minute lake tour $15 (children 2–12 $10); box lunch $6.25; reservations recommended (credit card required; $5 cancellation fee); Great Escape package starts at $180.50. JB

14. Row Your Boat
Town Lake, in Austin

When is a river a lake? When it flows through a city—and then, of course, it’s called Town Lake. The Colorado River, as it passes through Austin, is wide and slow moving. (It’s also dammed at either end.) If you want to take full measure, rent a kayak at the Texas Rowing Center (you can also go to the Rowing Dock or Zilker Canoe Rental). Kayaks are easy, just you and your paddle. At first you may find yourself going in circles, getting drenched, and being quacked at by ducks moving out of your way. But eventually you’ll get the rhythm right: Dip deep and close to the boat for power and speed, shallow and wide to turn. You can head east toward downtown, the recommended path if there is a concert at Auditorium Shores or if you want to see the bat colony emerge from the Congress Avenue Bridge at dusk. Or you can go west, toward the huge mansions on the bluffs. I found myself drifting and watching: the people jogging on the hike-and-bike trail; turtles sunning themselves on roots protruding from the water; fish rising to the surface and then disappearing; black cormorants waiting silently in the lush trees along the bank, looking like long, dark fruit pods; white herons sitting higher up, staring out at nothing in particular, their necks curved like question marks. So, they all seemed to be asking, we’re in the middle of a city?
Texas Rowing Center: 1541 W. Cesar Chavez (on the north shore of Town Lake); 512-467-7799 or texasrowingcenter.com; kayaks start at $25 per day; open daily. MICHAEL HALL

15. Go Back in Time
Lake Meredith, near Amarillo

Standing on the top of Fritch Fortress, on the east side of Lake Meredith, one thought kept popping into my head: I wish I made it out here more often. My vantage point offered a perfect view of the lake and the beautifully scarred land of the High Plains that surround it. Five boat ramps make for easy access to get out and fish ($4 fee for day use; $10 for three days), but when I visited in April, the lake was at one of its lowest points. The ramp at Harbor Bay, for example, ended a good fifty feet from the water. But the attractions around the lake were just as interesting. Take, for example, the Alibates Flint Quarries, the only national monument in Texas. Here you hike through land studded with yucca and mesquite with a ranger, who explains the history of the land, which has been home to people going back 12,000 years. Don’t expect massive openings in the earth; remember that workers had only tools made of bone or rock. But the remnants of the quarries are powerful and provocative nonetheless. For a more challenging hike, McBride Canyon is just a short drive away, where trails for hikers and horseback riders await. Just mind your manners; wild turkeys are sure to cross your path, and the gobblers aren’t shy about letting you know who’s boss.
From Amarillo, head north on Texas Highway 136 for 21 miles and turn left at Cas Johnson Road. Follow the signs to the Alibates Flint Quarries and McBride Canyon; for a tour of the Alibates quarries, call 806-857-3151 (free but reservations required) or go to nps.gov/alfl. BDS

16. Fly Through the Air
Lake Conroe, near Conroe

Shaped like a troll’s hand, Lake Conroe reaches north across the boundary of Montgomery and Walker counties, straddling the transition between nature and, well, a lot less nature. Most of the palm is surrounded by the kind of luxury development you might expect, but in the north, long fingers of water reach deep into the Sam Houston National Forest; by the sandy shore, hardwoods and the occasional cypress tree mingle with the tall pines. All I heard on an overcast weekday in March at the Cagle Recreation Area were birds singing and the occasional fishing boat, and the sense of peace and solitude was almost overwhelming. There were different sounds reverberating across the southern part of the lake that afternoon; I made out hammers banging and drills whining as workmen constructed expensive homes along the lake’s edge. The loudest noise, though, was the one my WaveRunner was making as I bounced over the water at top speed. I was just having fun, but I’m told that prospective home buyers consider personal watercraft to be a great way to look at property. Resort Attractions, where I rented the craft, also offers introductory flights on what they call an Amazing Flying Boat, which is a hang glider attached to an ultralight aircraft engine and strapped to an inflatable boat. You have to fly with an employee, but that doesn’t lessen the thrill of soaring up to 10,000 feet. Just don’t forget to sign the waiver.
Cagle Recreation Area: From Conroe, head north on Interstate 45 for 18 miles, turn left at FM 1375, and proceed for 5 miles; 888-361-6908; day use $5 per person. Resort Attractions, on FM 830; 936-856-3010 or resort-attractions.com; personal watercraft rentals start at $60 per hour (2-hour minimum); flying boat tours $150 per hour. CL

