Lake houses are becoming full-time residences, as more and more city dwellers realize that they might as well work by the water.
I didn’t grow up with a family lake house, but I did marry into one. Twenty-three years ago, both my in-laws had been widowed. About a year before they were married, they bought their lake house and celebrated their wedding there in 2001. The lake represented a fresh start for their combined family, which today includes five children and 12 grandchildren ranging in age from 4 to 25.
Surrounded by dense pine trees and looped with a blacktop road that smells like summer camp in East Texas, our family’s lake retreat is an oasis of calm. It’s not fancy, just two bedrooms and a generous den. But it does have the world’s most perfect fireplace (I don’t know why, but it seriously burns the best fires) and a wonderful deck. It sits up on a hill, so if you lie down on the sofa in the den and look out the panoramic windows, it feels like you’re in a treehouse.
Brooks Lake is a small fishing lake filled with bass and crappie. There’s a spillway and a church retreat center I’ve never seen used, though it is well maintained. Our next-door neighbor is without question the handiest man I’ve ever known. He built most of the boat docks on the lake, and he built our home’s deck. Mr. Dooley is a former band director for the small town of Hawkins, where Brooks Lake is located, and on Easter and Christmas, he gives our boys a private concert of hymns and carols on his trumpet.
In 2011, D Magazine published a story about the best lakes in North Texas to call home. At that time, the greatest challenge facing home buyers was the iffy economy—a prescient warning, indeed. It’s the post-COVID world, however, that has really shaken things up and brought us back to the topic. Twelve years ago, we talked about lake houses as second homes, places to escape your day-to-day, to recharge. Now lake houses are becoming full-time residences, as more and more city dwellers realize that if they can work anywhere, they might as well do it by the water.
Depending on whom you ask, there are 170 lakes in the great state of Texas. Keeping our sights on those within a short drive of Dallas, we’ve picked five of the old standards and two newcomers. Happy lake hunting. May you one day find your own slice of heaven, just as our family has.
Cedar Creek Lake
Do you wish Dallas had a big lake right in the middle of it that you could water-ski on and shoot fireworks over? So does everyone at Cedar Creek Lake. That’s why they’re here. It’s Dallas 2.0 with multimillion-dollar properties selling like you’re right in the heart of HP. At least in certain parts. You can still find nostalgic A-frames and mobile homes around the 320 miles of shoreline, but six years ago Gun Barrel City got a Starbucks, and it hasn’t looked back.
The place to be right now for Dallasites in the know is Long Cove. Real estate agent Rob Schrickel says it was modeled after a development on the Gulf Coast of Florida, and the cheapest lots start at $1.2 million. Replete with its own fire department, Long Cove provides all the luxury amenities you’d expect from a vacation—think concierge boating services, resort-style pools, picturesque golfing, and pickleball. Pinnacle Golf Club is another very desirable location also on the east side of Cedar Creek, very near the towns of Mabank and Gun Barrel City. Known for its great golf, Pinnacle is another million-dollar-plus gated community that attracts Dallasites who want everything they have at home—but by the lake.
In the past four years, things have really taken off. “Cedar Creek has really upped its game,” Schrickel says. “Before the pandemic, the lake was almost entirely second homes, but today I’d say close to 30 percent are permanent residents. That’s huge.”
Higher-end residents attract higher-end recreation, and today there are vineyards and breweries and coursed-meal restaurants. There’s also a Walmart and plenty of Brookshire’s in proximity to meet all your day-to-day grocery needs.
Texoma is experiencing a bit of a renaissance. Tanglewood, the OG Texoma resort, built in the 1960s, completed a comprehensive renovation in 2022 that updated all the rooms, the pool area, and the Arnold Palmer-designed golf course. Marina del Rey, on the Oklahoma side, is a hot new marina featuring easy lake access and lodging in shipping containers.
“Blake Shelton really put us on the map,” says Lisa Hitchcock, a Texoma native and real estate agent. “His home in Kingston, Oklahoma, kicked off the revitalization of that entire area, and it’s continued all around the lake.”
Still in the infrastructure development phase, Point Vista, near Kingston, promises to be the premier master-planned community in luxury lakefront living for Texoma. The property will feature 84 single-family lots and 58 lakeside and hilltop residences. When the 11-phase development plan is complete, the property will boast a waterfront town center, a casino (OK!), a convention center, an entertainment complex, a water park, a golf course, a 900-slip marina, restaurants, waterfront housing, and three resort hotels.
