Austin Outdoors


Limestone, naturally cool spring water, and long, hot summers combine to make the Austin area's swimming holes irresistable. A dip in a refreshing blue-green pool brings the ideal close to a day of hiking or biking in the Texas Hill Country, and, in some spots, you can also enjoy the shimmering beauty of a cascading waterfall. For some, swimming and soaking in the sun on golden limestone rock might be a perfect way to relax for an entire day. Whatever your pleasure, you'll find there's a good reason that the Hill Country's swimming holes are one of the area's most treasured natural resources. What follows are our favorite spots for water fun around Austin.

Barton Springs Pool

This refreshing, shimmering body of water—always a chilly 68 degrees—has been called an Austin shrine, and people's feelings about the place do border on the religious. Located in Zilker Park south of downtown Austin, the oak- and pecan-shaded pool has attracted people to its shores and to its cool, clear waters, for hundreds of years. Comanche and Tonkawa Indians camped nearby and Spanish Friars located missions at the south end of the pool in the 1700s. Barton Springs Pool was made a city park in 1931, and it now serves as a haven both to serious lap swimmers and to more recreational splashers. Each day almost 32 million gallons of water tumble out of Barton Springs from the Edwards Aquifer.

As idyllic as the pool may be, it is also at the center of serious political controversy. It is the home of the Barton Springs Salamander, an endangered species which lives only in this area. Two environmentalist scientists recently sued (and lost) in an effort to keep the city from performing cleanings that they contend harms the animal. Without cleanings, though, the city said the pool wouldn't be fit for human swimmers. U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks wrote a poem as part of his decision, which began,"Barton Springs is a true Austin shrine, A hundred years of swimming sublime. Now the plaintiffs say swimmers must go, 'Cause of 'stress' to critters, 50 or so." He ruled against the plantiffs, but the city and the US Fish and Wildlife service are still trying to determine if changes need to be made to accommodate the salamanders.

At the moment, the pool is open to swimmers from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, except during regular maintenance. There is no admission fee from November through mid March. From mid March through October, Seniors and adults pay $2 on weekdays and $2.25 weekends. Students $.50, and children $.25. For more information, call (512) 476-9044.

Hamilton Pool Preserve

After flowing over limestone outcrops, Hamilton Creek plunges 50 feet into a deep grotto that forms three sides of Hamilton Pool, then it flows through a gorgeous canyon surrounded by lush vegetation on its way to the Pedernales River. This cool, serene setting is wonderful for hiking and picnicking as well as swimming, and the area is also home to some rare plant and animal species.

The preserve is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, but the pool is sometimes closed when bacteria counts get too high. Call (512) 264-2740 before heading out to the preserve. It is located 27 miles north-west of Austin. Follow Highway 71 west to Hamilton Pool Road, which leads to the preserve. Entrance fees are $5 per vehicle and $2 per pedestrian/bicycle.

Bull Creek

Hidden off a small side road, just west of Loop 360, about 0.5 mile south of Spicewood Springs Road, you'll find one of Austin's most enchanting swimming spots—Bull Creek. As you slip into this small but deep blue pool, surrounded by limestone outcroppings, you might almost forget that you're in the city. (Well, if you ignore all of the other people....). There are numerous rock ledges upon which to lie and catch a few rays until you're ready to immerse yourself in the cool water once again. There is no entrance fee. There are two small parking lots and restroom facilities just off the small road.

Deep Eddy Pool

This large, spring-fed swimming pool is another of Austin's aquatic treasures. It's divided in two—a shallow end for the little ones and a deeper section for lap swimmers—and it's surrounded by lush, green grass. Deep Eddy is located just west of MoPac Blvd on Deep Eddy Avenue at Lake Austin Boulevard. Admission fees: Adults $2; Age 12-17, 75 cents; Under 11, 50 cents. Call (512) 472-8546 for more information.

Emma Long Metropolitan Park

Swim in beautiful Lake Austin along the mile of wooded shoreline in Emma Long Park. It's open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.. The entrance fee is $3 per vehicle Monday through Thursday, and $5 on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. To get there, head west on 290 (the street name changes to Koenig at Airport, to Allendale at Burnet, to Northland at Shoal Creek and to FM 2222 at Balcones) Turn south on City Park Rd (just west of Loop 360). Proceed south for 6.2 miles to entrance of park.

Hippie Hollow

This section of Lake Travis, with its rock cliffs and peaceful coves, is most famous for its clothing-optional policy. You must be 18 or older to enter this place—the only nude beach in Texas. This uniqueness draws quite a few gawkers and oddballs, though, so, despite the beauty of its natural setting, Hippie Hollow is certainly not for everyone.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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