17. Do What You Want
Grapevine Lake, in Grapevine

“Wow” was my first thought when I finally saw Grapevine Lake after fighting the sprawl of freeways that dominates the Mid-Cities. Slipped in between Grapevine and Flower Mound, the lake proved hard to find, which only made the sight of sails dancing across the water in the afternoon sunlight that much more enchanting. I felt I had discovered a secret kingdom of summer fun tucked away behind Grapevine Mills Mall and the Gaylord Texan Resort and Conference Center. I basked in the neighborhood ambience, but the residents of Grapevine appear to want to keep this little heaven to themselves. A recent advertisement in this magazine trumpeted the city’s many attractions but neglected to mention the lake. On the afternoon I was there, a panoply of activities was on display at Rockledge Park on the north side of the lake: In addition to the sailors and windsurfers, a school of kayakers was organizing just offshore, and along the water’s edge, people were sitting and relaxing or just enjoying walking along the beach. But most of the coming and going centered on the nearby nine-mile hike-and-bike trail. Boaters and campers should head for Murrell Park, also on the north side, where there are primitive campsites and boat ramps. And best of all, everything is free.
110 Fairway Drive; 817-481-4541 or swf-wc.usace.army.mil/grapevine/; free. CL

18. Land the Big One
Lake Fork, near Emory

I’ve heard the excuses before: “It was the glare” or “I didn’t set the hook.” But I was horrified when words like that started flowing from my own lips during a bass fishing trip to the mother of all bass lakes: Lake Fork. Where were the ten-pounders? (The lake record was set by Barry St. Clair in 1992 when he caught a 18.18-pound largemouth.) At Lake Fork it was supposed to be nearly impossible not to catch anything. Heck, a group of fishermen staying at the Lake Fork Lodge had told us the night before that they had caught 25 bass that day. So where were they? Staying still and trying to keep warm. The overcast March morning my husband and I put in at Val’s Landing, on the south side of the lake, which has 315 miles of mostly undeveloped shoreline, the surface-water temperature was a cool 56 degrees. Our guide, Dennis States, who has been fishing this lake for 25 years, said we might get a bite at Garrett Creek, where the water would be warmer. I focused on the positive—the branches of white oak trees still visible above the water, the sounds of ducks playing—as States dunked a plastic lizard into his special concoction, a chartreuse dipping dye with garlic scent, and rigged it Carolina-style on my rod. I made my cast. Nothing. I cast again. And again. I’d feel a tug, but I didn’t land a darn thing. But I know I had one. Honest.
Lake Fork Lodge: 8 miles east of Emory at the intersection of FM 515 and FM 17; 903-473-7236 or lakeforklodge.com. Guide: Dennis States, 903-473-2039; call for reservations and fees. PMC

19. Find a Fabulous Forty
Choke Canyon Reservoir, near Three Rivers

Choke Canyon supplies water to Corpus Christi, and the first time I saw it, the reservoir looked unremarkable. Dropped in the middle of mesquite-dotted ranchland, it did beat out the other local attractions: a federal penitentiary and an oil refinery. But the myriad birds that live and pass through here obviously consider the area to be some kind of avian La Cantera, and they tell their friends about the inviting water and the thick mesquite and acacia bushes that surround it. Texas has the most documented bird species sightings in the country—620 and counting—and of these, roughly 40 are found nowhere else in the country. Keep your eyes open at Choke Canyon and you might see a few of these “fabulous forty,” such as a green jay or an Audubon’s oriole. I’m fairly sure I didn’t see either, but during a gentle stroll around the well-kept trails in the adjoining Calliham Unit of Choke Canyon State Park, I was lucky enough to get a fantastic sighting of a golden-fronted woodpecker and spot many other species, mostly cardinals and many “little brown birds” I couldn’t identify. Deep in the bright-green thickets, serenaded by birdsong and constantly accompanied by darting and swooping wings, I realized I was indeed in a very special place. Next time, I’ll remember my bird book.
From Three Rivers, head west on Texas Highway 72 for 10 miles to Rec Road 8 and the entrance to the Calliham Unit of Choke Canyon State Park; 361-786-3868 or tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/choke_canyon/; day use $3 per person. CL

20. Live on
The Lake Lake Amistad, near Del Rio

Lake Amistad is a giant, implausible splash of brilliant indigo-blue in the otherwise scrubby, featureless desert along the border near Del Rio. On many lakes, featured attractions like beaches, resorts, and vacation homes lie along the banks. Not here. With more than 850 miles of coastline, there are few amenities of any kind. A lot of nothing, you might say. Here the action is all on the lake. And that’s why the ultimate thing to do at Amistad is to get on those glassy waters and stay there. By far the best way to do that is to rent a houseboat. There are several cool things about these big, boxy, waterborne condos. They come with such perks as full kitchens, outdoor grills, waterslides, and air-conditioning. They are big enough to sleep ten comfortably. And, for reasons that elude me, ordinary, non-seafaring people are allowed to drive them away from the dock. Check out these vacation economics: Rent a 56-foot houseboat for four weekdays for $2,295. Split the cost with two friends (or families). That comes out to $191.25 a night (prices are cheaper before June 7). You have total freedom, total autonomy. Motor up the spectacular canyons of the Devils River. Drink beer. Fish one of the best bass lakes in America. Grill hamburgers. Swim. Stargaze from the deck. Enjoy.
Lake Amistad Resort and Marina: From Del Rio, take U.S. 90 West for 12 miles to Amistad National Recreation Area; 800-255-5561 or lakeamistadresort.com. S.C. GWYNNE