Words by Blair Waller
I think I speak for the rest of us when I say we’ve had enough of this drought business. The lakes are near an all-time low, the temperatures near an all-time high and that combination, however logical, is a drag. Is it too much to ask for moderate heat (let’s say sub 100 degrees) and lakes and rivers at, say, 75% their maximum level? We’re dying here and we don’t want to go the way of Houstonites who pump out the greatest amount of AC in the nation while travelling in warp speed from house to restaurant and back to the house! We’ve had enough! Give us precipitation!
OK, I passionately digress – I apologize. I blame the heat. Supposedly it causes stress coupled by exhaustion and bouts of unfounded rage. Again, I’m sorry. But look on the bright side – I wrote that late last week and look what happened: our greatest rainfall of the summer thus far over the last 4 days. The LCRA (Lower Colorado River Authority) quotes between 3 and 4 inches over the past week. Things, as they say, are looking up.
To test my perhaps irrational optimism over a few drops of rain, I decided to look at the grand scheme – lake level averages over the last 70 years. As it turns out, while we are at an extreme low, we have been here before. Our lakes were at similar levels in 2000, 1985, 1965, 1953 and in the early 1940’s. Statistical regression analysis (and common sense) tells us that we’re on a downswing with an eventual upswing on our near horizon. I’d say that’s some rational optimism.
On that note, with the steadily rising water levels in full swing, we come to LIVIN Austin’s topic for the week: Top 15 Places To Cool Off. By this, we mean watering holes (actual, not alcohol / bar related), rivers, streams, lake spots, canals, brooks, straits, reservoirs, ponds, estuaries, tributaries, creeks, lagoons and moats in the city. OK, having a little fun there (again, I blame the heat) but you get the idea. The only requirement is that they must be within an hour drive of Austin city proper.
Distance from Austin: Stone’s throw
Austin’s most iconic and popular summer chill spot is a swimming hole in the truest sense of the word. It’s a naturally fed spring, teeming with aquatic life and maintains a steady 68 degrees year round. For $3 admission, you can work up a heat on the grass, take a skin-chilling dip, get back on the grass and take it the view of downtown. Rinse, bask and repeat.
Distance from Austin: 45 minutes
More of an insider’s spot than Barton Springs, Krause Springs is privately owned swimming area that is open to the public, if that makes sense (in Austin culture, it makes perfect sense). It has everything you could dream of in a Hill Country summer paradise – 70 degree naturally spring fed pool, relative-to-city seclusion, ancient trees, a waterfall and a rope swing. Make the trip to Spicewood and don’t tell all your friends.
Distance from Austin: Stone’s throw on Lake Austin Boulevard
An ideal spot for lap swimmers and spring fed enthusiasts alike (it has both). Deep Eddy sports two claims of note: first swimming pool in Texas and Austin historic landmark. Plus, they post a movie screen at the venue during the summer months. A mandatory complement to an afternoon here is nearby Deep Eddy Cabaret where the Lone Star pitchers flow like the eddy itself.
Distance from Austin: 42 minutes
This spot ranks as one of the finest swimming holes in the country. This might be the closest you’ll come to Utah-esque scenery in the Hill Country, complete with massive limestone boulders, rock formations formed over thousands of years due to erosion, stalactites and a 50-foot waterfall. This dome-shaped grotto is a small step from Austin and a grand leap from Texas as you know it.
Distance from Austin: 31 minutes
The place of legend without clothes (yes, they are optional but don’t get too excited – it’s not exactly southern France). Granted, this is more of a novelty than a quality swimming area but it belongs on the must-do Austin bucket list and therefore reserves a spot in this post. Although, for the rare bird enthusiast doing a “big year”, Hippie Hollow is the quintessential location to spot the black-capped vireo!
Distance from Austin: 45 minutes
Head down I-35 and take a sharp right toward Wimberley and you’ll hit the spring-fed gem of Cypress Creek. Not to get too crazy on you, but the water here is in fact clear – a rarity in these parts. That and a couple rope swings and you can call it an afternoon.
Blue Hole (Georgetown)
Distance from Austin: 32 minutes
We figured one good Blue Hole deserves another but this one is the opposite direction on I-35, due north in Georgetown. Lesser known than most other swimming holes in the area, Blue Hole Georgetown is less crowded and therefore welcomes those apt for a quieter swim and grassy-based lounge. This spot is worth the trip if you’ve experienced the others above and in need of a scene less swum.
Distance from Austin: Approximately 10 minutes
There are many entry points to this 8-mile stretch of creek along beautiful Barton Creek Greenbelt. For a great hike / occasional dip, you have 2 main options of Upper Greenbelt (Lost Creek to Hwy 360) and Lower Greenbelt (Hwy 360 to Zilker Park). We recommend either or both, depending on preference and physical condition. You can hike, bike, swim, enjoy the vegetation or a combination of each. Whatever your fancy, you’re bound to see many kicking back with coolers at the hot spots, doing as Austinites do.
Distance from Austin: 54 minutes
The furthest from Austin on this list is well worth the extra investment in time and gas. This picturesque spot, with crystal clear water and centuries-old cypress trees lining the water, is a place to clear your thoughts and escape the weekly grind. Throw in a short hike and you’ll actually be mentally prepared to return to work Monday following an adventure well sought. OK, that might be a gross over-exaggeration but still, it’s a release you won’t soon forget.
Distance from Austin: 49 minutes
This secluded swimming hole resides at the head of Cypress Creek just outside of Wimberley. The mostly clear pool sits atop a caving system that is explored by divers although it is less likely these days. Adventure sets in immediately at the trailhead as you trek down a gravel road to this lesser-known oasis.
Rounding out the Top 15, we present the following swimming holes of particular interest…
Pace Bend Park (Paleface Park)
Distance from Austin: 49 minutes
Distance from Austin: 18 minutes
Distance from Austin: 16 minutes
St. Edwards Park
Distance from Austin: 22 minutes
Devil’s Watering Hole
Distance from Austin: 60 minutes
With the heat lasting through September, it’s not too late to hit each of the above if you’re up to it. When in Austin, do as the Austinites, and venture to a swimming hole nearby or within a short hour’s drive, jamming summer tunes and taking in the Hill Country scenery.