Rio Vista

Rio VistaLess than a mile upriver the San Marcos doesn’t exist. It comes springing up out of the ground all at once in one of the largest springs anywhere. By the time it gets to Rio Vista the water is still incredibly clear and surprisingly cold. It runs at about the same rate all year every year. It is not slowed much by drought or boued much by rain.

The history of Rio Vista is interesting. Like many spots on Texas rivers a short dam used to be here. The dam generated no electricity and generally served no purpose other than to make the river above it a little slower and a little wider. Like many of these short dams this one over the years had grown structurally unsound. The city of San Marcos was deciding if they should replace it before it fell down on its own or just tear it down. A group of kayakers had other plans. They lobbied to replace the dam with a series of three drops, each progressively smaller than the first. They added artificial boulders to create nice currents know as eddies. Soon after opening they actually held Olympic trials qualifier runs at the site, complete with slalom gates. It didn’t take long however before tubers decided it was lots of fun to go over at the end of the Lions club tubing shuttle. Locals also like going over it without a tube and swimming in the whitewater current despite the danger of swift water. Soon the swimmers took over the warmer months and whitewater kayers were relegated to using Rio Vista at night when it is lit up by flood lights and during the cooler months when swimmers trade in their bathing suits for textbooks.

South Llano State Park

South Llano River State ParkThe Hill country runs into west Texas right here. This is the last stop on the interstate before things just get flat and dry. That might explain why this place remains a secret. Lots of trees, lots of hills, and a river that flows clear and cold. If you ever want to go tubing without the crowds this is the place. There are publicly accessible put ins above and below the State Park and a few places in the park itself. You can have any length tubing you want. Many people choose to just float in the slower sections of the river, wade in the faster moving sections, or just hang a hammock under a tree.

Lake Tejas

Lake TejasIt is not every lake that is owned by a school District. Being owned and run by teachers isn’t the only unusual thing about this swimming hole. Lake Tejas is also a spring fed lake, but isn’t clear. The color would be clear except for an unusual brown picked up from the tannins of the pine needles in the area. Sandy beaches, an amazing water slide, fun inflatables, and the old school peddle boats that take lots of energy and barely move are among the highlights. Going to this lake is like stepping back in time to a summer camp, we kept expecting a game of tug of war to break out.

Guadalpue River State Park

Guadalupe River State Park
The Guadalupe River above Canyon lake is a beautiful thing. Lined with Cypress trees and refreshing water. Guadalupe River State Park is indeed beautiful. It is also too conveniently close to San Antonio and thus It is also a study in how to fit a massive amount of people into a quarter mile stretch of river. If lots of people are your thing or you have the flexibility to go on a weekday this is a great park worth visiting.

Hancock Springs

Lampasas is in the middle of nowhere but is on the way to everywhere. Highways 183, 190, 281, and FM 580 all collide here. People usually just stop long enough for a red light or two. A few more stop long enough to put some gas in their car and some food in their bellies. Most don’t realize that if they had an hour or two extra for the journey they’d be able to find someplace that might exceed both their origin and their destination.

Old Fashioned. As the oldest spring fed swimming pool in Texas Hancock Springs hasn’t changed much. I expect if you came here in the late 1800s or early 1900s you’d recognize it as not too different from today. Big pecan trees provide deep shade to picnic tables. Lifeguards sit under a large umbrella scanning the pool for kids who can’t swim quite as well as they thought they could or who wandered too far from the shallow end. From time to time they whistle the kids out of the pool for adult swim. There is no diving board, just an end of the pool you can dive off the edge from. Simple, pure.

People come for the water. It comes straight up out of the ground ground on one end and overflows down to the nearby creek on the other. It comes out cold and clear year round. No pumps, no chlorination, no filters, no influence of man. Locals say the water heals your cuts and is good for other ailments of your body. If you ask them if the water heals your mind and your soul I expect they’d say it heals those too.

Hancock Springs Lampassas
Hancock Park Highway, U.S. 281, Lampasas, TX 76550
N 31° 03.321 W 098° 10.949

Sculpture Falls

Relaxing at Sculpture FallsWater sculpts the rock here into many narrow channels that form miniature rapids. Some of these rapids are sized just right for a person to lounge in. Below the rapids lies a deep pool with one bank lined in trees and the other lined with a five to eight foot high cliff. Above the channels lies shallow water perfect to wade in while throwing a frisbee.

Sculpture Falls is the farthest swimming hole from a road of any in Barton Creek. The distance is not too far for those used to hiking, but is far enough that it tends to be a little less crowded than some of the others. It is far enough that a heavy cooler would seem a burden even to the very fit.

It is not the quantity of people that makes this spot more enjoyable, there are still quite a few people. Instead, it is the fact that those who would purposefully pick the farthest hike in Barton Creek to swim tend to be really enjoyable people to share space with. Everybody who is there has earned it and in the earning of the enjoyment have found a greater appreciation.

Krause Springs

Time lapse of the Krause Springs rope swing.
Time lapse of the Krause Springs rope swing.