“Whenever I am showing a client Texoma for the first time, I have them meet me at Tanglewood,” Hitchcock says. “I take them up to the top of the tower there on-site and give them one of the best views of the lake.” From that vantage point “you overlook all the islands, which are a big draw, and you can decide where you want to be.”
With nearly 75,000 surface acres of water, it’s impossible to feel crowded, but it is difficult to decide where you want to be. In a place where you can boat, swim, fish, go to the beach, enjoy watersports, and play golf, how do you choose your spot? Hitchcock recommends a sunset cruise on the lake. You can go eagle-watching while getting the lay of the land.
Lakefront inventory is low but tends to pick up in March—the start of lake season according to Hitchcock. “I just love it here,” she says. “It’s changed so much. It used to be I-75 didn’t even come up this far, and now all the Metroplex builders are coming up. There were 200 new homes built last year alone.”
Lake Cypress Springs
Lake Cypress Springs is lush with pine trees and feels remote, though it’s located at the base of the golden triangle of East Texas up-and-comers: Mount Vernon, Winnsboro, and Sulphur Springs. These well-established communities are growing and refreshing their town squares, attracting fine dining, artists, multicultural events, and new energy not seen in over a century.
“I think we are experiencing a resurgence of small-town life,” says Bradley Edge, a lifelong resident of Sulphur Springs and real estate agent who sells at Lake Cypress Springs. “Since COVID, more and more families are coming out here to start new lives.”
The newest development is the Eagle’s Nest, a 13-lot gated community located on the northeast corner of the lake, featuring lots between .8 and 1.5 acres. Only a limited number of lots will be listed for sale in any given year.
“It’s getting harder and harder to find something affordable now that people are coming out here permanently,” Edge says. He clarifies: “By affordable, I mean under $750,000. You can get something that hasn’t been updated for $400,000, but those are almost impossible to find.”
Making Lake Cypress Springs your permanent residence has major perks, like the amazing community you buy into. Edge says that’s what really makes the lake a special place: the people. Each neighborhood has its own feel, and all around the lake you’ll find neighborhood Fourth of July parades and no-occasion multifamily cookouts.
Real estate agent Trish McGuffey has lived in East Texas her entire life and been selling properties at Lake Athens for 24 years. Athens is something of a well-kept secret. Those in the know often come from Highland Park—so much so that Lake Athens is referred to as Highland Park II.
It’s also nearly impossible to find available property. “There’s hardly anything,” McGuffey says. “There’s three available now, listed at $1.5 million, $2.2 million, and $3.5 million. Lots on the north side of the lake are going for $600,000 to $800,000 a pop. That’s just the land.”
Slightly more affordable than Highland Park proper, but what that money buys you can’t be beat: stunning scenery. The lake is hidden by dense East Texas pine trees. Those trees and the lake’s small size mean that when nearby lakes are choppy, Athens might be perfectly still.
“It’s like glass. Early in the morning or at sunset, it’s like glass,” McGuffey says. “The reflection off the water is absolutely beautiful. You don’t see that anywhere else.”
Lake Athens is also home to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center, which draws 60,000 visitors a year—mostly from schools and youth groups, which is good, because this demographic is not looking to buy. The center houses a hatchery, lab, aquarium, and education center focused on all things freshwater in Texas. Lake records show a 36-pound catfish was caught in 2012, which is terrifying, but the lake is primarily known for great bass fishing.
Possum Kingdom Lake
From above, Possum Kingdom looks like a dragon tattoo carved into the eastern edge of West Texas. You won’t find another lake like it in the entire state. “You can drive the lake 10,000 times and you’ll see something new each time,” says real estate agent Justin Anderson.
This makes sense given the lake has nearly 16,000 acres of open water surrounded by rocky cliffs, rolling hills, and lush coves. Devil’s Gate has been a popular party spot for decades and hosted the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in 2018. (Since then, the competition has gone to such places as Norway, Italy, and Spain.)
Development at Possum Kingdom is not new. There are a number of luxury communities: The Ranch, which features log-cabin-style construction; The Harbor, featuring man-made lakes inside the community; The Cliffs, with great golf; Gaines Bend, boasting fantastic waterfront access; and Sportsman’s World, with luxury homes and an awesome name. But COVID created a frenzy of property sales that has sent builders into overdrive.
