Amid the vast plains and towering landscapes of the Lone Star State lies a narrative as diverse as its geography – a tale that unfolds not just in its historical landmarks but in the winding courses of its rivers and the tranquil expanse of its lakes.
Texas, celebrated for its frontier spirit and cultural fusion, holds within its embrace a treasure as expansive as its horizons – a network of waterways that mirror its legacy of resilience and independence. Like whispered conversations around a campfire, Texas’ rivers and lakes carry tales of exploration, trade, and the enduring relationship between its people and the land.
In this article, we embark on a journey that traces the pathways of Texas’ rivers and reflects upon the reflective surfaces of its lakes. Join us as we unveil the significance of these aqueous chapters, uncovering their role in shaping the state’s identity, culture, and prosperity, and revealing how water has etched its mark onto the very essence of the Lone Star State.
Printable Texas Lakes and Rivers Map
The Pecos River, also known as Río Pecos, originates in north-central New Mexico and flows into Texas, emptying into the Rio Grande, with its headwaters on the eastern slope of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in Mora County north of Pecos, New Mexico, at an elevation of over 12,000 feet.
The river flows for 926 miles before reaching the Rio Grande near Del Rio, with its drainage basin encompassing about 44,300 square miles. The name “Pecos” comes from the Keresan term for the Pecos Pueblo, and the river was also historically referred to as the Río Natagés for the Mescalero people.
The Nueces River is a major river in Texas, about 315 miles long, draining a region in central and southern Texas southeastward into the Gulf of Mexico, and the southernmost major river in Texas northeast of the Rio Grande, named after the numerous pecan trees along its banks.
The river rises northwest of San Antonio in the Edwards Plateau, flows south through the Texas Hill Country, past Barksdale and Crystal City, approaches to within 35 miles of the Rio Grande on the border with Mexico, turns to the east of Carrizo Springs, and flows through the scrub plains of South Texas, across rural Dimmit, La Salle, and McMullen Counties.
It enters Corpus Christi Bay on the Gulf of Mexico at Corpus Christi, with the Atascosa and Frio rivers joining from the northwest at Three Rivers in central Live Oak County, and is impounded to form the Lake Corpus Christi reservoir near Mathis.
The Brazos River, also known as Río de los Brazos de Dios, is the 14th-longest river in the United States, stretching 1,280 miles from its headwater source at the head of Blackwater Draw, Roosevelt County, New Mexico, to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico with a 45,000-square-mile drainage basin.
It is one of Texas’ largest rivers and is sometimes used to mark the boundary between East Texas and West Texas, closely associated with Texas history, particularly the Austin settlement and Texas Revolution eras. Major Texas institutions such as Texas Tech University, Baylor University, and Texas A&M University are located close to the river’s basin, as are parts of metropolitan Houston.
The Leon River is a river in Texas with three primary forks – the North, Middle, and South Leon Rivers, which converge near Eastland and then run for about 185 miles until they meet with the Lampasas River and Salado Creek to form the Little River near Belton. Tributaries of the Leon River include Pecan Creek and Cowhouse Creek in Hamilton County, Texas.
The Llano River is a 105-mile-long tributary of the Colorado River in Texas, draining part of the Edwards Plateau in Texas Hill Country northwest of Austin. The North and South Llano, two spring-fed tributaries, merge just east of Junction, forming the head of the Llano River proper, which runs generally east-northeast through Kimble County and across rural Mason County, passing to the south of the town of Mason.
The river carves its way through the Llano Uplift, a circular geologic dome of Precambrian rock, primarily granite, located in Central Texas, and flows through Llano County, passing to the north of Enchanted Rock and flowing through the town of Llano before joining the Colorado from the northwest as an arm of Lake Lyndon B. Johnson, about 15 miles southeast of Llano at Kingsland.
The Sabine River is a 360-mile-long river in Texas and Louisiana, forming part of the boundary between the two states from the 32nd parallel north and downstream, and emptying into Sabine Lake, an estuary of the Gulf of Mexico. The river played a significant role in the Spanish–American, Mexican–American, and Texan–American international boundaries over the first half of the 19th century.
The river drains an area of 9,756 square miles, flowing through an area of abundant rainfall and discharging the largest volume of any river in Texas, and flows through an important petroleum-producing region, with the lower river near the Gulf being among the most industrialized areas of the southeastern United States.
The Trinity River is the longest river with a watershed entirely within Texas, stretching 710 miles. It rises in extreme northern Texas, south of the Red River, with the headwaters separated by the high bluffs on the southern side of the Red River.
The river was named “La Santísima Trinidad” (“the Most Holy Trinity”) by Spanish explorer Alonso de León in 1690, following the Spanish Catholic practice of memorializing places by religious references, and was originally called Riviere des canoës (“River of Canoes”) by French explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle in 1687.
The Neches River, stretching 416 miles, flows through the piney woods of east Texas, defining the boundaries of 14 counties on its way to its mouth on Sabine Lake near the Rainbow Bridge. The river has two major reservoirs, Lake Palestine and B. A. Steinhagen Reservoir, with the Angelina River (containing Sam Rayburn Reservoir) being a major tributary with its confluence north of Lake B. A. Steinhagen.
