Blazing, dusty days. That deep breath before the first frosty plunge. Tarzan-calls—Ahh-eee-ahh!—and cannonballs from rope-swingers above. The tingly warmth of sun-dried skin while basking at water’s edge.... Summer’s here, and our favorite swimming holes are no doubt calling. My dictionary dully defines these aquatic spots as places “…where there is water deep enough to use for swimming.” But come on, we Texans—ever-creative in ways to keep cool—know that definition goes much deeper. Be it a stock tank or a spring-fed grotto, our swimming holes have soul.
Some folks swear by the breathless exhilaration of dips into “goose-bumping” pools like Balmorhea and Barton Springs. But who says you have to swim? I prefer to let the water do the work—on a float in the Rio Frio or a tube in the Guadalupe. And there’s nothing like the soothing whoosh of waterfalls while lazing away on a sparkling granite slab in the Llano. So whether you like to dive right in, or take it one toe at a time, we hope you find the following swimming-hole sampler refreshing.
Swimming Hole Central
What do Texas Highways editors dream of on a torrid summer day? A dip in nearby Barton Springs, of course! Fed daily by some 26 million gallons of cool, emerald springwater, Austin's jewel-of-a-pool, at 2201 Barton Springs Rd. in Zilker Park, has taken top honors for "Best Swimming Spot" in our Readers' Choice surveys. Open year round. Hours: Daily 5 a.m.-10 p.m. Closed Thu 9 a.m.-7 p.m. for cleaning. Admission: $3 for adults, $2 for juniors ages 12–17 and $1 for seniors and children ages 11 and younger. Call 512/476-9044.
One of Wimberley's natural wonders, Blue Hole on Cypress Creek lies on land once owned by historian J. Frank Dobie's family, who opened the spot to swimmers in 1928. Here, rope-swings dangle from huge cypress trees and a bluegrass band plays on Saturday evenings. From Wimberley, take County Rd. 173 east one-half mile; take a left onto Blue Hole Ln. (which is unmarked), and follow the signs. The swimming hole is open for the summer season from May 29 through Labor Day from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and holidays. Open year round for camping. Blue Hole has rustic campsites and RV hookups. The site is a private park; you must purchase a membership to enter. Season pass is $40. Day-use membership costs $7 for adults ( per person, free age 2 and younger. Ask about family membership options. Call 512/847-9127. Web site: www.friendsofbluehole.org
On the north shore of Inks Lake (in Inks Lake State Park), Devil's Waterhole must seem heaven-sent to summer-time swimmers. From Burnet, take Texas 29 west 9 miles to Park Rd. 4, and take a left. Continue for 3 miles to the park entrance. Along with the lake, the park's amenities include tent and RV campsites, hiking trails, and a golf course. Boat rentals available. Open year round. Day-use hours: Daily 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Admission: $4, free age 12 and younger. Call 512/793-2223 for information; 512/389-8900 for camping reservations. Web site: www.tpwd.state.tx.us.
The quintessential swimming hole, with a 60-foot waterfall spilling over a fern-cloaked grotto, Hamilton Pool Preserve lies in southwest Travis County where Hamilton Creek and the Pedernales River converge. From Austin, take Texas 71 west about 13 miles to RR 3238 (Hamilton Pool Rd.), and take a left. Continue 13 miles to the park entrance. Hours: Daily 9-6, trail conditions and water quality permitting. No concessions. Admission: $5 per vehicle. Call 512/264-2740.
In Splash Across Texas, The Definitive Guide to Swimming in Central Texas ($16.95; La Luna Publishing, Austin, 1999; order at 512/441-6524), writer and aqua-ficionada Chandra Moira Beal calls Krause Springs "one of my favorite places on the entire planet. It is so wonderful, I was tempted to…keep it all to myself."
Sorry, Chandra, your secret's out. The 5-acre park near Spicewood has two aquifer-fed pools–one natural and one manmade–shaded by 1,000-year-old cypress trees. From Austin, take Texas 71 west about 35 miles to Spur 191 (Spicewood turnoff), and take a right. Continue past the low-water crossing, and take a left onto a gravel road (this is the park entrance; look for sign). Open year round. Day-use hours: Daily 9 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Tent and RV campsites available. No concessions. Admission: $3, $2.50 ages 4-11, free age 3 and younger. Call 830/693-4181.
Beat the Heat in the East
For some folks in northeast Texas, it's Crystal Springs Beach or bust to kick the summertime blahs. Open since 1947, the spring-fed locale–complete with water rides–is streaked by a 350-foot-long beach of white sand. From Texarkana, take US 67 west 20 miles (through Maud); Crystal Springs will be on the right side of the highway. Hours (through July 30): Tue-Sat 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun noon-6. Also open Aug. 5, 6, and 12 (same hours). Admission: $5.25 Tue-Thu, $6.25 Fri-Sun; $1 off regular admission ages 3-6, free age 2 and younger. Call 903/585-5246.
