With Austin in the throes of its triple-digit summer season and plenty of people wanting to cool off, a two-hour wait to dip into the refreshing waters of Hamilton Pool is not the exception, it’s the rule.
“The wait is pretty much unavoidable,” said veteran Travis County Parks supervisor Michael Brewster. “We get the line as soon as we open the gates and we don’t lose that line until about 30 minutes before we close.”
People actually appear … satisfied … as they pull off Hamilton Pool Road onto the preserve only to come to an abrupt halt where they’ll sit in a seemingly never-ending string of idling cars to wait for their chance to park and hike the scenic, rocky quarter of a mile to the historic swimming hole.
First-time pool visitor Joanna Campbell of San Antonio left her car in line to visit the ladies’ room. “A friend of ours came to the pool and posted pics on Facebook,” she said. “I had to come. It’s a must-see.”
Hamilton Pool is stuff of local legend. A naturally made pool on land once owned by the brother of Andrew Jackson Hamilton, Texas’ 10th governor, it’s the result of thousands of years of water erosion that has over time helped form the picturesque grotto and canyon. It’s like swimming at the bottom of a huge open cave surrounded by layers of great cliffs and rocks upon which one can climb and rest to soak in the sun. Add to that the small stretch of sandy beach, grand overhanging trees and lush foliage, a sparkling 50-foot waterfall, and you have why visitors often remark Hamilton Pool is like something out of this state.
'A destination park'
“It’s a destination park,” Brewster said. “A lot of people get down into the canyon and they’ll say, ‘I can’t believe we’re in Texas. We were in Texas one moment and then five minutes later it’s like we’re in Central America.’ ”
The pool is part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, a more than 30,000-acre system of protected land owned by the City of Austin, Travis County, the Nature Conservancy, the Lower Colorado River Authority and the Travis Audubon Society. In the summer months, the water is a warm and comfortable 80 degrees and suits all ages, from the youngest swimmers, who can frolic around the shallow end near the shore of the beach, to beyond the drop-off where the water can sink to depths as low as 25 feet.
Hand down, Hamilton Pool is one of the Austin area’s favorite swimming holes.
“It’s awesome,” said Matthew Stuart of Elkhart. “It’s the perfect family spot. We’ve had a blast. We’ll be back.”
Where: 24300 Hamilton Pool Road, Dripping Springs.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, weather permitting. No entry after 5:30 p.m., when swimming ends.
Cost: Vehicles: $10 a day. Pedestrians/cyclists: $3 a day. Trailers: $2 a day. Annual day permit for one vehicle: $100. Free for senior citizens 62 and older. Cash or check only, no credit cards.
Safety first: No pets in the preserve. Alcohol is allowed but public display of consumption is prohibited (coolers and koozies should be used, no glass containers. Park managers say they can tell when someone is drunk, which is not allowed.). No cooking, fishing, mountain biking, strollers or firearms. Swim at your own risk; no lifeguard on duty.
Information: parks.traviscountytx.gov/find-a-park/hamilton-pool. Call 512-264-2740 for daily updates.
Amenities: Picnic tables, hiking trails, restrooms with waterless composting toilets at the start of the trail leading to the pool.
Accessibility: Upon request, park staffers can take visitors with disabilities by truck to the bottom of the canyon, but cannot assist them to the pool. There are two miles of wheelchair accessible trails at Reimers Ranch about a mile away from the Hamilton Pool Preserve.
Maximum capacity: 225. (The park sometimes has to turn visitors away because of overcrowding. Nearby parks include Reimers Ranch, Pace Bend Park, Windmill Run, Krause Springs, Pedernales Falls Park and Blue Hole in Wimberley.)
Best time to beat the crowds: Before 11 am. Monday through Friday. If you visit weekday afternoons or weekends, expect to wait in line for up to two hours.
Depths: Blue Hole is shallow near the beach shore and gradually gets as deep as 20 feet. Beware drop-offs and underwater rocks.
Water cleanliness: The swimming hole is checked for bacteria every week. Park staffers take water samples to the City of Austin’s Walnut Creek Labs. Results usually take a day to come back at which time the pool remains closed. The pool also shuts down for bacteria checks after heavy rains.