Hippie Hollow Gay Beach - Austin Splash Weekend 2016 - Otter Fest 2016

Gay Austin's hottest locale for sunbathing and swimming

Hippie Hollow on Lake Travis
••• LoneStarMike/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-3.0

When the sun's out and the temperature is climbing, there's no better place to enjoy Austin's rugged, hilly scenery and handsome, human scenery than Hippie Hollow Park, a lovely expanse of precipitous limestone cliffs and promontories set along the eastern shore of serpentine Lake Travis (which is actually a dammed expanse of the Colorado River, and no, not the one that runs through the Grand Canyon but a much smaller river in Texas).

Hippie Hollow is unusual - and popular - for one major reason: it's the only public park in Texas where nudity is officially permitted. It's not surprising that you'd find such a place on the outskirts of liberal, countercultural, and gay-friendly Austin. One particular section of the park has a hugely loyal following among gay sunbathers, who flock here just about any day of the year there's sun and temperatures above 50 degrees.

Hippie Hollow Gay Events

Of particular note, the gay community holds a few big gatherings throughout the warmer months. Kicking off the season, First Splash Weekend is held by several key gay bars and other Austin community businesses over Memorial Day Weekend in late May - this year it takes place over May 27-30, 2016. You can get a pretty good sense of the sorts of fun events and parties taking place throughout the weekend by checking out this article about last year's event at TheRepubliq.com.

Another increasingly fun and free-spirited get-together is the Annual Hippie Hollow Otter Fest, now in its third year, which draws furry dudes of all stripes over three days in mid-July - this year's event is July 15 through 17, 2016.

Then at the close of the summer season, Splash Weekend at Hippie Hollow is held over Labor Day weekend.

This year the Splash weekend is September 2-5, 2016 (Labor Day weekend), for Last Splash - it's shortly before Austin Gay Pride, held in mid- to late September.

Finding Hippie Hollow's Gay Beach

Hippie Hollow is about a half-hour drive northwest of Austin - You get here by taking the MoPac Expressway (or Hwy. 1) north for about 5 miles from the west side of downtown to Hwy. 2222, which leads west about 12 miles to the park (just follow the signs - it's not hard to find).

The slightly trickier part is finding your way to the gay section once you're at the Hippie Hollow's parking lot, and you've paid the rather steep day-use fee ($15 for vehicles, $8 for pedestrians and bicyclists). Once you've parked, walk down the stone steps to the paved pathway, and at the public bathrooms, turn left and start walking. If it's a nice day, you'll almost certainly encounter men and a handful of women strolling nude along the path, and sunning themselves on the rocks below, which extend from the paved path to the water.

Leave it to the gays to stake out the remotest terrain. In this case just keep following the paved trail as it winds...and winds...and winds...as far as it will go - it's about a 15-minute stroll.

Gradually, your gaydar may sense more kindred souls lying on the rocks, and at the end of the paved section, steps and a path lead to an expanse of rocks that constitutes the unofficial gay section. If it's a weekend or busy summer day, you may hear dance music blaring from an armada of pleasure boats moored just offshore, typically hoisting rainbow flags high in the air and packed with scantily attired or nude revelers and sunbunnies. Interestingly, although the gay section does draw its share of nudists, it's actually the one part of Hippie Hollow where you're likely to see plenty of sunbathers and swimmers in suits and shorts.

It can not be stressed enough: watch your step. The rocks are steep, and if you're swimming, be careful not to dive or swim into a rocky section submerged just below the water surface.

Lives have been lost here. And it's not too hard to slip, especially if you're focused more on the cute nekked twinks lounging in the sun than the occasionally treacherous terrain.

Along the limestone cliffs you'll find little cliques of sunbathing friends. It's all harmless and fun...sex on the rocks (or anywhere in public) is strictly forbidden here, but that doesn't mean you can't swap phone numbers with the cute creatures you mingle with during your visit.

Heed the park's myriad rules and warnings, and note the strictly enforced hours - all of this info is posted on the park's website. Another excellent site on the park offering additional information is HippieHollow.com. From the gay section you can also see, perched high on a soaring cliff about half-mile away, a massive restaurant called the Oasis. This festive Tex-Mex restaurant with a gadzillion terraces and decks overlooking the lake burned almost entirely to the ground (it was struck by lightening) in 2005, but it was impressively rebuilt with beautiful indoor and outdoor spaces. The food is meh - decently prepared standbys like smoked-chicken enchiladas and guac-and-chips). It's a fun place for cocktails and brunch or a sunset dinner, before or after a visit to Hippie Hollow. The owners made a further expansion recently, reopening as a full outdoor retail and entertainment village.