More Swimming Holes

Read Hector Saldana in the July 24 edition of the San Antonio Express News on the Great Swimming Holes of Texas. Go to and search for Hector to get the full story w/pics Texas swimming holes offer something wet, cool and uplifting
Web Posted: 07/24/2005 12:00 AM CDT

Hector Saldaña
San Antonio Express-News

(Gloria Ferniz/Express-News)

The Hamilton Poll Preserve in Austin offers swimmers a view and a 50-foot waterfall.

Favorite swimming holes
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Editor's note: Staff writer Hector Saldaña loaded up his kids and nephews to explore the best swimming holes in Texas. Here is his report.

Who says there's ain't no cure for the summertime blues?

Rebellious '50s guitar slinger Eddie Cochran howled that famous line so believably, but he might have changed his tune had he ever splashed in, tubed on, swung off a rope into, or snorkeled under the summertime blue waters of Texas' favorite swimming holes.

Author, writer and swimming hole guru Joe Nick Patoski believes visiting the bountiful cluster of natural swimming holes in our vicinity can even bring you nearer to God.

"It's my church," said Patoski, 54, who has been writing about and passionately discovering and rediscovering the greatest swimming holes throughout the Hill Country for more than 20 years. "It's where I go to get spiritual. I can't get closer to God than my swimming hole."

The best spots are spring-fed, others are in the state's chilliest rivers and a few are even man-enhanced, walled-in playgrounds. All are precious gems — with the ability to cleanse the spirit, if not the soul.

Evidence indicates that man has used these clean, clear artesian spring waters for thousands of years — for recreation, as well as sustenance.

Located west of Interstate 35, they remain mostly wild and clean, though they are being encroached upon by urban development (for example, the fabled Blue Hole in Wimberley was recently saved and is expected to be open full time to the public next year).

"Between San Antonio and Austin, and west toward the Hill Country, we are blessed with the greatest preponderance of natural swimming experience opportunities anywhere in the United States," Patoski said. "Swimming is a sublime experience when you can swim in a natural setting in the way water was meant to be. We're in a sweet spot on this earth."

Though they are visited by thousands of people annually, they remain secret and personal hideaways to those who come — Patoski says that sense of ownership is almost universal among visitors who make the pilgrimages — especially for those lucky enough to manage a weekday trip, which is highly recommended. Weekends in the summer at these spots are usually insanely crowded.

But they all remain down-home joys that conjure old-time images of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

Octogenarian Elton Krause still sits at the entrance of his Krause Springs property to collect entrance fees and chew the fat.

Back on the other side of the Pedernales River, the splashing echoes of children playing in the cavernous Hamilton Pool greet visitors climbing down its steep trails.

And yes, where water hits rock in nature, surfaces can get slippery and slimy, so there is a chance that a child or adult might skin a knee or bust a tush if they're not careful. Better to be cautious than skip this kind of fun.

Here is a ranking of some of our favorite swimming holes in the region sure to put a smile on your face.

(Gloria Ferniz/Express-News)

Visitors to Neal's Lodges on the Frio River enjoy diving off the large boulder.

(Gloria Ferniz/Express-News)

Clear water at Garner State Park attracts snorkelers.

(Nicole Frugé/Express-News)

Franky Rivera makes a leap for the water outside San Pedro Springs Pool.

1. San Solomon Springs Pool You don't necessarily have to be foolhardy to fly headfirst off a high diving board in the middle of the desert if you're lucky enough to be at San Solomon Springs Pool in Balmorhea State Park. It's the big daddy of them all — and a true oasis in the middle of nowhere.
The gigantic, 77,053-square-foot watery jewel of West Texas is fed by Solomon Springs and was built in the 1930s under President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. But American Indians and early Mexican settlers used the springs for hundreds of years before the park opened in 1968. The deep water is clear, icy and teeming with fish and turtles — perfect for snorkeling.

It's located a few miles west of Balmorhea, officially in the town of Toyahvale. Definitely worth the six-hour drive from San Antonio.

2. Prince Solms Park Tube Chute in Landa Park

In the shadow of Schlitterbahn Waterpark is the curving, little concrete river chute that dwarfs the gigantic watery theme park in terms of natural, watery fun. New Braunfels' Prince Solms Park exposes the little ones to the awesome power and thrill of the river with minimum risks — though there are some. Experienced lifeguards are on the lookout for anyone in trouble in its rapids.
Kids and adults alike love going through the exhilarating, fast and slippery water chute over and over again — with or without tubes — and then allow the swirling waters to get them back to shore.

"The chute is what begat Schlitterbahn," said aficionado Patoski. "America's greatest waterpark would not exist if they didn't have the Comal Springs."

