Austin, Texas is all the rage right now, whether you're a new grad looking for work, a music fan seeking world-class festivals, or a foodie jonesing for top-notch barbecue. There's no denying the coolness of Austin's urban core, but the lists Austin appears on often ignore one of the area's key selling points: the collection of springs, lakes, and other swimming holes located in the nearby Texas Hill Country, which are particularly appealing now, as summer heats up. Here are a few of the most amazing ones.
01 of 05
As you approach the GPS location of Jacob's Well through a quiet neighborhood of the Austin suburb of Wimberly, you might feel as if you've taken a wrong turn. Continue following the directions, however, and in just a few minutes you'll lay eyes on one of the most delightful and bizarre swimming holes you've ever seen. A karstic spring that's as important for recreation as it is for feeding Austin's main source of drinking water, Jacob's Well is quite literally overflowing.
02 of 05
Hamilton Pool Preserve
What happens when erosion causes the dome of an underground waterway to collapse? Head to Hamilton Pool to find out. Located near the city of Dripping Springs, about an hour from many of the best hotels in Austin, Hamilton Pool presents itself in a surreal way, with a dramatic, semi-circular waterfall spilling into a turquoise-colored pool.
Before you make the trek out to Hamilton Pool, consult the Travis County Parks website to make sure it's open; it closes from time to time due to local flooding, as well as naturally occurring bacteria levels under certain climactic conditions.
UPDATE: As of May 2016, the City of Austin will begin requiring reservations in order to visit Hamilton Pool, due to chronic overcrowding there, even on days where bacteria levels preclude swimming. Click here to make a reservation.
03 of 05
Austin probably isn't the first place in the world you think of when you hear the phrase "cliff jumping," but when you show up at Krause Springs, located in the Austin suburb of Spicewood, that's exactly what you'll be expected to do. OK, so maybe that's an exaggeration – you aren't obliged to jump off a cliff at Krause Springs.
However, once you see the emerald water below you, the dramatic cedars rising around on all sides, and feel the scorching Texas air start to burn your body, it's difficult to imagine why you wouldn't volunteer. A word to the wise, however: Only jump if you've chosen not to engage in the, um, libations locals tend to enjoy while out at Krause Springs. Safely jumping off cliffs requires a level of judgment that intoxication blurs!
04 of 05
Located in Inks Lake State Park about an hour northwest of downtown Austin, Devil's Waterhole takes its name from the sinister-looking red, pink, and orange rock formations that rise above its vibrant water. Thankfully, there's nothing else evil about the wonderful swimming hole, except for the way the Texas summer heat sears your skin like, well, a hot pitchfork. Make a day of your trip to Devil's Waterhole and head upstream to check out beautiful waterfalls nearby, which tend to be the most spectacular in the days after it's rained.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
05 of 05
Barton Springs Pool
With crystalline blue water that runs at 68ºF year round and a carefree energy that screams summer, Barton Springs Pool would be a world-class place to swim in any context – it just so happens to be located less than a mile from downtown Austin. After you work up the courage to jump into the pool the first time, make sure and take a look to the north, where you can actually see some of Austin's skyscrapers.
You'll never look at ordinary swimming pools the same again, except perhaps for Austin's own Deep Eddy, which is a nice alternative on Thursdays, when Barton Springs is closed. Alternatively, there is a "free" section of Barton Springs just beyond the spillway of the main pool, and it's always open.