When it comes to jumping in secluded lakes, rivers and ponds, I can hardly keep my clothes on.
Before you start with the lectures, let me just say this: If you’ve never taken a naked outdoor plunge, you’re missing one of life’s most perfect pleasures. Nothing feels better than water against bare skin, outdoors, under the leaves and stars. Besides, if polar bears, otters and alligators can all happily sashay through life without button-fly pants and hoodies, doesn’t it deserve a try?
I prefer my fiber-free forays private, such as at friends’ private ranches, and I’d never advocate naked swimming in front of unsuspecting onlookers. But for me, backpacking trips always mean nightly dashes, sans clothing, into ice-cold lakes and streams. If no one’s around to freak out, I’ll peel off my swimsuit and jump into Lake Austin after a dawn water-skiing session. I’ve dipped a bare bun or two into any number of lakes in the High Sierras of California, the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and private ranches all over the Texas Hill Country.
Tempted to scrap the swimsuit? Be smart — and polite — about it, and keep the legalities in mind. State law prohibits the reckless exposure of private parts in public, so you can’t just tear off all your clothes and promenade into Lady Bird Lake. You could be cited for indecent exposure or disorderly conduct. But in Texas, it’s also perfectly legal for both men and women to go topless, because female breasts are not considered genitalia.
With that, may we present a few possible places to commune — with discretion — with nature:
1. Hippie Hollow, 7000 Comanche Trail, Austin (hippiehollow.com)
The vibe: This Travis County park ranks as the only official clothing-optional public park in Texas. If you’re OK with public nudity — and by that we mean fully naked men and women casually strolling down trails and lounging on boulders — the stair-stepped limestone rocks and undulating shoreline make it a lovely place to hang out.
The rules: Even though it’s a nudist-friendly park, nudity isn’t required. As the website notes, “Nudity is acceptable; lewd behavior is not and will be prosecuted.” Also, don’t take your clothes off in the parking lot — wait until you’re on the trail to remove your coverings. Admission is $15 per vehicle, with no lifeguard on duty.
The lowdown: If you don’t mind an audience, here’s your spot. Even if you don’t wear pants, wear sturdy shoes, because it’s a scramble to the water.
2. Barton Creek greenbelt
The vibe: You didn’t hear it from me, but when we’ve had decent rain, it’s not hard to find a glimmering, waist-high pool of water in which to relax au naturel. Try hiking up- or down-stream a ways from popular watering holes like Gus Fruh, Twin Falls or Sculpture Falls, and visit at off hours if you plan to skinny-dip.
The rules: Same old, same old. No reckless exposure, no lewd behavior.
The lowdown: Please don’t litter, and stay discreet, my friends.
3. Star Ranch, 166 Eely Road, McDade (starranch.net)
The vibe: Conjure up the image of a typical nudist park in your mind, and you’ll probably picture someplace like Star Ranch, where people of all shapes and sizes live in modest homes and congregate around a recently renovated swimming pool to cool off or play water volleyball. One resident tells me there’s talk of adding log-rolling to the activity schedule.
The rules: Visitors can pay $30 for a day pass. The resort conducts a background check on all first-time guests. Go to the website at starranch.net and fill out the new visitor registration form at least 24 hours before arrival. For more information, call general manager Ken Wilson at 512-273-2257.
The lowdown: The ranch hosts the Bare Buns 5K race each spring, and this year has added a fall Chilly Cheeks 5K to its calendar.
4. Lake Austin
The vibe: It’s all about timing on Lake Austin. I’m a slalom water-skier, and I regularly skinny-dip after a dawn ski set. Hardly anyone’s out there at 7 a.m., nobody can see me, nobody cares. Just respect people who live on the lakes and be discreet.
The rules: “LCRA does not have any specific rules regarding public nudity,” according to Clara Tuma, public information officer for the Lower Colorado River Authority, which operates multiple parks along the Colorado River. Do remember those state laws regarding indecent exposure and public lewdness, though.
The lowdown: Don’t swim nekkid in front of someone’s house. The cliff wall beneath Mount Bonnell works at nonpeak hours, or other places where you won’t alarm residents.
5. Barton Springs Pool,2131 William Barton Drive, Austin (austintexas.gov/department/barton-springs-pool)
The vibe: During hot summer afternoons, hordes of people flock to this beautiful, spring-fed pool in the center of the city. Topless women (and there aren’t a lot of them these days — the practice seems to have peaked in the 1970s) tend to hang out beneath the big shade trees behind the diving board, opposite the main entrance.
The rules: Under Texas law, men and women are allowed to go topless in Texas. “This includes city of Austin pools and parks,” says Shelley Parks, spokeswoman for the Austin Parks and Recreation Department. “As for clothing-optional, the Parks and Recreation Department does not allow nude patrons at our pools or in the parks.” Admission is $3 for resident adults.
The lowdown: At risk of getting myself in hot water, I’ve skinny-dipped at Barton Springs before. Three friends and I did it early one morning, slipping out of our deck jackets and into the water under cloak of darkness. Nobody noticed — not even the two other people swimming at 5:45 a.m.