Hamilton Pool offers one of the most unusual swimming experiences you’ll find in Texas. It looks as though it was plucked from a tropical island and plopped into the middle of Austin’s limestone hills. The roughly circular swimming hole is partially shaded by a rock outcropping. The overhang is all that is left of what was once the ceiling of a cave. The grotto partially collapsed and revealed a natural swimming pool. Delicate ferns cling to the rocks above the pool, and water often trickles down through the ferns, creating trickling or gushing waterfalls depending on how much rain has fallen recently.
About 150 feet in diameter and 25 feet deep, the pool is large yet ecologically sensitive. As a result, the park now requires that visitors register online before visiting the park. The $11 registration can be paid with a credit card, but the car entrance fee of $15 must be paid in cash. (The pool is located at 24300 Hamilton Pool Road, Dripping Springs, Texas 78620)
Things to Do in the Park
Swimming is obviously the main activity, but the park encompasses 232 acres of largely undeveloped land, so hiking and bird watching are also popular. In fact, you’ll have to take a quarter-mile hike over uneven ground just to get to the swimming hole. Birders often arrive early at the park to catch a glimpse of the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and other species that either live in the park year-round or pass through during migration. Other animals you may spot in the park include deer, fox, skunk, possum, porcupine, and bobcat.
Hamilton Pool Preserve is also home to a wide variety of rare plants and trees. The most photogenic specimens are the delicate ferns that grow in and around the waterfall. Beyond the pool, along Hamilton Creek, you’ll find towering cypress trees with knobby roots that poke up out of the water. This is one of the tree’s survival tactics for surviving when the base of the tree is submerged under water.
Since this is a nature preserve, there are almost no modern conveniences, except for the bathrooms near the entrance and a few picnic tables. You must bring in your own water and snacks. Keep in mind that you’ll have to carry whatever you bring a quarter-mile to the pool, so pack light. Also, note that dogs are not allowed in the park. Checklists of birds and other animals in the park are available at the entrance.
Other Nearby Parks
Reimers Ranch: When Hamilton Pool is full, people often head over to nearby Reimers Ranch. While Reimers doesn’t have a collapsed grotto, it has three miles of frontage along the Pedernales River. Swimming and fishing in the river are popular activities, but there are tons of other options at this sprawling 2,427-acre park. Rock climbers flock to the park to scale cliffs that range from easy to advanced. Groups of mountain bikers also descend on the park on weekends to roam hundreds of miles of rough trails.
Photographers practice their skills in the park, capturing its sweeping canyon vistas, rolling hills and river views. As with Hamilton Pool Preserve, only daytime use is allowed to protect the fragile ecosystem. Dogs are allowed but must remain on leash at all times.
Pace Bend: Located on Lake Travis, Pace Bend Park has 20 campsites, some with breathtaking lake views. The campsites have access to water/electricity, showers, and restrooms. Primitive camping is also permitted in other areas of the park. The primitive campsites are equipped only with barbecue pits, fire rings, and picnic tables, and nature trails of varying lengths crisscross the entire park. There are two boat ramps at the park, which means there is heavy traffic on weekend mornings as people launch their boats.
In addition to the usual deer and possum, at dusk or dawn, you may have the opportunity to spot one of the most elusive creatures in Texas: the ringtail cat. It looks like a cross between a house cat and a raccoon, with a big, bushy, striped tail.
Pedernales Falls State Park: The centerpiece of the park is a series of low, stair-stepped waterfalls over massive boulders in the Pedernales River. Swimming is sometimes prohibited when the water is moving rapidly, but it’s still an amazing sight. There are several smaller swimming holes around the park that are less prone to becoming whitewater rapids. In addition to dozens of hiking trails, the park is chock full of dedicated mountain biking trails for riders of all levels.
Places to Eat Nearby
The closest restaurants are along Highway 71 near the intersection of 71 and Reimers Road. La Cabana Grill offers excellent chile rellenos, enchiladas, and other Tex-Mex dishes. Angel’s Icehouse serves up excellent burgers, tacos, and chicken-fried steaks in a fun atmosphere. If it’s smoked brisket you’re craving, head to It’s All Good BBQ. The beef short ribs and pulled pork are crowd favorites.