This is a secluded swim spot in Southeast Asia or Hawaii. This is the Hamilton Pool Preserve, a collapsed grotto and canyon in Dripping Springs, TX, about 45 minutes west of downtown Austin. A 50-foot waterfall, fed by Hamilton Creek, gushes over the limestone outcrops, making for both dramatic photos and a killer back massage. In dry weather, the waterfall sometimes slows to a trickle, but pool levels always remain consistent.
The summer 2016 season (May 15-September 30) was the first time Travis County Parks required reservations to visit the 232-acre preserve. Attendees must book ahead online, choosing a morning (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) or afternoon (2 to 6 p.m.) time slot and paying a $10 reservation fee and $1 credit card processing fee. This is in addition to a $15 vehicle fee paid in cash or check at the gate. Note: Booking fees are nonrefundable, so you’re taking a gamble on the weather. Plus, swimming is never guaranteed. Like Barton Springs in Austin’s Zilker Park, the pool is sometimes closed due to high bacteria levels.
FWIW, we recommend afternoons for better light and warmer water (a lovely 78 degrees-ish). BYO drinking water and snacks, sunblock, towels, folding beach chairs, pool floats, sneakers for the easy quarter-mile hike in, and water shoes for the torturously rocky beach.
24300 Hamilton Pool Rd., Dripping Springs, TX; 512-264-2740.