Making Waves

By Joe Nick Patoski

Photo courtesy Waco Surf

Swimming holes, springs, rivers, and lakes offer relief from our summer heat, but they don’t always deliver when drought comes into play.

Texans don’t whine, though. We simply create our own water worlds at world-class inland wakeboard and surfing destinations, water parks, aquatic centers, and lazy rivers.

Wakeboard and Surf Parks

Waco Surf

Waco

Water parks are fun, but there’s a constituency craving something edgier when it comes to aqua thrills, like surfing (see next page) and wakeboarding. Waco Surf has both. The 2.5-acre lagoon has done what no other human-made water enterprise in Texas has accomplished: It produces real swelling, curling, barreling waves that are consistent and fully formed. “It stands out as a training tool for mid- and top-level surfers looking to use the machine consistency to take the variable of wave quality out of the equation,” says pro surfer Morgan Faulkner, the director of Texas Surf Camps in Port Aransas.

Surfing gets top billing at Waco Surf, but the cable park—with ramps, jumps, and rails—is just as popular. There’s also a water park and a mile-long lazy river, which is the longest in Texas. And the surf shop, restaurant, and cabanas could be confused for a country club. Pro tip: Reservations to surf should be made weeks, if not months, in advance. Water park pass: $39 and up. Cable park pass: $49 and up. 5347 Old Mexia Road, Waco. wacosurf.com

A map showing the surf parks identified in this section

A man stands in front of a collection of surfboards with hands on hips

Surf's Up

Read more: Riding waves as a septuagenarian

Texas Ski Ranch

New Braunfels

One could call this 70-acre sports park action central. Texas Ski Ranch offers wakeboarders and water-skiers two lakes with cable tows, including the Lil Bro tow for beginners, and another with boat tows. Additional land-based amusements include paintball, ax-throwing, and a full bar. Wakeboarding pass: $65 for two hours. 6700 I-35 North, New Braunfels. 830-627-2843; texasskiranch.com

Hydrous Wake Park

Allen

First-timers are welcomed with open arms at this North Texas extreme water sports complex. The six-tower cable system on a 5-acre lake has two beginner cable systems and an aqua obstacle course.Group and private beginner sessions and summer day camps are available. Two-hour cable session with basic rentals: $55. Aqua obstacle course: $15 for two hours. 580 N. Cedar Drive, Allen. 214-390-3088; hydrouswakeparks.com

Fireside Surf

the colony

At Fireside Surf in The Colony near Dallas, an on-site pool uses Citywave technology to create waves up to 6 feet. It’s a great way for beginners to learn to hang 10. There’s also live music, a miniature golf course, and a surf-centric menu—ceviche, coconut shrimp, and fish tacos—along with craft beers and a full bar. Surf sessions start at $75. 5772 Grandscape Blvd., The Colony. 833-579-7873; firesidesurf.com

Quest ATX Waterpark and Wakeboarding

Austin

Water fun abounds at this clay-bottom lake located on 130 acres southwest of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Check out the wakeboard cable setup, aqua obstacle course, rope swings, and two 85-foot slides. You can rent a kayak or standup paddleboard, and a food truck serves burgers, sandwiches, and ice cream. Park pass: $59. 10815 FM 1625, Austin. 512-618-8504; questatx.com

A person rides a surfboard in blue water beneath a gray sky

Photo courtesy Waco Surf

Water Parks

Three people in a bright blue tube travel down a bright blue and yellow waterslide

Photo courtesy Wet-N-Wild Waterpark

Schlitterbahn Waterpark & Resort

New Braunfels

Opened in 1979 by the Henry family, who constructed a whimsical castle with four waterslides, Schlitterbahn has been named the No. 1 water park in the world for 24 years in a row by Amusement Today. The park is now home to 51 river rides, slides, and chutes. It isn’t just the huge size that makes it special, though. No other water park compares to Schlitterbahn’s scenic setting on the banks of the Comal River, where water recreation dates to the 19th century.

