While each of the small towns on our Texas road trip held its own kind of charm, it wasn’t until we arrived in Wimberley that we finally got to dig into the area’s outdoors culture that comprises Hamilton Pool, Jacob’s Well, Blue Hole and other swimming spots that flow out of a perennial spring.
Our morning in Wimberley started out at Jacob’s Well, then SVV and I had planned an afternoon of brewery-hopping—only to find out that Jester King and the other breweries and distilleries in Dripping Springs were closed on Mondays (check the hours before you go, folks). So we did what we do best: We got in the car and just drove until we found the next best thing—or perhaps just the best thing, period.
A few miles down the road, we saw a sign for Hamilton Pool Preserve, a spot I had seen on Instagram and one I mentally bookmarked to visit the next time I was staying in Austin to see Lemon. I had no idea, however, that this was just 28 miles from where we were headquartered in Wimberley.
The sun was setting fast as we arrived—the park closes just before dusk—and there was a slight chill in the air, but we figured now was as good a time as any to check this off our list. And I’m so glad we did, too: Late January proved to be optimal as crowds were slim and that mid-winter golden light was on point.
What I wasn’t expecting was SVV to dive right in—no really, he’s crazy. Once we reached the collapsed canyon and grotto within the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan, he started climbing down the rocks, shed his shirt and shoes, and dove right in.
So, of course, we didn’t have a towel handy. The air temp was in the 50s that day, and the water was about the same. It took him a few hours to warm up and for his fingers to regain their color again (they were blue after we emerged from the preserve an hour and change later).
Pro tip: If you plan to swim, pack warm clothing for afterward! (Duh.)
Getting to Hamilton Pool
From Dripping Springs, Hamilton Pool is just a 20-minute drive; from Austin, it’s 45 minutes. There’s good signage off of Highway 12, but you’ll likely lose service as you get near, so map your route before you drop the signal.
Once you pay your $15-per-vehicle entrance fee, you’ll park in the lot where there’s a Porta-Potty but not many other facilities. It’s an easy quarter-mile hike out to the pool itself with a few mildly steep spots, and you shouldn’t experience many challenges unless you have limited mobility (the path isn’t suited for strollers or wheelchairs). I’d still recommend closed-toed shoes nonetheless, especially as you might get out to the pool and feel compelled to scamper over the rocks.
There’s a little beach out at the pool where you can spread out a towel and have a picnic or just sit and enjoy the scenery. There was a nice park tech, David, on site while we were visiting, and we quizzed him on the history and ecology of the area—”watch out for the snapping turtles!” he warned. He was very kind and knowledgeable and even offered to take a picture of us.
When to Visit Hamilton Pool Preserve
It depends. If you want to swim and are not adventurous like my
insane intrepid husband, you might want to wait until it warms up a bit, early to mid-spring. What you do want to avoid is coming on a weekend in the height of summer when your photos are going to look the opposite of this.
Not kidding, guys; there were only two other people there when we arrived!
Swimming is technically allowed year round, though sometimes Travis County Parks will implement a swimming ban due to incessant rainfall or bacteria. There’s no lifeguard on duty, so don’t take the plunge unless you’re a skilled swimmer.
If you don’t care to swim, I say go when crowds are fewest, like on a sunny weekday in November, December, January or February. The downside is that the flora will likely all be dead, but it is still pretty nonetheless.
How to Reserve Hamilton Pool
From March 1 to Oct. 31, reservations are required to get into Hamilton Pool; they’re also required on weekends in November and December. I know, I know, it sounds insane, but I like that they do limit the number of bodies out there at a time in an effort to minimize environmental impact.
There are 70 spots available for vehicles for the 9am to 1pm timeframe each day and another 70 for the 2pm to 6pm slot. You can make a reservation on the Travis County website, but even then be prepared to wait 45 minutes once you arrive.
Guided tours are available on Saturdays at 10am from March through October. This is included in your park entrance and limited to the first 20 who show up.
OTHER PLACES TO SWIM NEAR AUSTIN
Jacob’s Well Natural Area
Just a couple miles from downtown Wimberley, Jacob’s Well is one of the best swimming holes in the spring and summer months.
We were there in January, so no swimming, but even then, we sunbathed on the rocks and dipped our toes in the Well, the lukewarm water taunting us to submerge even more.
And by “dip our toes,” I clearly mean, “test my balance on an 18-inch-wide dock of sorts.”
And no, I didn’t fall. Thank God. Though the water actually would have felt pretty nice!
At its deepest point, Jacob’s Well is 137 feet, and it’s a popular spot for tech divers and often considered one of the most dangerous dive sites in the world; if you saw how tight some of those caverns were down there, you’d quickly understand why. I quizzed the park ranger on the level of dive specialty one must have to qualify to scuba dive here and immediately discounted me ever checking this dive off when he told me that dive groups often spend five hours down there, swapping out tanks as they go. No thanks—I’ll leave that up to the scientists!
Free diving, however, is allowed in the warmer months, as is jumping off the rocks directly into the pool. Be careful, though—they can be very slippery. Many GoPros and Apple Watches have met their demise as they departed cliff-jumpers’ hands and sunk to the bottom of the well.
Though the area itself spans 81 acres, the spring part is relatively small, and you can’t just venture down the creek and swim wherever you please as it does cross a border into private property.
Note: It’s $9 per person to enter Jacob’s Well Natural Area. You can only swim from May through September, and even then you need to make a reservation with Hays County Parks, who recommends calling at least two weeks in advance to ensure your spot.
Blue Hole Regional Park
I hear that in summer months this Blue Hole Regional Park is another of the most popular swimming spots in Texas, but I have a hard time believing that, as we had it all to ourselves—it felt like the area’s best-kept secret.
And yet, Blue Hole’s proximity to downtown Wimberley—less than five minutes by car—almost ensures that it’s brimming with kids and families in warmer months as the location is prime for taking a dip in this spring-fed creek. There was a hanging rope just dangling above the spring, and even though it was January, I was tempted to give it a go. (I did refrain because … well, see: January.)
For those visiting Austin in warmer months, this is the perfect day trip to escape the city heat and enjoy a bit of nature.
Note: In warmer months, it’s a $10 fee to swim in the park. Swimming is open on weekends from beginning of May to the end of September. We visited in winter, so there were no entrance fees.
Any other iconic swimming holes we missed? I’ll be in Austin twice more this year, so point me in the right direction, please!