Austin’s 11 Most Essential Swimming Holes
No shoes, no shirt, no problemo.
As I write this, Austin is undergoing its first nearly triple-digit day of 2022. We have arrived—the AC is cranking, the dogs are meandering through the parks in search of shade, and everybody is blowing up their group chats making plans to hit the water.
If you’re a local, you’re no stranger to the heat, and most likely have a laundry list of cool-down strategies ready to deploy. But, if you’re one of the many northern Tex-pats who landed in ATX without a full understanding of the power of the Texas sun, you’re probably scrambling to find relief. Fear not, help is here.
To combat the subtropical fires, Austin mercifully provides a whole host of natural and manmade swimming holes scattered throughout the metro area. From remote payoffs at the end of a hike to packed, party-friendly pools, there’s a splashy respite within driving distance suited for any and all summertime needs. Here are the 11 coolest and most refreshing places to swim near Austin.
Hippie Hollow Park
Bearing the distinction of the only clothing-optional public park in the state of Texas, Hippie Hollow certainly isn’t for everyone. But if you’re comfortable letting it all go (and hanging out with others doing the same), this little stretch on Lake Travis provides a uniquely Austin experience. Established (probably unsurprisingly) in the post-Woodstock era, Hippie Hollow and its droves of devotees fought for decades to keep skinny-dipping here not only legal, but enthusiastically encouraged. Though it’s often touted as a nude beach, you shouldn't expect much sand, as the Hollow is actually a rocky slope with natural limestone steps leading down to the water.
Know before you go: It might seem obvious, but this isn’t the place for selfies. There’s a strict policy against unsolicited photography, and while nudity is allowed, lewd behavior is not. There’s also an $8 daily fee, and the gate is cash-only.
Where to eat/drink: If you’re already out on Lake Travis, you might as well pick a spot for post-birthday suit sunbathing with a water view. Oasis Texas Brewing Company is a great option right down the road, offering up live music alongside its award-winning craft beer. (Just don’t forget your shorts.)
Wimberley Blue Hole Regional Park
There are two different Blue Holes in the Austin area, and this one in Wimberley is arguably the better known of the pair. This natural, spring-fed swimming hole is flanked on both sides by towering cypress trees, and you can find your way into the crystal-clear water via one of the many rope swings dangling from their branches. When you’re done swimming, sprawl out on the grass or post up at one of the limestone picnic tables, available to reserve ahead of time. It’s also not far from Jacob’s Well, so you could easily make a day of it by hitting both.
Know before you go: Reservations are required for the swimming area of the park—$12 for adults from 9 am to 1 pm or 2 pm to 6 pm. The rest of the park is free, which includes a playscape and four miles of hiking trails.
Blue Hole Park
The other, but certainly not lesser, Blue Hole sits along the South Fork of the San Gabriel River in Georgetown, about a half-hour north of the city. The lagoon features beautiful limestone bluffs to admire, along with picnic tables, restrooms, and plenty of space to splash around. The park is open from 5 am to 10 pm daily, and it’s easily accessible from the San Gabriel River Trails. Best of all, there’s no fee to get in, there’s free parking at the corner of 3rd Street and Rock Street, and you can easily find the entrance behind El Monumento Restaurant.
Know before you go: As tempting as it might be, jumping from the cliffs is not allowed. Also, while free parking is available, spots are known to fill up fast, so plan accordingly.
Where to eat/drink: Georgetown has an awesome downtown area, and you won’t struggle to find a place to grab some food and a beer after your swim. Downtown is only five blocks from Blue Hole, where you’ll find local favorites like Blue Corn Harvest and Dos Salsas.
Hamilton Pool Nature Preserve
Find us a Texan who hasn’t posted about this place on social media and we’ll show you someone who can’t tell their Instagram from their Instacart. Few can rival this majestic pool, which is fed by a natural spring and sits below a 50-foot waterfall. Lie down and watch the waters trickle over dramatic limestone outcrops or treat yourself to a dip in the turquoise expanse—that is, if you can bag a spot. Hamilton Pool has gotten so popular that a reservation system had to be introduced five years ago, and slots book up quickly in the summer.