The lower 40 miles of the river are a major shipping channel, highly industrialized, with a number of cities and towns concentrated in the area including Beaumont, Vidor, Port Neches, Nederland, Groves, and Port Arthur, while significant portions of the Neches River are undeveloped and flow through protected natural lands.
The Colorado River is the longest river with both its source and its mouth within Texas, stretching approximately 862 miles. It is the 11th longest river in the United States and has a drainage basin that extends into New Mexico, with some of its usually dry tributaries also reaching into the state. The river flows generally southeast from Dawson County through several cities, including Austin, before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico at Matagorda Bay.
San Saba River
The San Saba River is an undeveloped and scenic river in Texas, located on the northern boundary of the Edwards Plateau. The river begins in two primary branches, with the North Valley Prong running east through Schleicher County for 37 miles and the Middle Valley Prong running 35 miles through the same county, both merging near Fort McKavett to form the San Saba River.
The river flows another 140 miles east/northeast until it drains into the Colorado River east of the city of San Saba, with a major tributary being Brady Creek, which is 90 miles long and parallels the path of the San Saba to the north.
The Frio River, meaning “cold” in Spanish, is a river in Texas that is fed by springs, giving it a refreshing coolness. The river has three primary tributaries – the East, West, and Dry Frio Rivers – with the West Frio River rising from springs in northeastern Real County and joining with the East Frio River near the town of Leakey, while the Dry Frio River joins northeast of Uvalde.
The river flows generally southeast for 200 miles until it empties into the Nueces River south of the town of Three Rivers, providing water to the Choke Canyon Reservoir in McMullen and Live Oak Counties along the way.
The Navasota River is a 125-mile-long river in east Texas, flowing south into the Brazos River at a point where Brazos, Grimes, and Washington counties converge. The river has been known by several names, including Nabasoto by the indigenous people, San Cypriano by Domingo Terán de los Ríos, San Buenaventura by Fray Isidro Félix de Espinosa, and Navasota by Pedro de Rivera y Villalón in 1727.
The Pease River is a tributary of the Red River, running in an easterly direction through West Texas, and was named after Texas Governor Elisha M. Pease. Discovered and mapped for the first time in 1856 by Jacob de Córdova while surveying for the Galveston, Houston, and Henderson Railroad Company, the river has a length of 100 miles and three main branches – the North Pease, Middle Pease, and Tongue Rivers.
The river gained historical significance in December 1860 when the Texas Rangers recaptured Cynthia Ann Parker and her daughter from the Comanche Indians at an engagement along the river.
The Concho River in Texas was named after its abundance of freshwater mussels, such as the Tampico pearly mussel. The river has three primary feeds – the North, Middle, and South Concho Rivers – with the North Concho River being the longest fork, starting in Howard County and merging with the South and Middle forks near Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas.
The combined branches of the river flow east for about 58 miles until they eventually empty into the Colorado River within the waters of the O.H. Ivie Lake about 12 miles east of Paint Rock, Texas.
San Antonio River
The San Antonio River is a major waterway in Texas that originates in central San Antonio from a cluster of springs and follows a southeastern path for 240 miles through five counties, including Bexar, Goliad, Karnes, Refugio, and Wilson.
The river eventually feeds into the Guadalupe River about 10 miles from San Antonio Bay on the Gulf of Mexico, making it an important source of water for the region. The river is also known for its popular River Walk, a network of walkways along the banks of the San Antonio River in downtown San Antonio that features shops, restaurants, and other attractions.
The Guadalupe River is a popular destination for outdoor activities such as rafting, fly fishing, and canoeing, running from Kerr County to San Antonio Bay on the Gulf of Mexico.
The river has an average temperature of 17.75 degrees Celsius and flows through several larger cities, including Kerrville, New Braunfels, Seguin, Gonzales, Cuero, and Victoria. Along its length, the river has several dams, with the most notable being Canyon Dam, which forms Canyon Lake northwest of New Braunfels.
The White River is an intermittent stream in the South Plains of Texas and a tributary of the Brazos River, with a length of 62 miles. The river rises at the confluence of Callahan and Runningwater Draws and runs through Blanco Canyon, which it carved as it descended from the Llano Estacado.
The river was known to Spanish hunters and traders in eastern New Mexico long before Anglo settlers arrived, and it has been called the “Blanco Fork of Brazos River” or the “White Fork of Brazos River”. The river was named Blanco, which means “white” in Spanish, and it shares the name with the canyon.
The Wichita River is a part of the Red River watershed in north-central Texas, flowing for 90 miles before joining the Red River just west of Byers Bend in northern Clay County. The river was named after the Wichita Indian tribe, and the largest human settlement on the river is the city of Wichita Falls, which was named after a five-foot waterfall on the river that later washed away in a flood in 1886.
Today, the city has an artificial waterfall beside the river in Lucy Park that is visible to southbound traffic on Interstate 44, and the river is dammed in Archer and Baylor Counties, forming Lake Diversion and Lake Kemp.
