UPDATED JUL 27, 2020
The hike may be hard. You may get lost more than once. The water is probably freezing. But discovering your town’s natural swimming holes tops overly chlorinated pools any day. The secret is out, but these spots are 100% Austin bucket-listers.
If escaping the heat is your main goal, Barton Springs Pool is the best place to do it. The water is spring-fed and sustains a bone-chilling 68 degrees year-round. Wade in the deep end, take a jump off the diving board, or spend your afternoon people-watching. You will certainly understand where the motto “keep Austin weird” came from. Bonus: You don’t need to pay an entrance fee to enjoy the best of Barton Springs. The greenbelt is free, and along the hiking path, you can find Gus Fruh and Twin Falls — two great places to take a relaxing dip or throw yourself off a rope swing.
Is it a cave? A hole in a rock? A freshwater beach? It’s all of these things, and it’s glorious. Hamilton Pool in Dripping Springs is one of Texas’s greatest natural treasures. The turquoise waterfall and access to hikes around the pool provide plenty of entertainment, but laying on the shore and taking in the beauty is pretty hard to leave.
The Blue Hole is not just another spring-fed swimming hole in the Texas Hill Country, it’s adventureland for the daring… and overheated. Though they change location over time, the tree-lined riverbank hosts some of the most adrenaline-pumping rope swings in the state. Some brave souls will even tote goggles to see what lies beneath the surface, but most of us prefer to stay in the ‘ignorance is bliss’ camp.
An easy hike will take you to this famous spot near Wimberley, which looks a bit like a chasm to the underworld. The water is frigid, and you may have to wait while the group ahead encourages their nervous friend to take the plunge. The refreshing water and surrounding trees supply plenty of reprieve from the Texas heat, but the beauty and mystery of the Well are what make this place a must-see.
Don’t let the name fool you — this place is more country than metropolitan for sure. Every day here has the chance to be a perfect day; the wild, unpaved paths to the lake are surrounded by fields of wildflowers. And if you have the self-discipline to resist the scent of BBQ for hours, throw your pool float off the dock near the picnic area and relax in Lake Austin for an enjoyable afternoon.
Doesn’t it sound appealing to dip your toes into the oldest swimming pool in Texas? Don’t let old turn you off — it’s fresh, we promise. While us Texans may yearn for the alternative alcohol form of Deep Eddy, the water filling the pool comes from an artesian well and offers a great deal of entertainment. The scoop: In the summer, you can catch a movie on the lawn at one of the pool’s Splash Party Movie Nights.
There’s no fast track to Sculpture Falls, but the hike makes that first dunk under the water so much more rewarding. Head out through the MoPac or Hill of Life entrance to the greenbelt. There, the water has carved out unique patterns in the rocks and spills over into a deep swimming area. No matter the season, you’re in for a show with your swim. Kick back and watch as some take the plunge off the cliffs and practice their balance on a slackline across the canyon.
Krause Springs, near Spicewood, is two awesome experiences in one; check out the upper-level man-made pool for a relaxing dip, OR venture off to the lower pool for a prime glance at Texas nature. And go ahead and pitch a tent — you can stay here overnight, and you’ll want the morning to explore the 32 different springs around the park. Oh, and don’t forget to snap a few pics under the most photographed waterfall in Texas, which you can swim to.
If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, this is the place to go. St. Edward's Park is an unmarked gem hidden deep in the Bull Creek area. Other than the 360 Bridge, this is the closest you’re going to get to climbing a mountain in Austin. Hike through wildflowers and mesquite trees to the top of the cliffs for a breathtaking view of the Texas Hill Country. If you’re really feeling it, the waterfall at the bottom flows into a stream you could follow for miles, but most of us just give up and splash around.
You haven’t experienced a Texas summer until you’ve floated the San Marcos River's 75 miles of spring-fed, crystal clear waters. But if you aren’t in for the long haul, there’s no better place to yell “Yeehawww!” than on your way down the Rio Vista Falls. Not feeling it? Sit on a boulder around and people-watch — locals run up and down the falls fearlessly like they’ve been doing it since they were toddlers (because they have).
Clothes: optional. Hippie Hollow is the only public nude park in Texas! But don’t worry — plenty of folks have fun here even with their clothes on. This remote entrance to Lake Travis is most known for hosting sunbathers and carefree locals taking the dive into the beautiful blue water. But for goodness sake, be careful when taking pictures — you’re likely to experience some interesting photobombs.
An island? In Texas? Yup, about 17.5 acres of pure paradise. Hiking, canoeing, and fishing are just a few of the activities enjoyed in this unique park. No boats are allowed to roam Lady Bird Lake in this area, so swimmers and paddleboarders are the only water traffic you’ll find. And if you want to roll with Fido, let him roam free! The whole isle is an off-leash dog park.
Ah, the mysterious secret beach. If you don’t mind freshwater, you won’t have to drive to Galveston to satisfy your seaside cravings. A short hike through the Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park will take you to this sometimes-secluded place. Bring your beach towel and plant your toes in the sand — if you close your eyes, you might just be able to convince yourself there’s the smell of salt in the air.
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