Know before you go: Reservations are required, with slots opening one month at a time. There’s a morning time slot (9 am to 12:30 pm) and an afternoon time slot (2 pm to 5:30 pm). Cash-only reservations run $8 per adult, $3 per senior (children under 12 swim free), and $12 per vehicle. Pets, overnight camping, and glass containers are prohibited.
Where to eat/drink: You’re in Hill Country, so make the most of it. Hamilton Pool Vineyards is a family-owned and -operated winery just up the road. They sell boutique wines processed in a French style, and there’s a fabulous tasting room to round out a lazy weekend afternoon.
Arguably the most famous swimming hole in all of Texas, this Lone State treasure is filled entirely with water from nearby natural springs and temperatures hovering between 68 to 70 degrees allow for optimum year-round swimming. It draws both a local and visiting crowd, with its accessibility making it particularly popular with downtowners. The pool itself spans three acres and there’s a wealth of space on the sloped banks to dry off, sunbathe, or catch up with pals. Put your partying in context with a pre-swim visit to Splash!, a family-friendly educational exhibit where patrons can learn about the history and biology of the springs and the aquifer that feeds it.
Know before you go: There’s no longer a reservation required, and the pool is open daily from 5 am to 10 pm. The daily entry fee is $5 for residents and $9 for non-residents.
Where to eat/drink: You can still enjoy a picnic on the grounds before entering the pool—Whole Foods’ flagship is on North Lamar and has plenty of ready-made options. El Alma, downtown’s most popular Mexican restaurant patio for over a decade now, hawks delicious enchiladas, rellenos, and tacos a few blocks away.
An artesian spring housed in the (allegedly) longest underwater cave in Texas, Jacob’s Well might be the most unique destination on this list. Admiring the magical opening from above, you’ll see bubbles rising and a swirl of colors, and if you’re feeling daring you can join the line to jump into it. Year-round the water temperature remains at a constant 68 degrees, so it’s a guaranteed blast of cool. Note that the larger cave system below is extremely dangerous and only cave-diving research professionals are allowed down, so you best leave the SCUBA gear at home.
Know before you go: Swimming is available in two-hour time slots from 8 am to 6 pm by online reservation only ($9 for non-residents, $5 for residents). There’s no fee to park or enter the natural area, but during weekends, the parking lot may reach capacity. Dogs, camping, glass containers, and alcohol are prohibited.
Where to eat/drink: Family-run Jobell Café & Bistro is a great spot for enjoying a Texas-sized sandwich out on the patio. Packing a picnic is also a popular option—there’s sure to be at least one H-E-B supermarket stocked and ready to provide along your drive there.
The 30-minute hike down to Sculpture Falls is probably why it remains one of the less-crowded swimming spots in the Greenbelt—which is a good thing, because it's absolutely beautiful and rewards those willing to make the trek. Sculpture Falls offers plenty of limestone real estate for laying out a towel and lounging, as well as a small cliff to jump off of and some nice Jacuzzi-sized rock formations tailor-made for relaxing. People love to bring their dogs, so be prepared to meet some furry friends.
Know before you go: Reservations are no longer required. Prepare ahead for your visit: There are no bathrooms, and it’s somewhat of a long trek in and out. Sneakers for the walk and water shoes for the river rocks will serve you well, and make sure to bring along enough snacks and beverages to last you a few hours. Always pack out your trash, and leave it nice for others to enjoy.
Where to eat/drink: Rudy’s Country Store & BBQ on Loop 360 is the hiker’s choice for refueling, open for both indoor dining and takeout. And if you’re feeling fancy, spring for a picnic from The Grove Wine Bar & Kitchen.
Barton Creek Greenbelt
Texas is notoriously dry during the summer months, a fact that can be evidenced by many of the Barton Creek Greenbelt’s most iconic spots right when you need a swimming spot the most. But Campbell’s Hole always comes through for a satisfying dip, even in the most arid of heat waves. The water is about a mile’s stretch from the Barton Springs entrance and just a half-mile off of the Spyglass trailhead.
Know before you go: Reservations are no longer required. Unless you’re planning to hike in off the trail, the swimming hole can be accessed via a residential neighborhood with limited parking.