3. Krause Springs

With its coves, cascading waterfall cliff and lush ferns, this swimming hole is considered by many to be the most beautiful in all of Texas. And indeed, it looks like a tropical Hawaiian getaway. Located 34 miles west of Austin near Spicewood, it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Picturesque, yes. But this is a hands-on, cannonball-into-the-water sort of place.

Thirty-two springs feed the Cypress Creek swimming hole (and a man-made pool) that has never run dry. Owner Elton Krause warns visitors to not jump off the high bluffs, but kids do it anyway. The cold waterfall and swinging rope will delight all. No pets and no credit cards.

4. Barton Springs Pool

It is said that American Indians referred to the popular swimming hole as their sacred springs because of its healing powers. It's true. On any given scorcher of a day, the 3-acre Barton Springs Pool in Austin's Zilker Park can still heal the blues. Underground springs make for an icy 68-degree swim and a great pick-me-up after sunbathing. Barton Springs may just be home to the best (not too high, not too low) diving board in the state.
The pool received its first major facelift in 1929 when a lower dam was added and its banks were paved with sidewalks. A great tradition for kids is to stop at nearby Sandy's Frozen Custard afterward for the best soft-serve cone around.

5. San Marcos River at City Park (San Marcos Lions Club Tube Rental)

This is the safest, fastest and guaranteed easiest tubing experience around. Depending on the river's flow, the trip will take about 45 minutes under railroad crossings, walkways and street bridges before roaring over the dam at the San Marcos River Pub & Grill at Rio Vista Park — the payoff on this short trip.

Of course, the scenic waterfront homes are envy-producing. Don't let the underwater fauna discourage swimming at least part of the way in the clear waters. Rental includes "river taxi" ride back to the park. Proceeds benefit Lions Club charities.

The park is in San Marcos, near Bobcat Stadium.

6. Hamilton Pool Preserve

So deep, at points, that even strong swimmers can't touch bottom at this pristine hideaway.
A 50-foot waterfall cascades over the amphitheater-like rock overhang and offers warm showers on a hot day. It's a real hike down and up, but worth every ache and pain. Hamilton Pool attracts 75,000 visitors a year. Its parking lot holds 75 cars, so it's best to come early. No pets allowed and visitors should call first to confirm that swimming conditions are good.

Bring floaties and life vests for youngsters who can't swim because the drop comes quickly off the shore. Remember, if you're planning a picnic at this Austin-area treasure, it's a long haul back up with the ice chests.

7. Blue Hole

The swimming schedule for this idyllic, if icy-cold, paradise is worth tracking — because the fabled old campsite had been closed for the last couple of years and has only been open sporadically (Memorial Day and July Fourth this year). Destined to becoming a backdrop to condos, the Blue Hole proved worth saving for the public good and has become the first big project for Wimberley.
In its heyday, just watching the local kids jumping from high atop the cypress trees was worth the visit. The water is cool and clean — shallow and deep. And the Blue Hole features some of the best rope swings in the state. Visitors should know that pets and alcoholic beverages are not allowed. No camping, either.

8. Neal's Lodges

Shuttle upstream for a great tubing experience or just walk down to the water's edge and jump in. This popular Frio River swimming hole in Concan offers shade and sun and a chance for adventure. The brave may want to jump and dive off the giant landmark rock that protrudes out of the river near the cabins. Others may want to hang out on its rocky banks. Perfect for picnics and a cool dip. Nearby Camp Riverview is amazing, too, with a deep swimming hole located right in the middle of the rapids.
9. Garner State Park

Famous as a haven for campers, but day-trip visitors can enjoy the cool, shady Frio River here, too, where it rolls over a dam to form a spectacular swimming area. And for pet lovers this is the place. Go ahead and bring the doggies but they must be on a leash, attended at all times and have proof of all vaccinations. And owners must clean up any messes.
There are plenty of trails to enjoy, too. It's definitely worth the drive out U.S. 90 toward this Concan cool spot.

10. San Pedro Springs Pool

The lush, historic man-made pool surrounded by giant cypress trees near downtown San Antonio and across the street from San Antonio College is the centerpiece of the second-oldest park in the country — the oldest in Texas.
Originally built in 1922, the pool fell into disrepair in the 1940s and was brought back to life in 1954. It was beautifully refurbished in 1998. The pool is perfect for kiddies, gradually sloping from ankle deep to about 4 feet deep. Although it looks like it's spring-fed because of the gushing waters at its shallow end, in truth it's chlorinated (which would exclude it from Patoski's annual list), but it's still the best in this town and a popular, sentimental favorite.

You can find it at 1315 San Pedro Ave.


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