When I asked longtime contributor Howard Peacock to name his favorite places to stay cool, the Big Thicketeer gushed about Lake Tejas, tucked among East Texas' pines and hardwoods. The spring-fed swimming hole and 27-acre campground lie one mile east of Colmesneil, on the north side of FM 256. Day-use hours: Mon-Sat 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Sun 10-6 (open Memorial Day through Labor Day). Roofed shelters and other campsites available (including RV sites). Admission: $2, $1 age 11 and younger. Ask about season passes, fishing passes, and pedal-boat rentals. Call 409/837-2063.
Refreshed in the West
When they're in West Texas, our regular contributors Jan Edwards and Stephan Myers swear by two cool pools. In her July 1997 TH story on Balmorhea State Park, Jan calls the two-acre park pool, fed by San Solomon Springs, "a liquid paradise of aquamarine waters." It's a great destination for scuba divers, too. From Fort Stockton, take Interstate 10 west 50 miles to Texas 17. Take Texas 17 south about 8 miles to the town of Balmorhea. The park, which also features a 3-acre desert wet-land and boardwalk, lies 4 miles southwest of town at the intersection of Texas 17 and FM 3078. Motel and tent and RV sites available. Open year round. Pool hours: Daily 8 a.m. until a half-hour before dark. Park admission: $3, $2 ages 65-69, free age 12 and younger and age 70 and older. Call 915/375-2370 or 800/792-1112 for information; call 512/389-8900 for camping reservations. Web site: www.tpwd.state.tx.us.
Now part of a privately owned resort and leisure-living community, Fort Clark Springs (covered by Jan Edwards in May 1999) in Brackettville preserves the historic fort, which served soldiers and civilian travelers from 1852 to 1946. Las Moras Creek feeds the fort's concrete pool with a constant flow of 68-degree springwater. You'll find this simultaneously historic and rejuvenating place on Fort Clark Rd., just off US 90. Along with the pool and 80-plus historic fort structures, the grounds include a restaurant, motel, a military museum, nature trails, RV and tent campsites, and more (call for individual day-use hours and any applicable fees). Note: You must be a motel guest or camper–or a resort member or a guest of a member–to use Fort Clark Springs' facilities. Motel rates start at $48 per night for non-members. Call 830/563-2493. Web site: www.fortclark.com.
Inviting Slivers of Rivers
If your summertime theme song is "Take Me to the River," then check out the following sites (call ahead for directions and details on amenities).
On US 281 (at Park Rd. 23) in Blanco, Blanco State Park, on–you guessed it–the Blanco River, offers up a good swimming spot above the low-water crossing and dam. Day-use hours: Daily 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Admission: $3, free age 12 and younger and 70 and older. For information, call 830/833-4333; for camping reservations, call 512/389-8900. Web site: www.tpwd.state.tx.us. For information on places in Wimberley with public access to the Blanco, call the Wimberley Chamber of Commerce, 512/847-2201. Web site: www.visitwimberley.com.
New Braunfels has some cool spots on the Comal, one of the world's shortest rivers (around 3 miles). Landa Park has a spring-fed swimming hole (and two chlorinated pools). Swimming-hole hours through Aug. 20: Daily 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Aug. 21-Sep. 4 (weekends only) 11-7. Days of operation for other pools differ; call ahead. Admission: $4, $3 ages 3-17 and 60 and older, free age 2 and younger. Call 830/608-2164. Prince Solms Park has a fast Tube Chute. Hours: Daily 10 a.m.-7 p.m. through Labor Day. Admission: $5 (includes unlimited rides on Tube Chute). Call 830/608-2165 or 608-2166 (ask about parking fees).
Looking for some fun on the Frio? Then splashing with the masses at Garner State Park's popular swimming hole might do the trick. The park lies 32 miles north of Uvalde on US 83. Day-use hours: Daily 8 a.m.-dark. Admission: $5, free age 11 and younger. Call 830/232-6132. For camp–ing reservations, call 512/389-8900. Web site: www.tpwd.state.tx.us. A more secluded swim awaits downstream at Neal's Lodges (on Texas 127 in Concan). Open year round. Day-use hours: Daily 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Admission: $19.50 per vehicle for up to 4 passengers, $4 for each additional person, free age 4 and younger. Call for cabin, camping, and RV site rates; 830/232-6118. Web site: www.nealslodges.com.
Many tubers choose the Guadalupe River, especially the 20-mile stretch between Sattler and New Braunfels. Tube-rental and other concessions abound here. For details, call the Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce, 830/625-2385 or 800/572-2626. Web site: www.nbcham.org.
Among the swimming spots on the Llano River, The Slab–popular with swimmers and tubers–lies in Kingsland on FM 3404, about a mile west of FM 1431. No amenities. You can also swim in the Llano River at the city park and by Inks Bridge in Llano. Call the Llano Co. Chamber of Commerce, 915/247-5354. Web site: www.llanochamber.org. For details on South Llano River State Park, near Junction, call 915/446-3994 (call 512/389-8900 for camping reservations;Web site: www.tpwd.state.tx.us).
On the San Marcos River in San Marcos, tubers can put in at Sewell Park or at the Lions Club Tube Rentals at City Park, and take out at Rio Vista Park. For information on tube rentals, call the Lions Club at 512/396-5466. For general information, call the San Marcos Chamber of Commerce, 512/393-5900 or 888/200-5620. Web site: www.sanmarcostexas.com.