Where to eat/drink: At the Spyglass trailhead sits Austin institution Tacodeli, praised far and wide for founder Roberto’s famous Brazo Fuerte Queso (gooey cheese layered with guacamole, pico de gallo, and beef picadillo). There’s also a Thom’s Market next door for picnic supplies and beverages.
McKinney Falls State Park
McKinney Falls State Park is a little oasis a mere 16 miles from downtown Austin, offering nine miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, some very difficult bouldering walls, an ancient rock shelter, and two waterfalls where (weather permitting) you'll be doing your splashing. Upper Falls and Lower Falls both sport nice swimming holes, but Upper Falls has deeper water—a very important factor if you're planning to dive in. That said, Lower Falls still offers a great alternative when Upper Falls gets too crowded. You can also fish and swim in Onion Creek for a change of pace.
Know before you go: The park is open daily from 8 am to 10 pm. Reservations must be made online or by calling 512-389-8900 and run $6 per adult (children under 12 go free). Check the website before setting out to read up on any planned closures.
Where to eat/drink: Outside food and drink is welcome, so you’ll see plenty of YETI coolers and tumblers throughout the park. Tasty libations nearby include St. Elmo Brewery, which currently offers pan-Asian fried chicken sandwiches from the Spicy Boys food truck out front. There’s also Still Austin for all your whiskey needs (sipped in the garden or taken to-go), Trudy's for Tex-Mex and Margs, and Little Darlin, a hipster biker haunt that’s dog-friendly.
Pace Bend Park
Stashed 45-minutes northwest of Austin, Pace Bend Park offers 1,368 acres for your hiking, camping, and swimming pleasure. The park occupies a peninsula formed by a bend in Lake Travis, and because it's surrounded by water, you'll always be able to find a nice spot to swim somewhere along the bountiful nine-mile shoreline. Boating is popular here, with two main ramps located at Collier Cove on the west side and Tatum Cove on the east side.
Know before you go: The park is open every day, sunrise to twilight, but arrive early on weekends in the summer to guarantee admittance. Bring cash for the $5 adult entry fee ($3 for seniors, free for children under 12), and make a reservation if you plan to camp out overnight.
Where to eat/drink: Lee’s Almost by the Lake offers tasty no-frills burgers, hotdogs, and pizzas after your outdoor adventure, and a little closer to town sits can’t-miss Texas barbecue hotspot It’s All Good.
There are a whopping 32 springs throughout the privately owned Krause Springs Park, most of which flow into a man-made pool and natural basin below before continuing into Lake Travis. As you enter, scope out the Butterfly Garden near the entrance for lush plants, fountains, a hammock, and wind chimes (all tuned to A, the most serene of keys). You won’t want to get out of that hammock, but you should, because the best is yet to come. Head past the man-made swimming pool (which is great in its own right), and down the staircase: Here you’ll find the gorgeous main pool surrounded by huge cypress trees and slippery limestone outcroppings. Hit up that rope swing and show ‘em what you’re made of.
Know before you go: The gates open at 9 am and close at 8 pm, but get there as early as possible and avoid the weekend crowd if you can. Admission runs $9 for adults ($15 to camp overnight), $5 for kids ($10 to camp), and it’s all cash-only. There's no smoking, no glass containers, and no pets permitted, while tent camping is first come, first served and RV reservations are advised.
Where to eat/drink: Celebrated smokeshack Opie’s BBQ beckons from down the street with its verifiably finger lickin’ good ‘cie. They close up shop when the meat runs out, so call ahead before you drop by. At the same intersection is Spicewood General Store—worth a visit for the cultural experience alone—a local icon that’s outfitted with all the day-tripping gear you’ll need plus food that far surpasses anything you’d expect from a glorified convenience store (including particularly enticing housemade fried chicken). If trusty Mexican cuisine is what you’re after, make a beeline to Beto’s Tacos y Mas a little further down Highway 71.
James Wong is a Libra who spends his time pretending to be a vegan, watching wildlife clips, and booking plane tickets. Born in London, lived in Tokyo, and now residing in Austin, his greatest achievement is giving Posh Spice a hug in 2016.