The Cedar Fair Entertainment Company bought Schlitterbahn in 2019 and has invested $2 million in the new Schatze’s Storybrook Park for children 12 and under. The play area has multiple waterslides and more than 70 interactive features, including the world’s first water coaster for kids. General admission: $50. 400 N. Liberty Ave., New Braunfels. 830-625-2351;
schlitterbahn.com/new-braunfels

A map showing the water parks identified in this article

Splashway

Sheridan

There’s a camp vibe at this water park located 90 miles west of Houston. The park’s newest feature, the dueling Splash Blaster coasters, stands out among the array of tubes and slides, wave pools, and splash pads. When you want to dry off, there’s laser tag, miniature golf, pedal carts, a cycling trail, and live music on summer weekends. Many guests stay overnight in the adjacent campground and rental cabins. Tickets: $46 and up. 5211 Main St., Sheridan. 979-234-7718; splashway.com

NRH20 Family Water Park

North Richland Hills

Close to 6 million people have visited the first municipal water park in Texas since it opened in 1995. The 17-acre park has 23 attractions, including Viper, a 20-foot mega tube that turns into a funnel before ending in a drop pool. Coming next year: Nitro Blast, a dueling water coaster outfitted with powerful water propulsion technology. Tickets: $29 and up.
9001 Blvd. 26, North Richland Hills. 817-427-6500; nrh2o.com

Wet-N-Wild Waterworld

Anthony

This water park just outside El Paso gets bonus points for providing heat relief and shade. More than 25 rides and attractions are spread over 60 acres, with the newest thrill ride, the Tarantula Tailspin, attracting long lines. Boasting the biggest wave pool in Texas and a lazy river dubbed the Little Rio Grande, Wet-N-Wild is a literal oasis in the desert. Tickets: $40 and up for ages 4 and up; $10 for ages 1-3. 8804 S. Desert Blvd., Anthony. 915-886-2222; wetnwildwaterworld.com

Aquatic Centers

Several children leap off of large blue bouncy balls in clear blue water

Photo courtesy The Lagoon

Rosemeade Rainforest Aquatic Complex

Carrollton

Ye olde community pool ain’t what it used to be. For the past three decades, Texas towns, cities, and suburbs have increasingly upgraded water recreation options by opening and operating water park-swimming pool hybrids that serve families and serious swimmers. Carrollton’s Rosemeade Rainforest, reimagined and renovated four years ago, has all the elements of a modern community-operated aquatic center.

The kid-friendly rainforest features a 600-gallon dump bucket, a 200-foot lazy river, a zero-depth entry pool, a splash pad, a diving pool with diving boards, and two 22-foot waterslides, along with a lap pool and activity pool. “We’re family-focused, more of a play-type water park,” explains Kim Bybee, the Carrollton parks director. “But we have a youth swim team that trains here, as well as adult-age competitors.”

Special events scheduled throughout the summer include Shipwreck, a pirate-themed party night with games and activities; Cinema Swim night; and the Pooch Pool Party, where dogs are invited to join their humans for a dip. Admission: $5 and up. 1334 E. Rosemeade Parkway, Carrollton. 972-466-6399, cityofcarrollton.com

A map of Cactus, Carrollton, Cedar Hill, and Pharr

Cactus Aquatic Park

Cactus

This compact water park and pool punches above its weight, serving as a summer hangout not just for the town of Cactus (pop. 3,050), but for Moore County and the whole Panhandle. Grants from Texas Parks and Wildlife and JBS Foods, a major employer in Moore County, helped build this $4 million facility that opened in 2022. The aquatic park has all the essential play amenities: a splash pad, spray features, open-air and closed slides, a climbing wall, diving boards, and a lap pool. General admission: $5. 600 North Drive, Cactus. 806-966-5987

Pharr Aquatic Center & Natatorium

Pharr

This city in Hidalgo County is home to two swimming options—one indoor, ideal for when scorching heat and humidity restrict outdoor play. The Pharr Aquatic Center has four waterslides, tubes, splash pads, spray cannons, mega soakers, and a lazy river. And 3 miles north, the Pharr Natatorium has a 50-meter competition pool and diving pool. Aquatic center admission: $2 for adults; $1 for kids. Natatorium membership: $30 and up/month. pharr-tx.gov/parks-recreation/aquatic-center; pharr-tx.gov/parks-recreation/natatorium

