Tarzan did it right, swinging through the jungle on vines and tree branches, taking the occasional dip into crocodile-infested waters.
We’ll pass on the crocs but love the free-as-a-breeze feeling that comes when you take a flying leap off a rope swing into a cool Texas river or lake.
We’ve rounded up some of our favorite rope swings in Central Texas, but our guide comes with a few caveats. Rope swings come and go like smoke rising from a Texas barbecue pit, and what’s there today may be gone tomorrow. Sometimes city officials remove them because they deem them unsafe. Sometimes the swings are located on private property. (The public can legally access any navigable waterway in Texas — including the river bank up to the gradient boundary line, roughly midway between the flowing water and the top of the cut bank.)
Our advice? Respect private property rights. Make sure any swing is safe before you take the plunge (check our handy safety tips).
And hold on tight — but remember to let go!
Blue Hole Regional Park. Two rope swings lure brave swimmers off towering cypress trees into Cypress Creek, which runs cold and clear through Blue Hole. Older kids and adults gravitate toward the bigger swing, with a metal loop for a handle; little kids can learn the ropes on a smaller one with a triangular handle. There are no lifeguards. Picnics are permitted; alcohol and tobacco are banned. Gates open 10 a.m.; arrive by 9:30 a.m. on nice days. 100 Blue Hole Lane, Wimberley. Admission $9 adults; $5 youth, seniors and military. 512-660-9111; cityofwimberley.com.
Krause Springs. You’ll probably want to wear water shoes when you climb the knobby limestone rock that serves as a launchpad for the multi-knotted rope swing at this old-timey swimming hole about 30 miles west of Austin. It’s all tucked beneath a fern-covered cliff at a privately-owned park that opened in 1955. Think Shangri-La in the Texas Hill County, with plenty of rocks for sunning and a campground if you just can’t tear yourself away at the end of the day. 404 Krause Spring Road, Spicewood. Admission $8 adults, $5 children, free 4 and younger; cash only. 830-693-4181; krausesprings.net.
Olympic Outdoor Center. Pack a picnic and rent one of the cabanas at the Olympic Outdoor Center, where you can try out several rope swings — as well as a slide, a sand badminton court, a floating dock and a concrete dock — on a lush corner of the San Marcos River. These are family-friendly swings suitable for beginners. 602 North Interstate 35, San Marcos. Cabana rentals start at $95 for up to five people. 512-203-0093; kayakinstruction.org.
San Marcos River. Just a 15-minute paddle downstream of Interstate 35, a broad old oak spreads its branches over the river. Look closely. The tallest branches of what’s been dubbed the Stokes Oak hold a rotating cast of hammocks, chairs and even a barbecue pit (despite city rules that ban grills within 25 feet of the river.) On a recent visit, two rope swings hung from the tree, too — a big one that requires climbing up wooden boards nailed to the trunk, and a smaller one with a round plastic seat that launches from the bank. One word: epic. East of Interstate 35 in San Marcos. Free.
Quest ATX. Yep, most folks head to Quest ATX to practice their wakeboarding skills behind a moving cable on a placid, manmade lake. But this year, park owners installed a pair of high-flying rope swings, so when you’re tired of wakeboarding, you can set sail from the 8-foot or 14-foot swings, anchored to a metal platform. Bon voyage! 10815 FM 1625. Pass to access rope swings, inflatable water bouncer, kayaks and paddleboards for $9 (or $6 add-on to wakeboard pass). 512-298-9370; questatx.com.
Barton Creek Greenbelt. Rope swings tend to pop up periodically on the Barton Creek Greenbelt, which cuts a lush slice through South Austin. Check water levels before you go, because the creek dries up soon after rains stop. The best swings typically appear on trees alongside the Gus Fruh and Sculpture Falls swimming holes. Before you jump, make sure the landing area is free of obstacles. Free. 512-974-6700.
St. Edwards Park. From the main parking lot of this lush park in Northwest Austin, where ferny walls and braided streams abound, take the trail to the right and keep heading upstream. You’ll eventually reach what some folks describe as Rope Swing Heaven. 7301 Spicewood Springs Road. Free. 512-974-6700.
Lake Austin, upstream from Pennybacker Bridge. You can’t get there by land, but boaters favor this rope swing, which is located across the river from the Loop 360 boat ramp and a little upstream. They anchor just offshore, then scramble atop a huge slab of rock, ground zero of a picture-perfect rope swing. For maximum satisfaction, wave at motorists stuck in gridlock traffic on the bridge while you zing yourself into the cool, emerald green water. Free.
The Texas Hill Country is filled with rope swings, if you know where to look.
If you don’t mind traveling a little farther, check out the rope swings at Utopia City Park (240 Utopia Park Road, Utopia) or Garner State Park (234 RM 1050, Concan). Both get our stamp of approval. Lake Travis is also home to swings, although most are situated on private property or boat docks.
Rope swings come with inherent risks. Before you swing, heed these tips:
1. Check that the rope is securely tied or affixed to the tree or other structure.
2. Make sure the rope is strong and not frayed or rotted.
3. Get into the water to confirm that no rocks, branches or other debris obstruct the landing area. Remember that water depths change, so obstacles that were out of reach last summer could be a problem now, and debris like tree branches could have washed in since your last visit.
4. Make sure you can’t get tangled in the rope or any attached cord used to reel it in.
5. If you have to climb boards nailed to a tree to launch yourself off the rope, make sure they’re not rotten and are securely attached.
6. Never wrap a rope around your wrist or any other body part.
7. If you can’t swim, don’t go off a rope swing.
8. Make sure you can clear all above-ground rocks, trees or other obstacles when the rope swings out.
9. Alcohol (or drugs) and rope swings don’t mix.
10. Remember to let go of the rope when it’s over the water.