Waterfalls, giant cypress trees, clear cold water, camping, a butterfly garden, a rope swing, an unchlorinated spring-fed pool. Krause Springs is one of the best swimming holes anywhere. The authors of this book would like to take a moment to thank the Krause family for opening up their home to the public. We can’t describe this place well enough to do it justice except to say it is a true Texas gem and if you haven’t visited it you are missing out.

It’s also worth stopping at Opie’s barbeque right at the turnoff from the main highway either on your way out or even better on your way back. Opie’s is a BYOB establishment. They also have some of the best sides of any BBQ joint in Texas. Tater tot casserole, three kinds of cobbler, brownies, banana pudding. Sometimes it’s hard to know if you are going to Krause Springs for the swimming or because Opie’s is right next to it.

Hamilton Pool

Hamilton Pool Waterfall photo by Julian Garduno, Licensed Under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
Hamilton Pool Waterfall photo by Julian Garduno, Licensed Under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Hamilton Pool is a legendary destination among Austinites. Both newcomers and longtime residents will bemoan if they haven’t been to a UT game or to Hamilton Pool yet. But a true trip to Hamilton Pool should end with a trip to Bert and Ernies General Store, bait shop, full bar, pool hall, and occasional restaurant.

The main attraction to Hamilton Pool is the 50 foot waterfall. The pool itself is surrounded by a trail that visitors can walk around to get closer to and into the waterfall.

Many visitors to Hamilton Pool expect a short hike and can be found carrying large coolers and heavy lawn chairs. Very quickly they come to realize this is a bad idea. The hike is a half mile round trip but it is a very hilly half mile. A half mile also doesn’t seem like a long distance until you try to carry a 50 pound cooler that far in flip flops.

Because the pool is fed by a creek and is largely still water, bacteria levels can get high during runoff from animal grazing areas near the creek after heavy rains. These levels are regularly checked and posted on signs. If levels get high enough the park will be closed until the bacteria levels go back down.

Your entrance fee gets you into other Travis County Parks for the day as well. Nearby is Reimers Ranch which is located on the Pedernales River and is a good spot to go for a hike, rock climbing, or even swimming.

Hamilton Pool is a protected Travis county natural area. A $10 admission will gain access to the park. Pets are not allowed.
The parking lot accommodates 75 cars and it often fills up- especially on weekends.

Jacob’s Well

20130803-111638Jacob’s well is perhaps the perfect embodiment of the words swimming hole. There is not much to do except swim and it is just a literal hole. The mouth of the well is twelve feet across and descends straight down for about thirty feet.

It’s a place to go with a couple of friends, not with a big group. You will meet everybody there and get to know them. Through a series of iron gates to keep casual divers out of harms way the well continues on to a depth of 120 feet. The rest of the creek is wading depth. Because the swimming area is so small and serves as the central focus for the area large crowds just can’t fit.

Many of the guidebooks will list Jacob’s well as closed or needing a permit. This is all outdated information. The area is now administered by a non-profit that is committed to maintaining and restoring the well and the surrounding area. It is now open 7 days a week for swimming and hiking.

Adjacent to the deep well is a limestone cliff. Signs are posted that jumping off the cliff is not allowed. Park officials will enforce the cliff jumping ban. Jumping off the cliff is also dangerous as the water surrounding the deep hole is very shallow and it is easy to misjudge your landing. Even if you judge your landing correctly, a simple jump and rapid descent left one of our party unable to hear from his left ear for several days. Despite the danger many people still jump off the cliffs anyway, either from the high boulder or the low ledge, often to their own detriment.

Landa Park

Surfing the Tube Chute at Llanda Park
New Braunfels is one of the places that is distinguished by being one of the first towns in Central Texas to ban disposable drink containers. This ban was brought about due to excessive trash and unruly behavior.

The Comal River is the shortest navigable river in Texas. It originates at a spring and runs 2.5 miles where it joins the Guadalupe River. It runs entirely in the city of New Braunfels. The water is clear and cold (72F) year round.

The highlight of swimming in the Comal is undoubtedly “the tube chute”. The best part is the part that runs from the calm part to the rapids below. The chute is mossy on the bottom, and you are faced with a choice to run it with or without a tube.

If you run the chute without a tube you can actually stand and surf for a bit until you are unceremoniously dumped at the bottom. At the bottom you can shoot off to the right as quick as you can swim and as hard as you can pull. Then, grab the rusty banister to the stairs. If you stay left or fail to exit right you will be engulfed in the plume of the discharge and it will pull you under. After being pulled under, you’ll be looking up at the world going by through the clear water above and thinking you’ve taken your last breath and what a good (or bad) life it has been. Just about the time you’ve come to accept your mortality, you get spit out sputtering breathless and grateful you are still alive.

Most people take the tube chute on a tube, which makes the lower part of the falls easier and less frightening.

The lower part of the river is surrounded by a public park complete with barbeque grills and picnic tables. The water here is slower moving and provides better access for children and those who need less adrenaline in their lives.