The Much Loved Swimmin’ Holes of the Hill Country
The clear, cold waters that gurgle up from underground aquifers provide the best spots to spend a sweltering summer afternoon. For thousands of years, travelers have taken to these refuges for an afternoon of rejuvenation. Some of these natural spas are protected from the sear of the sun and hung with green, the solitude broken only by the tunes of trickling waterfalls. Others serve as the setting of the most egalitarian of gatherings: rich and poor, young and old, brought together to rest and find relief from the heat. We’ve put together a list of some of the best, so next time you need to find a cooler spot to while away a day, pick up your suit and plunge into a long cherished Texas tradition.
Oh, The Old Swimmin’ Hole, Her Cool Waters Ran Deep
When the sidewalk feels like a griddle and your shirt’s drenched with sweat, you know where to go — the old swimmin’ hole. There are dozens of these natural oases scattered throughout the Hill Country, but a few really stand out. An afternoon spent at one of these well-loved gifts of nature is one of the best ways to relax and unwind, and it costs a lot less than a day at the spa.
Comin’ Across Krause
Thirty miles west of Austin, in Spicewood Springs, is a natural wonder. Owned by Elton and Jane Krause, this 115-acre property runs along Cypress Creek, and is a favorite destination for swimmers and splashers alike. But Krause Springs is so much more than a swimming hole. Cliffs, riddled with caves, are shadowed by large cypress trees that surround the creek. The 70-degree water, delivered by 32 springs, keeps the heat of summer at bay, and enchants everyone who enters this natural sanctuary. The springs have created lush spaces with trickling waterfalls and clear, blue-green pools that offer an undeniable invitation. Water from a couple of the springs has been collected in a man-made swimming pool that’s crowned with a rock waterfall, perfect for those that feel the need to get some laps in. A beautifully landscaped butterfly garden, replete with chimes and sculptures, provides a secluded space for rest and reflection. Campers can pitch a tent or hook up the RV. Large, modern restrooms with showers, along with plenty of picnic tables and outdoor cooking areas, serve overnight campers and visitors.
Jacob’s Deep, Deep Well
Jacob’s Well is, in many ways, a typical Central Texas swimming hole. Fed by the Trinity Aquifer, the cool water is a welcome respite from summer heat. The force of the upwell was, at one time, so strong that it rushed out at 170 gallons per second, rising six feet into the air. Swimmers found it impossible to descend because the force of the water would just push them back up to the surface. But in recent years the water level has dropped off, making exploration possible. The surface of this 12-foot pool belies its awesome size — this is the deepest underwater cave in Texas, measured to at least twelve stories, and exploration of this unlikely fissure has lured several daring cave divers to their deaths. An unstable mix of gravel and silt resting at different levels inside the cave can, once disturbed, quickly turn the clear waters of Jacob’s Well into a murky fog, disorienting and trapping divers. In 1984, the cave was closed to recreational divers in recognition of the dangers it posed.
This is a beautiful spot with an undeniable allure, and a recent purchase of 50 acres surrounding the pool will help to preserve it. For most visitors, it’s a welcome link to the aquifers that make life in Central Texas possible. Tours teach visitors about the rich history and fascinating geology of this area, and folks still visit to take a dip in the mouth of the cave.
Thousands of years ago, when the dome of an underground river collapsed, a pool was formed by the resulting waterfall. Today, this is one of the most picturesque locations in the Hill Country, and an enticement to hot and weary Texans from all over the state. Folks come here to swim, hike, picnic, and revel in the beauty of the scenery, including a 45-foot waterfall. The shade formed by the natural cave, along with the lush green cliffs and meadows, make this one of the most beautiful — and popular — swimming holes. Located about 30 miles west of Austin on FM 3238 (Hamilton Pool Road), the park surrounding Hamilton Pool was designated as a historic preserve in 1990. At the time, its popularity had damaged some of the vegetation and caused concern about the pool’s future. But efforts to restore the natural beauty of the site have been successful, and today you can enjoy it at its best. Space at the park is limited to 75 cars, and visitors are asked to leave their pets at home.
The Swimming Hole that defines the City
There are few landmarks more beloved than Barton Springs Pool. Formed by a dam, this 900-foot pool has achieved legendary status in Central Texas. It’s a favorite for locals and visitors alike, especially during the sweltering summer, when the water — which maintains a constant temperature between 68 and 72 degrees — provides a cool way to spend an afternoon.
Folks have been enjoying the springs here for centuries. William Barton (“Uncle Billy” to his friends) settled the area in 1837 and promoted the springs, encouraging tourism to the newly incorporated city of Austin. The last private owner of the springs, Andrew Jackson Zilker, gave the property to the City of Austin in 1918, which has continually preserved and maintained the area ever since. It’s a place where folks from every community, every income bracket and every age come together to share in the gifts of nature. Truly the most beautiful jewel in this well-adorned city, it has become a mainstay of Austin recreation and is well worth a first (or repeat) visit.
Paddle around the Pedernales
Pedernales Falls is formed by a long stretch of undulating rock faces that create a cascade of water. Opened in 1971, this 5,200-acre park provides places to paddle in little pools or tube with the current of nature’s own water park. Swimming is a special focus for visitors, but there are plenty of campsites for those who want to spend more than a hot afternoon along one of the most beautiful rivers in Texas. There are miles of hiking, mountain biking and equestrian trails. Sometimes a trickle, sometimes a thunderous roll, these falls require a special note of caution: flash floods can occur very quickly, even without rain in the immediate area. Check with Texas Parks and Wildlife before you head out, as conditions change daily.
Sidebar of Related Information
Afraid to get in the water?
If you haven’t taken advantage of our great swimming holes because … well … you just never learned how to swim, there are lots of places where you can get comfortable in the water before the next pool party invitation arrives. If you want to polish your skills or develop skills you never had, check out any of these organizations.
- Austin Parks and Recreation — Classes for all ages at 22 sites throughout the city. Most classes have a minimum of four or a maximum of ten students. Fees run about $55 per session (includes eight classes per session).
- West Austin Athletic Club — Classes for all age groups in three locations. Private, semi-private and group lessons are available for fees that range from $50 to $12 per class.
- Longhorn Aquatics — Train with the University of Austin at any level — from beginner to Olympian. Fees are monthly, and tryouts are required for some programs.
- Westover Hills Club — Westover offers programs for adults and kids, as well as the Wild Orca Swim Team. Programs are available for members of all ages.
- Nitro Swim School — Nitro has programs at two Austin locations. Classes are available for all age groups, and run $69 per month for one 30-minute lesson per week.