The river flows generally eastward through several Texas counties and provides most of the water for Wright Patman Lake, on the border between Bowie and Cass counties. The river flows southeastward through Miller County in southwestern Arkansas for 15 miles until it joins the southbound Red River east of Doddridge, a few miles north of the Louisiana border.
San Bernard River
The San Bernard River flows from a spring near New Ulm, Texas to its mouth on the Gulf of Mexico, passing through portions of Austin, Brazoria, Colorado, Fort Bend, Matagorda, and Wharton counties.
The river is one of a small number of rivers in Texas that empties directly into the Gulf, and its mouth was impeded in 2005, causing it to drain into the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, but the issue was later corrected. However, shortly after being opened back up, the entrance silted in again and remains so at this time.
Lake Whitney is a flood control reservoir located on the main stem of the Brazos River in Texas, controlling drainage for a large area of Texas and parts of New Mexico. The reservoir has a surface area of more than 23,500 acres and 225 miles of shoreline, with the surrounding area consisting of rolling, tallgrass prairies, cedar trees, hardwood timber, and 100 ft bluffs and rock points.
Lake Whitney is also part of the Texas Lakes Trail Region of North Texas, making it a popular destination for outdoor activities such as fishing, boating, and hiking.
Lake Texoma is one of the largest reservoirs in the United States, formed by Denison Dam on the Red River in Bryan County, Oklahoma, and Grayson County, Texas. The project was completed in 1944, and the site is located about 5 miles northwest of Denison, Texas, and 15 miles southwest of Durant, Oklahoma.
Lake Texoma is the most developed and popular lake within the USACE Tulsa District, attracting around 6 million visitors a year, with Oklahoma having more of the lake within its boundaries than Texas. The lake is a popular destination for outdoor activities such as fishing, boating, and camping.
Lake O’ The Pines
Lake O’ the Pines is a reservoir located on Big Cypress Bayou, primarily in Marion County, Texas, but also occupying a small part of Upshur and Morris Counties. The reservoir was created by the construction of the Ferrells Bridge Dam on the Big Cypress Bayou as part of the overall plan for flood control in the Red River Basin below Denison Dam in Oklahoma.
The dam was completed in December 1959, and additional purposes of wildlife conservation, recreation, and water supply were added during construction. Today, the lake is a popular destination for outdoor activities such as fishing, boating, and camping.
Lake Meredith is a reservoir formed by Sanford Dam on the Canadian River at Sanford, Texas, located about 30 miles northeast of Amarillo, Texas in the Texas Panhandle. The lake historically served as a major source of drinking water for Amarillo and Lubbock, Texas, and many other towns in between and nearby.
However, due to an ongoing drought and a continued drop in the water level in the reservoir, water withdrawals from Lake Meredith temporarily ceased in 2011, and the lake reached its all-time low of 26.14 feet in 2013.
Sabine Lake is a bay located on the Gulf coasts of Texas and Louisiana, formed by the confluence of the Neches and Sabine Rivers and connecting to the Gulf of Mexico through Sabine Pass. The lake is one of seven major estuaries along the Gulf Coast of Texas and falls within Jefferson and Orange Counties in Texas and Cameron Parish, Louisiana.
It has a long history of human habitation dating back to at least 1,500 years ago and is now an important center for the shipping and petrochemical industries, serving as part of the Sabine–Neches Waterway and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.
The lake is the third-largest lake in the state of Texas, with the Livingston Dam constructed across the Trinity River about 7 miles southwest of the city of Livingston. Water stored in the lake is used to supply industrial, municipal, and agricultural needs in the lower Trinity River Basin and the Houston/Galveston metropolitan area, and the lake is also a popular destination for public and commercial recreation facilities.
Ray Roberts Lake
Lake Ray Roberts is an artificial reservoir located 10 miles north of Denton, Texas, between the cities of Pilot Point and Sanger. The 29,350-acre lake is filled by a tributary of the Trinity River and was named after Ray Roberts, a local congressman who supported its creation, in 1980.
The reservoir is owned and operated by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, and in addition to supplying water to Cooke, Grayson, and Denton counties, it is also used for recreation and is home to the Ray Roberts Lake State Park.
Lake Tawakoni is a 37,879-acre reservoir located in Northeast Texas, about 48 miles east of Dallas, and lies within three Texas counties: Hunt, Rains, and Van Zandt. The lake was named after the Tawakoni Native American peoples, who were part of the larger Caddo Nation that inhabited a large swath of North and East Texas, including where the lake is located.
The reservoir was constructed in 1960 with the Iron Bridge Dam to supply water and recreation to the growing Dallas area and its suburbs, and it now serves as the headwaters of the Sabine River, with the South Fork, Cowleech Fork, and Caddo Forks submerged under the lake.
The lake is situated on the West Fork of the San Jacinto River, just west of Interstate 45 off State Highway 105 in Montgomery and Walker counties, and is a popular destination for boating, jet-skiing, and fishing. The lake is also home to several marinas, restaurants, and resorts, making it a popular spot for tourists and locals alike.