Making waves

Stunning Hill Country pool cannonballs onto Condé Nast Traveler list of top swimming holes

Hill Country pool cannonballs onto list of top U.S. swimming holes

Hamilton Pool
Condé Nast Traveler says Hamilton Pool has unrivaled “storybook majesty.”  Photo by Deborah Stachelski

As Mother Nature cranks up the heat in Texas, it's time to think about a getaway to cool off in the country’s best swimming holes.

list published May 24 by Condé Nast Traveler magazine crowns Hamilton Pool in the Hill Country — west of Lake Travis and north of Dripping Springs — as one of eight “stunning” swimming holes in the U.S. (But before you jump in the car and drive south from Dallas, there's something to know about it now — read on.)

No other spot in Texas made the unranked list. 

While giving a nod to two other watering holes in Central Texas, Barton Springs and Blue Hole, Condé Nast Traveler insists “they can’t rival the storybook majesty” of the Hill Country’s Hamilton Pool.

“The crown jewel of a 232-acre preserve, its 50-foot waterfall gushes over a limestone outcrop, making for wildly dramatic photos. The falls can slow to a trickle in drier weather, but the pool water remains consistently high,” the magazine says.

But that's a bit of a tease.

Unfortunately, all swimming is prohibited at Hamilton Pool “for the foreseeable future,” the Travis County Parks department recently announced.

“Following the big freeze in February,” the department says, “rocks have been falling with increased frequency at many locations in and around the pool. We are working with geologists to assess the hazard. We do not expect swimming to be allowed this summer.”

Furthermore, the section of trail that flows underneath the overhanging cliff at the pool also is closed for safety reasons, and Saturday morning guided hikes at Hamilton Pool are suspended indefinitely.

Even when this “crown jewel” is accessible, you can’t just show up. Reservations to visit Hamilton Pool are required every day of the week. People seeking a respite from the hot Central Texas summer can usually plunge into Hamilton Pool during the 9 am-12:30 pm and 2-5:30 pm daily reservation periods. The per-car entry fee is $12, while the per-person entry fee is $8 for adults and $3 for seniors; children 12 and younger are admitted at no cost.

Swimming at Hamilton Pool also isn’t allowed after heavy rainfall or if there are high bacteria levels.

So, what if you arrive at your reserved time but aren’t able to swim there?

“Most visitors enjoy hiking to the pool and photographing the waterfall, as well as relaxing on the beach or in the shade of the rock overhang. On most occasions, you can hike three-quarters of a mile through the plush canyon to the Pedernales River,” Travis County Parks says.

If you want to add "top swimming hole" to your out-of-state vacay plans, try another one on the Condé Nast Traveler list: Devil’s Punchbowl, Colorado; North Chick Blue Hole, Tennessee; Fanning Springs State Park, Florida; Robert H. Treman State Park, New York; Falling Water Falls, Arkansas; Slide Rock State Park, Arizona; or McCloud Falls, California.