It was going to be another scorching hot Texas summer day. I was spending time near Austin with some friends, Jeff and Jeannie and their 10 year old daughter Jackie, and we decided to make the best of the sweltering August heat and head to the Hamilton Pool Nature Preserve.
If you’ve never heard of Hamilton Pool, that may be because it is still considered one of Texas’ hidden gems, but the truth is, you can’t keep a special place like this a secret for long. Cars were already lined up for the parking lot when we arrived at 10 AM and we just made it in — the car after us was not permitted in because they had reached the lot’s capacity. I guess the secret is out.
The quarter-mile trail to the pool starts on the edge of the parking lot. It’s not a difficult hike, but it’s tricky enough that if you’re wearing flip-flops, you’ll wish you had worn better shoes. Young Jackie had no problem keeping up with us, but smaller children might need to be carried (no strollers allowed). The trail itself is a nice walk, but as you’re working up a sweat, you just can’t believe there’s anything but more dirt and rocks ahead — then suddenly around a bend, the trees open up and, like a beautiful oasis, the pool comes into view.
Hamilton Pool was created thousands of years ago when an underground river collapsed, creating the sunken grotto. High above, a 50-foot waterfall spills from an outcropping of limestone into the jade green pool. It’s really a breathtaking sight. There’s a small beach area where you can spread out your blanket and relax. Large slabs of rock lying along the inside of the pool are perfect spots for sunbathing. But I wasn’t there to sunbathe – I was anxious to hit the cool water.
We all enjoyed a perfect swim for awhile, taking turns on the two tubes that Jeff had brought. Later, we dried off and scarfed down our sandwiches and chips and it just tasted like the best meal I’ve had in a long time. Someone nearby had brought a guitar and was playing some really nice tunes. The sun was baking hot, but the residual chill of the water kept me cool for awhile. Jeff took his daughter around to the far side of the grotto, underneath the waterfall. Jeannie pulled out a book to read. I grabbed a tube and hit the water again.
At about 3 pm, we started to pack up and make the walk back to the parking lot (it always seems a bit longer on the way out.) Overall, it was a fantastic day enjoying a unique Texas experience.
If you go…
- bring something to float with, a raft or tube
- bring a blanket to sit on
- wear good footwear; the trail has some rocky patches
- pack some food and drinks, there are no concessions there (but remember you will have to carry it all in with you)
- call ahead to be sure that swimming is allowed that day: (512) 264-2740
- bring life jackets or water wings for smaller kids – the pool is up to 30 feet deep in some parts
- bring pets; they are not allowed at all
- bring strollers or wheelchairs; some disabilities can be accommodated by calling ahead.
- pass up your chance to use the outhouses in the parking lot; they are your last chance to use any bathroom facilities
The Hamilton Pool Preserve is located about 30 miles west of Austin on FM 3238. From SH 71/U.S. 290 junction southwest of Austin, take SH 71 about 8 1/2 miles to FM 3238 (Hamilton Pool Road), turn left and travel about 13 miles to the preserve. The entrance to the 232-acre preserve is on the right.
Open 9:00 am to 6:00 pm daily, weather permitting
$10 per car to park, cash only. Parking is available for 75 vehicles. The parking lot is closed temporarily when capacity is reached. Vehicles are then admitted on a “one out, one in” basis.