Just in time for Memorial Day and the long summer stretching out ahead of us, Julie Wernersbach and Carolyn Tracy have come up with a very handy book indeed: The Swimming Holes of Texas.
The pair took a look at 100 swimming holes in Texas and not only tell you where they are, but how to access them, what's nearby and what you can do when you get there.
William & Eleanor Crook Park: Free.
Take William & Eleanor Crook Park in San Marcos. Now, the rules say no Styrofoam or alcohol, and no nude sunbathing or jumping from the bridges above.
But right there in San Marcos is a six-acre park where you and the San Marcos River can find a certain amount of serenity. Employ the section with the rope swing and you should be able to miss all the tubers elsewhere, the authors say.
Take River Trail Park in Luling. There's no camping but it does offer you a free way to just pull off the roadway and walk into the San Marcos River. Feel free to bring your dogs along; there's kayak and boar rentals available but no lifeguard so take care.
This is also the start of the Luling Zedler Mill Paddling Trail. Park on the grass and have at it.
Hancock Springs in Lampasas is one of the oldest spring-fed swimming pools in the state. Entrance fees range from $2.50-$3.50 a person and free for kids 2 and under. At one time the Central Texas spring on Sulphur Creek was known as the "Saratoga of the South" for its supposed healing powers.
But that was a long time ago; now visitors enjoy it for its clear cold water, kept at 69 degrees all year long.
No matter where you come from, according to the authors, Utopia Park is worth driving to. Located in (of course) Utopia, head for this small Uvalde County town and its community park. This is another swim at your own risk kind of place but it does have restrooms with showers and picnic tables with grills.
Not to miss: a rope swing letting you descend into the Sabinal River. With a soft river bottom spotted with rocks, the authors advise bringing along a set of swim shoes.
The Quince: Off the beaten path.
Located on River Road, off Texas 55 in Camp Wood, this one may take a little more work to find. It's not part of a park system and the authors don't give us a url to check it out with. But this swim spot on the Nueces River north of Uvalde is free to visit and it puts you in full-explorer territory. And it's dog-friendly.
"This spot is entirely unshaded, so plan on bringing plenty of sun protection," the book says.
Equally important, the authors point out: "This is an all natural swim experience. No restrooms or potable water are available, so be sure to bring plenty of drinking water."
If you are into camping as well as visiting a swimming hole, then Garner State Park, located on the Frio River in the small town of Concan, should be on your list, the authors say.
You can bring a tent or RV or stay in one of the screened shelters or cabins. This is also the place for people who enjoy some more of the amenities such as shops selling all sorts of supplies. You can tube down the river and top the night off dancing at the park's pavilion.
The most important tip: If you don't have a reservation, don't bother going to Hamilton Pool in Dripping Springs. According to the authors, the pool is usually booked two weeks in advance. Even if you make reservations, it doesn't guarantee you'll get to swim.
So what makes it so special?
Hamilton Pool is a nature preserve first and foremost. Travis County took control in 1985 after years of damage to the ecosystems there caused by cattle grazing and too many people, the authors say.
But if you get there, here's what you get to see: "Thousands of years of erosion have formed a remarkable otherworldly spot in the center of Texas where water from Hamilton Creek plummets fifty feet into a sere jade pool beneath a collapsed grotto."
*Another protected pool to make your way to is Jacob's Well Natural Area in Wimberley. The swimming spot is tied into "a mile long series of limestone tunnels and caves, one of the longest such underwater systems in Texas." There's a 300-max per day on swimmers and they can only be there for two hours at a time and in groups of 60.
Forest surrounds the small lake at Daingerfield State Park. The lake bottom is sand, and fish will be swimming with you as well. As the authors put it, "this is the dream lake experience."
Most of the park is kept as natural and undeveloped as possible, but there are restrooms with showers and camping is available. $4 for adults and free for kids 12 and under.
Added bonus: Daingerfield is one of the few places that undergo a change in seasons. "When swim season is over, catch a bit of vibrant, colorful fall foliage."
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Even closer: Lake Livingston State Park. Usually packed on weekends with people there for the day or camping overnight, it's not that far from Houston to make a day trip if you have time during the week. Be aware: The water drops off quickly to 6-8 feet deep and there are alligators (though not where you are swimming), so follow the rules about human behavior around them and have a good time.
The Swimming Holes of Texas
By Julie Wernersbach and Carolyn Tracy
University of Texas Press
240 pages, 100 color photos, $21.95.
And now, this: