A dozen great Texas swimming holes


by By MARY G. RAMOS / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News


Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:40 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 20 at 11:11 AM

It's summer, and you're looking for that picture-perfect, old-fashioned swimmin' hole: a pool of crystal-clear spring water, lots of shade trees and maybe a rope swing.

We found them for you: a dozen great Texas pools that fill the bill.

The first three are the pure deal: all-natural, spring-fed, no chemicals, gorgeous setting.

The next four are also spring-fed and picturesque, but with man-made enhancements such as concrete sides. Then we list five free-flowing rivers with super, natural swimming areas.

Most of these pools have big crowds on weekends, and some close their parking lots when facilities are full. Go during the week or really early in the day on weekends.

Natural pools

Krause Springs, Spicewood: Ask any five people to name the most beautiful swimming hole in Texas, and all of them will name Krause Springs. A 20-foot, spring-fed waterfall cascades over a fern-bedecked ledge into a clear, blue-green pool. Hanging onto a rope swing, you arc out over the water and splash into the cool pool (a constant 70 degrees). Krause Springs is open all year for camping and swimming.

Little-known fact: The campground has 32 springs.

Hamilton Pool Nature Preserve, Travis County: Spring-fed Hamilton Creek becomes a 50-foot waterfall as it launches itself off rocks into the lovely natural pool, edged by a sandy beach and shaded by a cave-like overhang. Golden-cheeked warblers hang out around here, and chatterbox orchids thrive along the creek. The pool area was loved almost to death in the past, so access now is limited. Trails invite you explore the preserve's natural beauty.

Little-known fact: Hamilton Pool has been open to paying visitors since the early 1900s.

Blue Hole, Wimberley: Some residents would love to keep this cypress-shaded pool a secret. Three rope swings invite visitors to cannonball into the blue-green spring water of Cypress Creek. Bring a picnic to eat in the shady grass.

Little-known fact: The Blue Hole is on land once owned by the family of famed Texas writer J. Frank Dobie. The Dobies opened the Blue Hole to swimmers in 1928.

Spring-fed, enhanced

Balmorhea State Park pool, Toyahvale: It may be the biggest swimming pool you've ever seen. The V-shaped, 77,000-square-foot pool was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s in the foothills of West Texas' Davis Mountains. The crystal-clear, 74-degree, untreated waters of San Solomon Springs gush through the two-acre pool at the rate of a million gallons an hour. The CCC also built the park's 18-room, Spanish colonial-style motel, San Solomon Courts.

Little-known fact: Swimmers share the pool with fish, turtles, snakes (nonpoisonous) and, sometimes, scuba divers.

Barton Springs Pool, Austin: This tree-shaded oasis is a favorite summertime site for cooling off - really cooling off. Flowing through the 1,000-by-125-foot pool every day are 27 million gallons of spring water at a goose-bump-inducing 68 degrees. These waters have attracted visitors for centuries: prehistoric tribes, Spanish missionaries and thousands of University of Texas students.

Little-known fact: Actor Robert Redford learned to swim at Barton Springs one summer while he was visiting a relative.

Lake Tejas, Colmesneil: Summer trips to Lake Tejas are a treasured family tradition for people who grew up in the area. The spring-fed lake in the East Texas Piney Woods was built in 1939 as a family camping and recreation area. Added attractions: a sandy beach; slides or diving platforms; inner tubes, canoes and paddleboats; and a concession stand.

Little-known fact: The lake was originally dug in the shape of Texas. Years of erosion, plus a storm in 1950, altered its shape.

Landa Park, New Braunfels: Of the three pools in Landa Park, our fave is a 1.5 million-gallon pool fed by 72-degree water straight out of Comal Springs, complete with rope swing, zip line, slide and a shallow play area. The other two are an Olympic pool and a wading pool. The nearby Prince Solms Tube Chute offers a zippy ride on the river. Shaded by giant oaks, the 190-acre municipal park also offers miniature golf, a miniature train, paddleboats, trails, golf, playground and picnic area.

Little-known fact: A Spanish mission occupied the site in the mid-18th century.

River swimming

Dinosaur Valley State Park, Glen Rose: Splash around where dinosaurs once roamed. This is the other Blue Hole, a popular natural swimming pool in the Paluxy River, which ranges from 12 to 21 feet deep. The pool area's rock ledge has numerous tracks of large, three-toed, meat-eating dinosaurs. Several other track sites are around the park. The Blue Hole is near the park's exhibit of life-size fiberglass dinosaur models.

Little-known fact: The dinosaur models were originally created for the 1964-65 New York World's Fair.

Garner State Park, Concan: This 1,420-acre park includes 10 water acres of the Frio River. But don't limit yourself to swimming in the cool, blue-green river shaded by giant cypress trees. The park also offers camping, miniature golf, and paddle boats, kayaks and inner tubes for rent.

