Forever Cool in a
From Barton Springs to Balmorhea, Texas has more spring-fed swimming opportunities than anywhere in the U.S.
By Michael Hoinski and Julia Jones
If the idea of hitting a crowded neighborhood swimming pool has you uneasy this summer, consider taking a dip in one of Texas’ many spring-fed swimming holes. There’s generally more space to spread out, the natural environment makes for a prettier backdrop, and the non-chlorinated water is easier on the skin. It’s a luxury afforded to those of us lucky enough to live in Texas, which has more spring-fed swimming spots than any other state in the U.S.
There are “pools” with concrete embankments, like at Barton Springs in Austin, Landa Park in New Braunfels, and San Pedro Springs Park in San Antonio. There are also natural bodies of water, like Jacob’s Well and Hamilton Pool in Wimberley and Dripping Springs, respectively. In total, these freshwater oases, sourced by more than 3,000 springs, share consistently low water temperatures that allow for a major cooldown in the summer heat.
Balmorhea Springs Forth
The Civilian Conservation Corps, a public work relief program started by Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression, built state and national parks across Texas. This includes Balmorhea State Park and its iconic West Texas spring-fed swimming pool, which was crafted in the 1930s. Recently, it’s had some major structural difficulties. The wall where the diving board is located crumbled in 2018, forcing the park to shutter for repairs.After reopening in 2019, there were several hiccups with the septic system, forcing the park to shut down again. But in mid-June, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department announced plans for a 643 acre expansion and hopes to open the pool to visitors in late summer.
Plunging into a body of water from a swinging rope is a rite of passage for swimming-hole enthusiasts,
but before you do, consider these safety tips. -Pam LeBlanc
Test the water. Make sure there aren’t any rocks, branches, or other obstacles.
Check the branch
holding the rope. Is it strong enough to hold you?
Untangle the rope from your body for an easy dismount.
Don’t release too soon, or too late. Slamming into a tree trunk is no fun.
Don’t drink and swing, and don’t swing if you can’t swim.
For the “Back to Your Routes” feature in the May 2020 issue of Texas Highways, writer-at-large Joe Nick Patoski combined two of his loves—spring-fed freshwater swimming and road trips—into a single adventure. His proposed “Swimming-Hole Trail” breaks down the 130-mile drive between Georgetown and San Antonio into a one-day (two, if you’re casual about it) excursion that includes six swimming spots for a refreshing summer retreat.
Average temperature at Barton Springs Pool
Year construction on Balmorhea State Park began
Depth (in feet) of the cavern system at Jacob’s Well
Watering Hole Experts
Julie Wernersbach and Carolyn Tracy, who co-authored The Swimming Holes of Texas, visited well over 100 locations in a single summer to write their book. “We’d just look at maps and follow the water,” Julie says.
What are your favorite swimming holes?
Julie: James Kiehl River Bend Park in Comfort. Real pretty little spot. It’s very quiet. It’s small but not typically too crowded, and there’s lots of shade and beautiful trees.
Carolyn: The Schumacher Crossing. It’s literally just a river crossing and an old bridge out near Hunt. When we did the updates for the second edition, we went back there to make sure we had the details right. We had such a great swim there, and it’s sort of off the beaten path.
What are some tips for enjoying these types of places?
Julie: Every step you take has an ecological impact. Keep in mind that you’re visiting a natural spot and it’s beautiful, and we want to keep it beautiful. We have these places only if we protect these places.
Carolyn: Living in a remote place, you see the way that the land bounces back when the tourists go away, and you see what happens when they arrive again. Be really mindful about your impact.