How Wide Is Texas’s Lake Sam Rayburn?

Written by Samantha Stanich
Updated: August 6, 2023
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Key Points:

  • Lake Sam Rayburn, a man-made reservoir, is the widest lake in Texas with a diameter of 4.29 miles, and the second largest lake in the state.
  • It was built in 1956 to provide flood control to the Angelina and Neches River basins and to supply water and create hydroelectric power.
  • There is a ghost town, now under the lake, called Zana that sat on the Angelina River in the late 1800s.

Texas’s Lake Sam Rayburn lives up to everything being bigger in Texas since it is the largest lake in its entirety in the state of Texas. The lake is 4.29 miles (6.90 km) wide and is operated by the United States Army Corps Engineers, Forth Worth district.

The lake is also known as the Sam Rayburn Reservoir. It is Texas’s second-largest lake and is man-made. It is known for its recreational activities open to the public so visitors can take a refreshing dip on a hot, Texas day!

sunset on Lake Sam Rayburn

The lake was initially known as McGee Bend Dam and Reservoir. The 88th Congress renamed it to honor the deceased Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

©Carrie Melear/Shutterstock.com

Why Was Lake Sam Rayburn Created?

The reservoir is damned is 80 miles north of Beaumont. Built in 1956, Lake Sam Rayburn’s mission is to provide flood control to the Angelina and Neches River basins. It also supplies water and creates hydroelectric power. It delivers this to the Lower Neches Valley Authority, the Beaumont area, and the city of Lufkin. However, now it is known as a spot for some of the best fishing, camping, hiking, and bird watching. It is a recreational paradise.

Lake Sam Rayburn sunrise from the sky

In 2018,

Bassmaster

magazine ranked Lake Sam Rayburn number one as the best bass lake in the nation.

©Cire notrevo/Shutterstock.com

Is it Safe to Swim in Lake Sam Rayburn?

The lake is a great place for recreational use for the whole family. There are designated swimming areas:

  • Ebenezer Park
  • Mill Creek Park
  • San Augustine Park
  • Hanks Creek Park

The areas feature buoys to keep out boats, controlled slopes and depth, sandy beach areas, and ranger patrols. However, there aren’t lifeguards on duty on the beach. Swimming is at visitors’ own risk. The designated areas are free to those with annual passes or registered campers. If your family is taking a day trip, it is $5 per vehicle.

Alligators in Lake Sam Rayburn

There are alligators in the lake. In fact, it is home to a variety of reptiles and amphibians. Alligators usually reside in the deeper part of the lake. However, they can lurk along its banks and tributaries. Sightings are rare, but the lake is a confirmed home for the pre-historic beasts by biologists and anglers. If you visit the lake and happen upon these predators, it is important to remember not to disturb or approach them. The best approach is to let them be because they become aggressive if threatened or feel cornered. To ensure your safety while enjoying the scenic waters, it’s best to be aware of your surroundings when boating, fishing, or swimming in Sam Rayburn Reservoir.

Lake Sam Rayburn lies in five counties that are part of the 32 core counties the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) designate as having high populations of alligators. These core counties are Angelina, Jasper, Nacogdoches, San Augustine, and Sabine Counties. Core counties also allow commercial hunting because they constitute the prime historical habitat for the American alligator in Texas. The TPWD monitors the alligators and manages harvest through tag issuance to landowners.

alligator

©Sorbis/Shutterstock.com

Can You Swim Across the Sam Rayburn Reservoir?

At its max width, the Sam Rayburn Reservoir is 4.29 miles (6.90 km). It should take a little over 2 hours, as a mile going two miles per hour is about 30 minutes give or take.

Compared to Other Lakes in Texas

LakeWidthLengthArea
Toledo Bend Reservoir10 miles (16 km)65 miles (105 km)289.1 square miles
Sam Rayburn Reservoir4.29 miles (6.90 km)36.43 miles (58.63 km)178.9 square miles
Falcon International Reservoir15.17 miles (24.41 km)33.3 miles (53.59 km)154.6 square miles
Lake Texoma10 miles (16 km)30 miles (48 km)139.1 square miles
Lake Livingston9 miles (14 km)31 miles (50 km)129.7 square miles
Amistad Reservoir5.6 miles (9.01 km)20.5 miles (32.99 km)101.4 square miles
Cedar Creek Reservoir2.29 miles (3.68)18.58 miles (29.90 km)50.97 square miles
Lake Lewisville4.24 mi (6.82 km)11 mi (18 km)46.24 square miles
Lake Palestine4 miles (6.43 km)18 miles (28.96 km)39.94 square miles
Caddo Lake5 miles (8.04 km)30 miles (48 km)39.69 square miles
Lake Conroe6 miles (9.65 km)26 miles (41.84 km) 32.81 square miles
Lake Travis4.5 miles (7.24 km)63.75 miles (105 km)29.58 square miles
The maximum length, maximum width, and area of Lake Sam Rayburn and other Texas lakes.

Is There a Town Under Lake Sam Rayburn?

Yes. There is a ghost town under the lake. A town named Zana sat on the Angelina River in the late 1800s. It was a thriving community with a cotton gin, grist mill, and even river steamboats. The town was granted a post office, and by 1896 50 people called it home. However, by the 1930s only a few community members remained, and the town was dropped off the maps. When the reservoir was constructed, Zana became a statistic and one of the many submerged ghost towns in the state’s history.

The reservoir destroyed all evidence of the quaint sawmill town, Zana.

©Jordan Pitre/Shutterstock.com

Where is Lake Sam Rayburn?

The lake is 15 miles north of Jasper and 70 miles north of Beaumont. The largest man-made lake in Texas sits deep in the Piney Woods of Southeast Texas. It is nestled in the Angelina and Sabine National Forests and located in each of the counties:

  • Angelina
  • Jasper
  • Nacogdoches
  • Sabine
  • San Augustine

Sam Rayburn Reservoir is on the Angelina River, the Neches River’s main tributary, and receives most of its water supply from the river. To the east of the reservoir are these towns: 

  • Woden
  • Etoile
  • Chireno
  • Denning
  • Augustine
  • Macungie
  • Broaddus
  • Roseville
  • Bronson
  • Pineland
  • Brookeland
  • Brownell
  • Redland
  • Lufkin
  • Huntington
  • Zavalla

Conclusion

The reservoir is a scenic destination for bass anglers, nature enthusiasts, and boaters alike. It may have been created 60 years, but the lake stays current. There are also plenty of ways to relax and enjoy the destination without getting out on the lake. You can enjoy the stars while you camp or play a round of golf. If you’re trying to find a lovely lake for a vacation, Texas’s Sam Rayburn is the lake for you!

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Jordan Pitre/Shutterstock.com


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