Little-known fact: You can dance to a jukebox at the concession building every night in summer.

Blanco State Park, Blanco: This park is only a tad over 100 acres, but it has a series of low-water dams that create wonderful swimming areas. The park is almost in the middle of town and is also convenient to many other Hill Country attractions.

Little-known fact: The source of the Blanco River is a spring, now in the park, which was a water source for 19th-century settlers when the river was dry.

Guadalupe River State Park, Spring Branch: Four miles of frontage on a river lined with old-growth cypress trees make this a popular park for river activities. Done swimming? You can go canoeing, tubing, fishing or hiking.

Little-known fact: The park adjoins Honey Creek State Natural Area. See it on a guided tour at 9 a.m. Saturdays. Call the park to confirm.

Colorado Bend State Park, Bend: On the Colorado River above Lake Buchanan, this 5,800-acre park boasts terrific river swimming. Insiders say the best spots are on the Spicewood Springs Trail. A must-do extra is a hike to breathtakingly beautiful, 60-foot Gorman Falls (no swimming). Other activities: hiking, camping, fishing, birding and mountain biking.

Little-known fact: Look for endangered golden-cheeked warblers and black-capped vireos as well as threatened bald eagles here.

There's your dozen. Now grab your suit and towel and hit the road.

Mary G. Ramos, a Dallas freelance writer, is former editor of the Texas Almanac.

ERICH SCHLEGEL/Special Contributor
Krause Springs in Spicewood has a spring-fed waterfall and a rope swing for making a dramatic entrance.

Krause Springs is 35 miles west of Austin near Spicewood. Take Texas Highway 71 west from Austin, cross the Pedernales River, drive seven more miles, turn right on Spur 191 at the Exxon Station, right on County Road 404, and left on Krause Springs Road. The park is open year-round. There's a second, 60-by-20-foot manmade pool. Both pools are open daily from 9 a.m. to sundown. No lifeguards.

No pets or glass containers allowed. No food concessions, but snow cones and drinks are for sale in summer. Picnic tables and barbecue pits are available.

Fee: 12 and older, $5; ages 4-11, $4; younger than 4, free. Camping: adult, $10; child, $5; $10 per RV campsite. Cash or check only.

Contact: 830-693-4181; www.krausesprings.net

ERICH SCHLEGEL/Special Contributor
Hamilton Pool Nature Preserve in Travis County is a natural pool shaded by a cavelike overhang.

Hamilton Pool Nature Preserve is open daily year-round, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., weather permitting. Take Highway 71 west of Austin through the town of Bee Cave and turn left on FM 3238 (Hamilton Pool Road). Travel 13 miles to the entrance, on your right. Distance: 30 miles. The park may close because of flooding or other hazards, and the pool may close due to high bacteria levels after a rain. Call before going.

Parking is limited to 75 vehicles, with cars admitted on a "one out, one in" basis after capacity is reached each day. No lifeguards, no drinking water. Prohibited: pets, glass containers, fireworks, fires, cooking, fishing, mountain biking and firearms. Disabled visitors can be accommodated with prior notice.

Fee: $8 per vehicle; $3 each for pedestrians or bicyclists. Cash, check or money order.

Contact: 512-264-2740; www.co.travis.tx.us (click on "parks")

The Blue Hole at Wimberley is open from May 30 to Sept. 7: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and holidays. From Highway 12 at the Wimberley Square, turn east on Old Kyle Road (the only direction it goes). Turn left on Blue Hole Road, between Wimberley Cemetery and First Baptist Church. Distance from town to Blue Hole Road is four-tenths of a mile. Bring a picnic. No lifeguards. Pets prohibited.

Fee: ages 13 to 59, $6; ages 3-12 and 60 and older, $3; 2 and younger, free. Pay with cash or check.

Contact: 512-847-0025; www.vil.wimberley.tx.us (click on "Blue Hole")

Barton Springs Pool is in Austin's Zilker Park. Open year-round, except for spring cleaning in late February through mid-March. Call or visit Web site for pool schedule, including when lifeguards are on duty. Fee: ages 18-61, $3; ages 12-17, $2; 62 and older and 11 and younger, $1. Parking, March through September, $3.

The surrounding 351-acre Zilker Park is also home to Zilker Botanical Gardens, Austin Nature and Science Center, Umlauf Sculpture and Garden Center, miniature train ride, hike and bike trails, picnic facilities, and fields for soccer, sand volleyball, rugby and disc golf.

Contact: 2101 Barton Springs Road; 512-476-9044; www.ci.Austin.tx.us/parks/bartonsprings.htm

Balmorhea State Park in Toyahvale is open year-round. West of Fort Stockton about 55 miles, south of Interstate 10 on Texas Highway 17. No additional fee for pool. No lifeguards. No concessions; food available in Balmorhea, four miles north. Park store has snacks and drinks.