The Lagoon

Cedar Hill

Opened last year, this Dallas-area aquatics center has all the essentials: a waterslide, a lazy river, and a zero-depth entry pool, plus a separate 25-meter lap pool. Trees dot the grounds, but the park is so new, shade is still at a premium. Weekly group activities include swim lessons and Aqua Zumba classes. General admission: $8. 631 Somerset Drive, Cedar Hill. 972-291-5318; cedarhilltx.com/3029/aquaticsthe-lagoon

Lazy Rivers

A map of Frisco, Houston, Bastrop, and San Antonio

Marriott marquis

Houston

Lazy rivers promise the mellowest of human-made water experiences—just a nice, indulgent drift in a tube or an easy swim down the waterway. Altitude Rooftop & Pool’s lazy river on the sixth floor of the Marriott Marquis earns top honors for its channel in the outline of Texas and its “Miami-meets-Vegas, Texas style,” says Allen Hunt, the hotel’s director of recreation. “The lazy river has put us on the map in Texas and internationally. I don’t think anyone realized how popular it would be.”

There are DJs and live music on weekends. It takes about 17 minutes to circumnavigate the lazy river, and there are just enough curves and twists to make things interesting—though you may get caught in a back eddy making that 45-degree hard turn at El Paso. Rooms start at $350. A limited number of day passes are available Mon-Thu for $40 and up. 1777 Walker St., Houston.
713-654-7777; marriott.com

A group of people float in bright blue water down a river

Photo courtesy Hyatt Lost Pines

Hyatt Lost Pines Resort and Spa

Bastrop

Play 18 holes on this resort’s award-winning golf course, and then jump into the 1,000-foot-long crooked lazy river. It winds through the resort’s main activity pool, adult pool, two-story waterslide, kiddie pool, and splash pad via a route that is generously shaded by oak, pine, and pecan trees. Rooms start at $450. Water park day passes: $50 and up for adults; $25 and up for kids. 575 Hyatt Lost Pines Road, Cedar Creek. 855-954-2783; lostpinesresortandspa.com

An overhead view of a Texas-shaped lazy river atop a building in downtown Houston, taken at night

Photo courtesy Marriott Marquis

Riders Field Lazy River

Frisco

One lap around this lazy river is 400 feet, which isn’t a lot compared to other lazy rivers. But the 68,000-gallon capacity—eight times as much as the Arizona Diamondbacks’ pool at Chase Field—makes Riders Field’s lazy river, perched above right field at the baseball park, the largest water feature in a pro sports venue. BYO towels. Tickets: $25 on Thursdays; $41 on Sundays. 7300 Rough Riders Trail, Frisco. 972-334-1993; milb.com/frisco/tickets/lazyriver

JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa

San Antonio

Enjoy a Hill Country getaway at this family-friendly resort with an expanse of pools, five slides, a sandy beach, and a recreation of the Pedernales River. The main attraction is the 1,100-foot lazy river, which takes you on a relaxing ride through the 9-acre water park. Rooms start at $400. Water park day passes: $75 and up for adults; $60 and up for kids. 23808 Resort Parkway, San Antonio. 210-276-2500; marriott.com

A woman sits in an infinity pool overlooking rolling green hills and trees

Photo courtesy Marriott

Dive In

Other creative ways to beat the summer heat

Swimply App

Craving a swimming experience that is more private than public? There’s an app for that. Check out Swimply, known as the Airbnb for swimming pools. Scroll through pools in your area and reserve one for a few hours. Prices range from $15 to a few hundred dollars per hour, and many pools allow for 12-plus guests at a time. There are also extra amenities like inflatable floats, yard games, hot tubs, and grill access. swimply.com

Hotel Day Pass

Hotels throughout Texas offer pool access for a range of prices. In Dallas, the family-friendly Hilton Anatole offers day passes to its water park starting at $25. In Austin, The Austin Motel charges $25 for three hours on Mondays-Thursdays and $50 for Fridays-Sundays. Pool passes at the Four Seasons Hotel Houston are $75 for adults and $65 for children. And at the St. Anthony Hotel in San Antonio, pool passes start at $25. For more options, download the Resort Pass app.

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