Hamilton Pool
Krause Springs

Some might consider the summer season to be over now that schools are back in session. But this is Texas, and with day time temps still hanging in the upper 90s, it's certainly not time to give up your love for the water.

In Texas just about everyone has their favorite swimming hole. For some it's as simple as a backyard or neighborhood pool. Coastal residents gravitate to their favorite stretch of beach and the warm surf of the Gulf of Mexico for seasonal sport and pleasure.

But more than a few of us can point to at least one spring fed pool or gently flowing river or stream and claim it as our very own sacred swimming hole.

And why not? If you've spent much time in the great outdoors of Texas you know there are plenty of freshwater spots that call to our weary souls, that offer respite from the searing Texas sun; that refresh our bodies and renews our spirits.

Residents in an around Austin, for example, would most likely include a pair of iconic swimming holes tucked neatly away, almost secretly, into the scenic Hill Country landscape, known as Hamilton Pool and Krause Springs.

These natural pools are both fed by springs that bubble up from overhanging bluffs, both creating waterfalls of pleasure that have entertained and refreshed Texans for generations. And the good news is that in spite of encroaching civilization and sprawling urban development in Travis County, both pools remain open and are assessable to the public.

Hamilton Pool
Hamilton Pool Preserve is a historic swimming hole once privately owned and operated but has now been designated a preserve by the Travis County Commissioner's Court. Located 3/4 mile upstream from its confluence with the Pedernales River, Hamilton Creek spills out over limestone outcroppings to create a 50 foot waterfall as it plunges into the head of a steep box canyon. The waterfall never completely dries up, but in dry times it does slow to a trickle.

Hamilton Pool Preserve is a part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP). The BCP is a 30,428-acre system of endangered species habitat owned by Travis County, the City of Austin, The Nature Conservancy, the Lower Colorado River Authority, Travis Audubon Society, as well as privately owned lands. The BCP represents a regional effort to balance protection of endangered species habitat with economic development.

The preserve is home to abundant wildlife including a host of birds, like the Golden-Cheeked Warbler. The diverse vegetation around the pool ranges from semiarid species in the uplands to riparian species in the canyon. The uplands of the preserve are a juniper and oak savannah with a variety of native grasses and wildflowers.

According to the Travis County Web site, a unique natural area surrounds Hamilton pool, a collapsed grotto and canyon, formed by thousands of years of water erosion. Lush plant communities, a variety of wildlife species and natural shelter attracted the area's first inhabitants. Cultural remains date back over 8,000 years.

Prior to the 1800s, Tonkawa and Lipan Apaches lived in the area. In the mid 1860s, Morgan C. Hamilton owned the property. His brother, Andrew Jake Hamilton (the 10th governor of Texas), evidently visited this beautiful grotto often. In the 1880s, the Reimers, an immigrant family from Germany, bought the property to raise sheep and cattle. Legend has it that their eight-year-old son discovered the collapsed grotto.
Although ranchers might have considered the grotto a safety hazard for their livestock, the Reimers soon realized its value as a recreational area and opened the property for public use. Around the turn of the century, only a handful of people had the transportation to come out and enjoy the cool, serene surroundings. By the 1960s, and on into the 1980s, Hamilton Pool's popularity had soared, as visitors packed the legendary swimming hole. The land suffered from sheer numbers and few restrictions.

Thanks to conservation efforts and limited impact policies, you can still enjoy the natural beauty of Hamilton Pool. There are  picnic areas to enjoy, hiking trails and limited swimming. Be warned that the pool is often closed these days in hot, drier months because of contaminated run off from surrounding cattle and sheep ranches. If swimming this sacred spot is your goal, call ahead.

To get to Hamilton pool (35 miles from Austin), take Highway 71 west of Austin through the town of Bee Cave and turn left onto FM 3238 (Hamilton Pool Road). Travel 13 miles to the Preserve entrance, on your right. Parking is limited to 75 cars. There is an $8 per car permit required. For more information, call (512) 854-9383.

Krause Springs
Still privately owned, the story behind this sacred watering hole and how it became assessable to the public is an interesting one. It all started when Elton and Jane Krause began turning the former hog farm into a recreational facility in the 1950s. They discovered the 32 springs on the property created a rather unique environment and knew they had to share it with others.

But the real fun comes where these springs run off a limestone bluff into Cypress Creek below, falling down a wall of natural ferns into a swimming hole that must have been built by angels. There are huge limestone slabs in the creek and surrounding the pool that offer the perfect perch for sunning and relaxing by the water.

Finding Krause Springs can be a little difficult if you're not familiar with the area. Travel west of Austin to Spicewood and turn right on County Road 404 and look for the signs. The park has a campground with RV hookups and hiking trails. No pets are allowed, and admission is $3 per person. For more information, call the Krauses at 830/693-4181.