Construction of a wetlands exhibit is ongoing, but park operations aren't affected.

Fee: 13 or older, $7; 12 and younger, free. Campsite: $11 to $17 per day, depending on hookups. San Solomon Courts: room with two double beds, $60; three double beds, $75; two double beds and kitchen, $80. Rates are for double occupancy; additional adults, $7 each. No additional fee for 12 and younger. Motel guests don't pay separate park fee. Major credit cards, personal checks, traveler's checks or cash.

Contact: 432-375-2370; www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/balmorhea

Lake Tejas, is at Colmesneil, which is 14 miles north of Woodville and 44 miles south of Lufkin. Drive east on FM 256 from U.S. Highway 69 at Colmesneil and turn left on the Lake Tejas Loop. Camping year-round. Swimming May through September: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Lifeguards on duty. No alcohol, glass containers, ATVs, guns, pets, cooking or smoking in swimming area. No diapers in lake except Little Swimmers.

Swimming: 2 and older, $4. Picnic table: $5. Three cabins (large, $75 per day; small, $45 per day), numerous RV sites and campsites. Camping: day use, $10 per day; primitive sites, $6; others $12 to $25 per night; RV sites, $25 per night.

Reservations: 409-837-2063 or 409-837-5757, ext. 100; www.esc5.net/colmesneil/Laketejas.htm

Pools at Landa Park Aquatic Complex in New Braunfels are open daily from late May through mid-August; weekends only, from early to late May and mid-August to Labor Day. The Olympic pool is closed Mondays and the spring-fed pool Tuesdays for cleaning. Lifeguards on duty.

Fee: ages 13-59, $4; ages 3-12 and 60 and older, $3. Locker rental, $1 plus $5 deposit. Cash or check.

The other attractions in Landa Park are available year-round, weather permitting.

Contact: 350 Aquatic Circle; 830-221-4360; www.nbtexas.org/index.asp?NID=390

Dinosaur Valley State Park is four miles west of Glen Rose.

Take U.S. Highway 67 to the west side of Glen Rose; turn right on FM 205 and right on Park Road 59. No lifeguards. Rubber-soled, waterproof shoes are recommended. Wear long pants for hiking.

Fee: 13 or older, $5. Camping: backpack camping, $12 per night; campsite with water and electricity, $25 per night.

Contact: 254-897-4588; www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/dinosaur_valley

Note: Because of the prolonged drought in the Edwards Plateau west of Austin and San Antonio, some water levels in the following rivers may be low. Check with each of these parks before going, especially if you plan to tube, kayak or boat.

Garner State Park is 92 miles west of San Antonio at Concan. It's at 234 Ranch-to-Market Road 1050, just east of U.S. Highway 83. No lifeguards. Open year-round. Weekends and holidays are often crowded, and the parking lot may close to day visitors. If you have a camping or cabin reservation, you have no parking problem.

Cabins have kitchens. No utensils, dishes, silverware or linens are furnished. Meals and snacks served at concession building.

Fee: 13 and older, $6, day-use only; 13 and older, $4, staying overnight. Campsites: $10 to $20 per night, depending on facilities. Six-person cabins: $80 per night.

Contact: 234 Ranch-to-Market Road 1050; 830-232-6132; www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/garner

Blanco State Park (101 Park Road 23) is four blocks south of the Blanco town square, off U.S. Highway 281. Open year-round. No lifeguards. Rent tubes, canoes and kayaks at the park. Other activities: picnicking, hiking, nature study, boating and fishing.

Fee: 13 and older, $4, day use; 13 and older, $3, overnighting. Camping fees: $17 to $25 per day, depending on facilities.

Contact: 101 Park Road 23; 830-833-4333; www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/blanco

Guadalupe River State Park at Spring Branch is open year-round except during public hunts. Travel west on State Highway 46 a bit over five miles from U.S. Highway 281 and turn north on Park Road 31. No lifeguards. Check Web site for schedule.

Fee: 13 and older, $6. Camping: $14 to $24 per site per night, depending on facilities.

Contact: 3350 Park Road 31; 830-438-2656; www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/guadalupe_river

Colorado Bend State Park is reached via Lampasas. Take FM 580 west 24 miles to Bend and follow signs four 4 miles to park entrance. No lifeguards. Open year-round except during public hunts. Check Web site for schedule. Bring your own food. Sturdy footwear advised for hiking tours. To see Gorman Falls, take a self-guided, 4-mile round-trip tour any day or join a free guided hike at 2 p.m. Saturdays. No gasoline available in Bend.

Fee: 13 or older, $4. Camping: $7 to $14 per campsite per night for primitive, walk-in, and drive-up sites (no RV hookups).

Contact: 325-628-3240; www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/colorado_bend

Mary G. Ramos