“There’s a new development coming up on the Peninsula,” Anderson says. “It’ll be unlike anything out here. It’s still early, so I can’t say too much, but the new development will be entirely residential.” With only 500 feet shy of a full mile of undeveloped shoreline, the new luxury community will feature sandy beaches on each lot, as well as the most “to-die-for oak trees you’ve ever seen.”
While there are extravagant properties at Possum Kingdom, there’s still room for the Everyman. It’s big enough to run the gamut from 1950s cabins with no updates (under $200,000), all the way up to impressive show houses (over $4 million).
“The lake is almost always clear, almost always full, and, even though it is crowded, never feels that way,” Anderson says.
Wow! Who knew there was a lake there?!” This is a common refrain real estate agent and resident Annette Goolsby hears all the time. An ideal lake retreat just off I-45, Richland-Chambers remains a bit of a hidden gem, despite the rapid growth the area is experiencing due to—you guessed it—COVID.
“Right now, there are 18 waterfront properties available,” Goolsby says. (This story went to press in early March.) “This time four years ago, there would have been 35 or 40. In 2020 alone, over 200 waterfront lots sold.”
There is a lot to love about Richland-Chambers Lake. It still feels like a rural hideaway, but it’s a stone’s throw from Corsicana, so you have access to shopping and good medical care. Door to door, you can get to Love Field in an hour and 45 minutes. The lake offers some of the best fishing in Texas, and it gets spotty cellular reception, which is a plus for folks who welcome the excuse for being out of touch.
“The roads are good because the highway literally borders it [I-45 and Highway 287 loop it],” Goolsby says. “And people tell me this all the time—and nothing against some of the other lakes—but people who visit and have recently been to some other lakes in the area, they say our water just seems prettier.”
There are about 60 subdivisions surrounding the lake. The newest gated community is Diamond Point, where every single lot sold on the first day they all hit the market. This is a common theme at the lake no one knew existed. There are stringent deed restrictions in place, which prevent temporary homes, aka mobile or prefab construction. The least-expensive single-home property on the lake is in the $450,000 ballpark, and the most expensive property in MLS at press time was listed at $2.9 million.
Bois d’Arc Lake
The funny thing about “new” lakes is that they typically take 20 to 30 years to create. When D Magazine last had a look at North Texas lakes, in 2011, Richland-Chambers was the newest lake in Texas. Construction bonds were issued in 1979, and its dam was closed in 1987, which is when the reservoir began filling up (“impounding” water).
Bois d’Arc Lake now reigns as the newest in Texas, as it began impounding water in 2021. It’s still not ready for recreational use, but that is anticipated to occur in the next six months or so; that part is up to mother nature. While we wait for a good rainstorm or two, planning is well underway for this highly anticipated, master-planned luxury lakeside community just east of Bonham. Bois d’Arc is 10 times the size of Lake Athens and provides a similar cachet and privacy but on larger lots.
“All the lots are huge, between 1 and 5 acres apiece. This is unprecedented,” says real estate agent Suzanne Warner. “The real value is in the linear water frontage. These aren’t shotgun lots. They’re wide, so you get amazing waterfront access.”
Development will feature high-end retail and dining options and watersports. But, again, there needs to be enough water first. Bois d’Arc will be the first Texas lake stocked with a selectively bred trophy bass known as the ShareLunker 581. The fish is expected to naturally populate the lake by the time the reservoir fills and stock ponds mature.
Warner represents clients in Vail, Aspen, Telluride, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “People are downsizing in town and upsizing at the lake,” she says. “If you want a place to retreat and create your own personal family compound—your own little fiefdom—this is the place to do it.”
Bois d’Arc won’t hold its title as Texas’ newest lake for very long. Due south, straight as the crow flies, Lake Ralph Hall should be impounding water by 2026. Right now, it’s just a grassy meadow outside of Ladonia. What lies in store is another much-needed reservoir for North Texas but also maybe the next best luxury within driving distance of Dallas. [Editor’s note: this article when originally published indicated that there are no restrictions on building docks at Bois d’Arc. That is incorrect. The North Texas Municipal Water District oversees a Shoreline Management Plan that requires an application for boat docks and other shore improvements. Further, the story said that Suzanne Warner had exclusive access to the parcels at Bois d’Arc. That, too, was incorrect. We regret the errors.]
This story originally appeared in the April issue of D Magazine with the headline, “On the Waterfront.” Write to [email protected].