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Cool Waters

“Deep in the Heart of Texas” has many meanings, but did you ever think you’d find a lush canopy of green ferns, a waterfall straight out of the tropics and a freshwater swimming hole here? In the summertime, Texans love to dip their toes (and more) in the cool waters of the Hamilton Pool Preserve near Austin.

Where: Hamilton Pool Preserve is located in Dripping Springs, southwest of Austin, 13 miles off Highway 71. Plan for a 3.5-hour trip from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Lay off the road-trip munchies, and save your appetite for a hearty barbecue meal at The Salt Lick, an Austin-area staple located near the preserve. (Be sure to bring cash; this legendary restaurant doesn’t accept credit cards.)

Why it’s great for families: Hamilton Pool Preserve is an easy hike for children of all ages. It’s a gorgeous oasis to visit during the summer, as everyone can dip in the chilly pool to cool off. With entry via the beach, even the youngest visitors can enjoy splashing around in the water.

What to do: Visitors to Hamilton Pool Preserve come to swim in the collapsed grotto that includes a pool and waterfall. With lush, fern-covered rocks and cool breezes, the scenery looks like something out of Hawaii, smack in the middle of Central Texas.

For years, Hamilton Pool was a popular swimming hole and people descended upon the area in droves, damaging the delicate ecosystem of the area. In the 1980s, the property was sold to Travis County, which implemented an aggressive land-management plan to restore Hamilton Pool to its original state. Slowly, the cliffs became covered in ferns once again, and the areas surrounding the grotto became green and thick, making it the cool oasis that it once was.

Because Hamilton Pool is a preserve, visitors are required to stay on the trails at all times. In addition to swimming in the pool, visitors can climb down behind the waterfall, clamber over the rocks, sun themselves on the rocky beach or explore more of Hamilton Creek along the trail that runs beside it. You can easily spend the whole afternoon here.

Lodging: Overnight stays are not allowed in the park. For a unique overnight experience, check out the nearby treehouses at Cypress Valley, a 15-minute drive from the preserve. If you prefer more luxe accommodations, consider staying at the historic Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin. For an uber-cool and relaxed vibe, check out the Hotel San Jose on South Congress Avenue or the Heywood Hotel on Cesar Chavez Street.

Don’t miss: During the summer months, don’t miss the flight of thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats that emerge from under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge each night at sunset. Park in the Austin American-Statesman parking lot, and grab a spot on the lawn to see the amazing show. The bats come out to dine on insects, and are virtually harmless.

Hamilton Pool Preserve
Dripping Springs, 512/264-2740

Published August 2015