Float, Swim, and Sunbathe Nude at Austin’s Best Swimming Holes

As temps creep up, it’s time to dip down into the cool waters of Austin’s best swimming holes.

Kayaking on Lady Bird Lake
Kayaking on Lady Bird Lake | Photo courtesy of James Wong
Kayaking on Lady Bird Lake | Photo courtesy of James Wong

Thanks to a ton of sunshine, Austin’s pretty much a year-round outdoorsy destination. (We have nature trails running right by downtown for goodness sake!) So don’t be surprised to know that the average Austinite owns more activewear and swimwear than jackets and sweaters. Showing a bit of skin is mandatory when burning energy amidst soaring Texan temperatures. Now, while a rooftop pool is a surefire way to cool down during the working week, there’s nothing like packing a cooler and heading out into nature for a real respite from the city. A dip in a spring-fed pool, a chance for the pup to make a splash, or a picnic with pals consisting of Tacodeli and a frozen marg mix…sound like bliss? Step this way. We uncover the best outdoor spots—hikes, parks, swimming holes in and around Austin—to beat that persistent heat.

The view from Mount Bonnell
Mount Bonnell | RoschetzkyProductions/Shutterstock

Mount Bonnell

The 102-ish steps from the parking lot to the top of Mount Bonnell, the highest point in Austin, don’t exactly qualify as a hike. You’re in Austin, not Yosemite, but it's just enough to get you sweating out some of last night’s tequila and make you feel like you’ve really earned those panoramic views of downtown, Lake Austin, and Hill Country. It's an easy jaunt from downtown and a great spot to catch a sunset. In recent years this has become a major tourist destination, so venture off the beaten path a little. Take a right at the main overlook pavilion and follow the trail about 30 yards or so. Duck down one of the smaller trails on the left, into the underbrush, and down onto the rock cliffs, where you’ll find some less crowded seating options. Dogs are allowed and parking is free.

Barton Springs
Barton Springs | Alizada Studios/Shutterstock

Barton Springs

Tourists: if you only go swimming once in Austin, take a dip in Austin’s crown jewel of swimming holes, Barton Springs. Within Zilker Park resides this illustrious watery gem, a three-acre spring-fed pool surrounded by sloping lawns for lounging. Barton Springs is fed by the fourth largest spring in Texas, and the water emerges from the Edwards Aquifer at a brisk 68 degrees year-round. This may seem cold, but in fact, it is precisely chilly enough to scare off the weak-willed and counterbalance the scorching death rays of the Texas sun. Rumor has it that Robert Redford learned how to swim here. The springs attract a diverse and eclectic crowd of locals and visitors, and nobody bats an eye if you go topless. Outside food and drink (read: booze) and smoking (read: weed) are monitored closely by a staff of vigilant teenage lifeguards, so imbibing before entry is wiser. Water bottles are allowed inside the pool if you’d like to camouflage a cocktail, but maybe you should actually be drinking water for once. The pool is open 5 am to 10 pm, with free-swim hours before lifeguards go on duty. The pool is closed to the public 9 am to 7p m on Thursdays for cleaning. Bring nine dollars (non-residents) or five dollars (residents) for the entry fee.

Zilker Park
Zilker Park | Thomas Allison/Thrillist

Zilker Park

Austin’s biggest and most beloved park consists of 300 acres of pristine turf just minutes walk from downtown. It's the perfect place to kick back with pals and play Cards Against Humanity on the rolling lawns surrounded by adorable pups with a prime view of the skyline. If you get bored, there are a number of attractions on the grounds. Plant lovers can check out the Zilker Botanical Garden, while art lovers should head to Umlauf Sculpture Garden across the street. The only real downside of Zilker’s glorious grasses is that they tend to attract festivals. If the thought of 10,000 people flying 10,000 kites doesn’t sound freaky to you, the ABC Zilker Kite Festival takes place every spring. There are plenty of spots to pick up snacks along the way, including Thom’s Market.

Deep Eddy Pool | Steve Hopson

Deep Eddy Pool

Deep Eddy Pool is the oldest swimming pool in Texas, dating back to 1915, and features lovely aquamarine waters and a depression-era bath house built by the Works Progress Administration. Like Barton Springs, Deep Eddy is spring-fed but without the marine and plant life and with more of a family-friendly environment. Refine your backstroke in the dedicated swimming lanes, or relax in the shallow end. Deep Eddy Pool is located directly behind one of Austin’s most venerable dives, Deep Eddy Cabaret. Head in after your swim to shoot pool with the omnipresent cast of barflies, who will respect you all the more if you play some old country standards on one of the best jukeboxes in the city.

Green tunnel
Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail | Flickr/David Ingram

Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail

Downtowners’ beloved gym, ahem, the Hike and Bike Trail, is a 10-mile pedestrian and cycling trail that runs along the north and south shores of Lady Bird Lake as it passes through downtown Austin. Both ends are beautiful, but on the south side the trail takes you either through or near Zilker Park, Auditorium Shores (check out the Stevie Ray Vaughan Statue), and the Long Center for the Performing Arts. Should you finish that stretch around sunset, join the rest of the hordes on the South Congress bridge to watch the 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats fly off into the night. Sound like a local: remember, nobody calls the Hike-and-Bike Trail by its actual name, the Ann and Roy Butler Trail.

