Hamilton Pool Preserve Park Guide (Dripping Springs, Texas)

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A light trickle finds its way over the moss-covered cliffs and drops into the cool green waters—the small splash not even audible. There’s been yet another drought. While you’d prefer the sights and sounds of the waterfall known to pour off this limestone overhang, its absence won’t stop you from enjoying one of the most pristine and scenic swimming holes in Texas.

Located just thirty miles southwest of Austin, Hamilton Pool usually ranks right at the top of the list for natural wonders in the state of Texas. While popular with locals and frequent travelers to the Texas Hill Country, it’s still not a well-known destination to outsiders.


The remnants of a limestone dome which once hung over these green waters. Photo by sbmeaper1.

The pool’s creation is nothing short of fascinating.

Thousands of years ago, this area was an underground river covered by a large dome. After thousands of years of erosion, the dome came crumbling down, revealing this beautiful sparkling natural pool surrounded by walls of limestone.

The beauty of Hamilton Pool hasn’t always been as thriving as it is today, however.

As the popularity of the pool grew in the 1960s, the area became overran with visitors and was subject to overgrazing by cattle, sheep, and goats.

Much of the native vegetation diminished until the land was purchased by Travis County, and then restoration attempts began. Luckily local government intervened in time, and today much of the environmental damage has been restored. With the help of local citizens and dedicated environmentalists, Hamilton Pool is back to being one of the most pristine environments in the state of Texas.

Once you arrive at the parking lot, it’s a short fifteen-minute-or-so walk to the swimming hole.

The short hike over the rocky trail is not terribly difficult, though much of the terrain is steep and sometimes uneven, so you’re much better off with shoes versus sandals. As mentioned, with good rainfall, there is a fifty-foot waterfall that pours over the moss-covered cliffs into the waters of the pool, but, during droughts, it may be nothing more than a trickle.

Regardless of rainfall levels in the region, Hamilton Pool offers numerous areas to walk around the lake or to just lay out on a sunny day. The water is refreshing, with temperatures usually in the mid-sixties (°F) in the summer and can drop into the fifties as winter approaches, so be prepared for cold water.

A short trail can be accessed via the left fork of the entrance trail (known as the Canyon Trail) that leads down to Hamilton Creek’s confluence with the Pedernales River.

Although the hike is somewhat underwhelming compared to the sights of Hamilton Pool, this trail nonetheless offers a great opportunity to observe local vegetation and wildlife in this wonderful natural preserve.

Some of the plant life found here includes grassy savannas, plus trees such as oaks, juniper, and rare species like the canyon mock-orange plant, the chatterbox orchid, and the red bay, a tree slowly dying out due to the presence of the ambrosia beetle.

As previously mentioned, Hamilton Pool is popular with local residents and frequent visitors to the Hill Country, so it can become very crowded in the summer.

During warm periods, visitors are sometimes forced to wait upward of 45 minutes to 1.5 hours and sometimes get turned away altogether. Therefore, if you’re visiting in the summer and determined to partake in swimming in the pool, you’d be well-advised to get there before 9 a.m. … just not too early.

The preserve doesn’t allow cars to line up at the entrance because it blocks traffic along the main road, and they ask you to be respectful and not park in front of nearby residents’ yards. If you’re planning a trip here in the summer, I recommend calling the park ahead of time to get advice on when exactly to arrive and also to make sure that the pool will be open for swimming.

If you’re just interested in checking out the area and photographing this natural wonder, then consider visiting outside of peak season, such as in the fall, when the crowds have thinned out and the temperatures are milder.

Finally there are no water or concession stands at the pool, so you will need to bring food and drink with you into the park.

And don’t forget, this is a nature preserve aimed at protecting the animal and plant life of the local landscape. Please respect that and make an extra effort to not leave a trace of your visit there.

Finally, while Jacob’s Well, The Narrows, and Hamilton Pool are three of the most beautiful swimming holes in the entire state of Texas, there are many other natural springs in the Texas Hill Country that are absolutely stunning and worth your time as well.

A few of these other swimming hole areas are listed below.

In the summer, Texans love to relax and partake in tubing and swimming in these water holes so it’s always a good idea to get as early a start as possible if you are heading to any of these places.

Also, some of these destinations are located on private property so you’ll need to make a reservation at a lodge or cabin in order to gain access to the river or waterholes but as long as you book well in advance you shouldn’t run into any issues.

Here are some of those places in no particular order to look into:

  • Upper Barton Springs (way less crowded than Barton Springs)
  • Krause Springs
  • Pedernales Falls
  • Sculpture Falls
  • McKinney Falls
  • St Edwards Park
  • The Blue Hole (in Leakey)
  • Barton Springs
  • Devil’s Water Hole
  • The Frio River

Tips

  • Sometimes, due to various conditions, such as after rains, the pool is off-limits to swimmers. Call the park ahead of time to verify that it will be open if you are set on taking a dip.
  • Water shoes are recommended.

Getting There

From Austin, take TX-1 Loop S and exit toward HWY 71 W and follow along the Southwest Pkwy for about 7 miles to TX-71 W. Turn right onto HWY 71 W and drive to about 13 miles to Hamilton Pool Road.

Fees

TypeCost
Reservation Fee – PAID ONLINE (Required Daily from March to October, and Weekends and Holidays from November to February)$11 per Vehicle
Day Use – PAID UPON ARRIVAL$8 per Person
Day Use for Seniors (62 years and older) – PAID UPON ARRIVAL$3 per Person
Day Use for Children (12 years and younger)No Charge
Day Use for Disabled Veteran (50%+ disabled)No Charge

Nearby Destinations

  • Austin, TX (31 miles; 40 min)
  • The Narrows (36 miles; 55 min)
  • Enchanted Rock (71 miles; 1 hour 20 min)
  • San Antonio, TX (87 miles; 1 hour 40 min)
  • Stonehenge II (91 miles; 1 hour 40 min)
  • Lost Maples (133 miles; 2 hours 25 min)
  • Houston, TX (190 miles; 3 hours)

Cover Photo by: Daniel McGrotty

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