The Wayward Nature of the Sometimes Islands in Lake Travis

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Tony Maples Photography


Known as the Sometimes Islands in Lake Travis, this strange string of islets appears and disappears from the water’s surface every few years. Because these islands emerge just when many people avoid the lake, you may find yourself alone when you visit. The fluctuating nature of these lands depends on many environmental factors, and you may be able to predict when you can next visit this location.

Origins of Lake Travis

Mansfield Dam created Lake Travis on the Colorado River

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The origins of the Sometimes Islands in Lake Travis correspond to the history of the lake itself. The only natural lake in Texas is Lake Caddo, located on the border of Louisiana and Texas. All other lakes were created by damming rivers. When the Colorado River needed flood control measures taken, the state built six dams along its course, creating the Highland Lakes. The land behind the lakes flooded, as the rivers backed up behind the dams, but the natural contours of the Hill Country remained, including the hills that create islands that occasionally appear in the lakes. The area where cattle once grazed now sits under the waters of Lake Travis when the area flooded behind the Mansfield Dam.

When to See the Sometimes Islands

The Sometimes Islands in Lake Travis connected to create a peninsula in 2015.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

As the name suggests, the Sometimes Islands don’t always exist above the waterline. You can only see them when Lake Travis drops below normal levels. The lower the lake, the more of the islands you can see. In 2011, during the months-long drought in the state, water levels in Lake Travis dropped to 626 feet. At that time, the Sometimes Islands merged to become a ¾-mile-long peninsula stretching from Mansfield Dam Park into the lake. Had the lake dropped further far lower than the record of 614 feet, the peninsula would have cut the lake in two. For the tops of the islands to emerge, the lake must drop below 670 feet. Keep an eye on lake levels to see when the islands will appear.

Things to Look for on the Islands

Sometimes Islands in Lake Travis emerging during a drought in 2012.

Photo: Facebook/Texas

You can find evidence of prior use of the Sometimes Islands before the lake took over. Reports have indicated visitors finding concrete foundations and stumps from juniper trees. Explore the area the next time the Sometimes Islands appear to see what you can find. Though not on the Sometimes Islands in Lake Travis, when the lake level dropped in 2015, bluebonnets took over the newly revealed land near Spicewood Beach, proving the resilience of Texas land and flora.