Town Lake
Town Lake | Fotoluminate LLC/Shutterstock

Kayaking on Lady Bird Lake

You won’t find a more convenient place for kayaking, canoeing, or stand-up paddle-boarding than Town Lake, aka Lady Bird Lake, aka the Colorado River. You have a few options for renting appropriate watercraft. Check out the Rowing Dock to the west if you want to explore the less urban, steep-cliffed waters upstream of downtown. Via Zilker Park Boat Rentals, you can kayak a short stretch of Barton Creek with the turtles before emerging just west of downtown, and paddle underneath the city's bridges with a nice view of the skyline. Feel like paddling upstream first and letting the current bring you back? Austin Rowing Club is on the east side of downtown. On weekends, kayak and SUP owners often paddle up to Lou Neff point for an unofficial party on the lake, sound system complete. Park your float at the gathering and tell them you live at the Gables building—you’ll fit right in.

Sculpture Falls
Sculpture Falls | Flickr/Patrick Lewis

Sculpture Falls in the Barton Creek Greenbelt

A 9-mile urban oasis of hiking, climbing, mountain biking, and swimming. The Edwards Aquifer supplies this stretch of the Colorado River with ample amounts of clear, cool spring water... which luckily comes in upstream of the aforementioned lead and fecal matter. Because these swimming holes require you to actually hike to find them, they are far less popular with tourists, so it would be pretty stud for any visitor to spend a day at Sculpture Falls. The exposed limestone rocks in the river form little hot tub-esque pools where you can sit back and keep cool in the blazing sun. It's a young, cheap beer/420/canine-friendly crowd, but the scene skews much more tranquil than raucous. Be sure to park your car off Scottish Woods Trail and walk to the entrance. Proceed down the rocky “Hill of Life." Once you get to the bottom, you’ll find mile markers to gauge how far you’ve come. Don’t be seduced by the waterfalls and wading pools along the way—you’re not there yet. When you come to Sculpture Falls you’ll know it by the limestone rock formations and hordes of people. Tip: go early for the best spots.

Seismic wall
Seismic wall | Flickr/Patrick Lewis

The Seismic Climbing Wall in the Greenbelt

If you’ve got some time for climbing, check out Austin’s largest bouldering gym on the East Side. For those who have the gear and prefer taking advantage of real rocks, Seismic Wall, aka Maggie’s Wall, is where you’ll want to be dangling. The routes range from 5.6-5.12, but the majority are of moderate difficulty in the 5.10 ballpark. It’s also completely free to climb. Arrive early in the morning to beat the crowds and the afternoon sun. Many local climbers dislike Seismic because the routes are pretty well polished by this point, so if you're more hardcore, go to Reimers Ranch Park. Otherwise, bring all your climbing gear for Seismic. At the minimum, you’ll need climbing shoes, a rope, a harness, a helmet, a belay device (and belayer), some locking carabiners, and a chalk bag. REI’s downtown location should have everything you need.

Hippie Hollow
Hippie Hollow | Flickr/Matthew Rutledge

Hippie Hollow

On the shores of Lake Travis just west of Austin is the only clothing-optional public park in the Lone Star State, Hippie Hollow. Lounge on the rocky shoreline and introduce the paler parts of your anatomy to the cool waters and warm Texas sun. It is impossible not to have a weird time at Hippie Hollow, but it’s an experience you won’t soon forget. Entry is restricted to people 18 years and older, and the park asks that you get permission before taking photographs. And while nudity is permitted, “lewdness” is not and will get you arrested. Here, you’ll embrace the weird and the nude—don’t forget to dollop sunscreen on those delicate parts!

Blue Hole
Blue Hole, Wimberley, TX | Robert Thigpen/Flickr

Blue Hole

Wimberley, 30 miles southwest of Austin, is where Austinites go glamping in spring and fall, and one of the reasons for that is because it sits in a lush valley surrounded by rolling hills in all directions, at the confluence of two beautiful bodies of water: the Blanco River and Cypress Creek. Blue Hole Regional Park is a public stretch of Cypress Creek that makes for some incredibly scenic swimming; the brisk spring waters have been feeding the enormous cypress trees along its banks for hundreds of years. Jacob’s Well, one of Central Texas’s most Instagrammed natural wonders, is also close by if you fancy hitting two birds with one stone. You can also turn it into a whole weekend thanks to Getaway retreats—tiny cabins—nearby. Remember to check the website for closures before heading there.

Tube Haus - Tubing on the Guadalupe River - Texas!
Tubing on the Guadalupe River | Tube Haus - Tubing on the Guadalupe River - Texas!

Floating on the Guadalupe River

Tubing, a.k.a. floating, involves buoying along the surface of one of Texas’s beautiful rivers in a giant inflatable inner tube. Traditionally, one takes in this magnificent scenery while drinking copious amounts of beer. If you want a slightly more tame, less-crowded float, we recommend the San Marcos River. But to float “the Guad” is to join thousands of co-eds, college kids, hippies, and any combination of the above on a debaucherous float through rapids, around boulders, and through fast-moving tube chutes that will likely tip you over and cause you to lose your beer and your sunglasses. It's heavenly. Remember to put all your valuables in a Ziploc, and bring water: the river will be full of folks who brought 60 beers and zero water. Do not make this mistake or you will black out in the Texas sun. Good tube outfitters serving the Guad include River Sports Tubes, Shanty Tubes, Whitewater Sports, and Tube Haus. Call around to see which is the cheapest based on your party size and tube needs.

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

James Wong is a Libra who loves the Spice Girls. Born in London, lived in Tokyo, and now residing in Austin, he has written Texas guide books and spoken at SXSW.