This summer we're taking a look at interesting, odd, historic and just plain worth it road trips in and around the Lone Star State.
It's blistering hot outside and we're looking for any way to cool off. From lakes, rivers and spring-fed pools to the Gulf of Mexico — we've got the list for best water holes in Texas. Because it seems to take at least an hour just to get outside the city limits, we've pared it down to those within 240 miles of downtown Houston so you won't see Balmorhea State Park, Gorman Falls or Blue Hole in Leakey. How many have you visited?
Barton Springs Pool (172 miles from Houston, in Austin)
Amenities: Within Zilker Park is this three-acre, man-made pool that offers plenty of people-watching and swimming, all fed by a natural spring that keeps the temperature at a cool 68-70 degrees.
2201 Barton Springs Road, Austin, Texas 78704, 512-974-6300, austintexas.gov/department/barton-springs-pool
Barton Creek Greenbelt (172 miles from Houston, in Austin)
Amenities: Located in south-central Austin, the Greenbelt offers more than 12 miles of trails with multiple access points to Barton Creek: Spyglass Access near Campbell's Hole (1601 Spyglass) and Gus Fruh Access (2642 Barton Hills Drive), among others. The water levels rise and fall, so it's hit or miss, and parking is sometimes tricky.
Bastrop State Park (136 miles from Houston, southeast of Austin)
Amenities: Swim, fish and marvel at how the Lost Pines are recovering from forest fires and recent floods. Good news: The historic swimming pool (built in 1937) just reopened after major renovations and remains open until September. Bad news: the ten-acre lake is gone, due to dam failure. 100 Park Road 1A, Bastrop, Texas 78602, 512-321-2101, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/bastrop
Blanco State Park (206 miles from Houston, west of Austin)
Amenities: Swim, fish, paddle, boat and tube. The small park hugs a one-mile stretch of the spring-fed Blanco River and small children can play in the shallow wading pool next to Falls Dam.
101 Park Road 23, Blanco, Texas 78606, 830-833-4333, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/blanco
Blue Hole Regional Park (182 miles from Houston, southwest of Austin)
Amenities: The City of Wimberley stepped up to the plate to save Blue Hole from encroaching residential development, so props to them. Swimming in this 126-acre park is only permitted during the swimming season, May through September.
100 Blue Hole Lane, Wimberley, Texas 78676, 512-660-9111, cityofwimberley.com
Boykin Springs Recreation Area (146 miles from Houston, north of Beaumont between Jasper and Lufkin)
Amenities: Swim, fish and boat (non-motorized). This area is the trailhead for the Sawmill Hiking Trail.
From Zavalla, travel east on Highway 63 for 10.5 miles, turn south on Forest Service Road 313 for 2.5 miles. 936-897-1068, fs.usda.gov/recarea/texas/recreation/hiking/recarea/?recid=30208&actid=71
Camp Tonkawa Springs (163 miles north of Houston, north of Nacogdoches)
Amenities: Swim in the clear, cool waters of the rejuvenating spring-fed pond in the Piney Woods.
4675 County Road 153, Garrison, Texas, 936-564-8888, camptonkawa.com
Choke Canyon State Park (233 miles from Houston, south of San Antonio and north of Corpus Christi)
Amenities: Swim, fish and boat. Bad news: Be wary of alligators.
The park is located 3.5 miles west of Three Rivers on State Highway 72 in Calliham, 361-786-3868, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/choke-canyon
City Tube Chute (185 miles from Houston, south of San Marcos)
Amenities: The fun begins with this water slide carved into the side of the city's dam on the Comal River, making it the longest of its kind in the world.
100 Liebscher Drive, New Braunfels, Texas 78130, 830-608-2165, nbtexas.org/1438/City-Tube-Chute
Deep Eddy Pool (172 miles from Houston, in Austin)
Amenities: This 600,000-gallon concrete freshwater swimming pool is cleaned out and replaced with fresh well water every other day. Surrounded by grass and trees, it's also the oldest swimming pool in Texas (established in 1915). Good news: Great people watching
401 Deep Eddy Drive, Austin, Texas 78703, 512-472-8546, austintexas.gov/department/deep-eddy-pool
Fairfield Lake State Park (164 miles from Houston, southeast of Dallas)
Amenities: Swim, boat, water ski, jet ski and fish on the 2,400-acre Fairfield Lake, kept warm by TXU Big Brown power plant. Bad news: Equestrians won't be able to cross the Big Brown Primitive Camping Trail bridge until it can be replaced.
123 State Park Road 64, Fairfield, Texas 75840, 903-389-4514, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/fairfield-lake
Fort Boggy State Park (120 miles from Houston, on I-45 halfway to Dallas)
Amenities: Swim, fish, boat, canoe and kayak on the 15-acre lake that is kept stocked.
4994 Highway 75 South, Centerville, Texas 75833, 903-344-1116, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/fort-boggy
Fort Parker State Park (170 miles from Houston, east of Waco)
Amenities: Swim, fish, kayak and canoe on Fort Parker State Park Lake. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent during the busy season.
194 Park Road 28, Mexia, Texas 76667, 254-562-5751, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/fort-parker
Galveston Island State Park (57 miles from Houston)
Amenities: Swim (Gulf of Mexico and Galveston Bay), fish and paddle (multiple paddling trails). A fish cleaning station and also canoe and kayak launches are available. Good news: The average temperature in July is a balmy 85.9 degrees. Galveston also has a fireworks show planned each Sunday evening during the summer.
14901 FM 3005, Galveston, Texas 77554, 409-737-1222, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/galveston-island
Guadalupe River State Park (210 miles from Houston, southwest of Austin)
Amenities: Swim along four miles of river frontage along the Guadalupe River. Guests also can fish, tube and canoe. Bad news: When the park is at capacity (typically weekends and holidays), day visitors won't be allowed in. Drought restrictions are in effect, which means only portable toilets are available. The park is undergoing repairs to the Cedar Sage camping area through October 1, 2018.
3350 Park Road 31, Spring Branch, Texas 78070, 830-438-2656, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/guadalupe-river
Hancock Springs Free Flow Pool (225 miles from Houston, northwest of Austin)
Amenities: This pool stays a cool 69 degrees year round and is the oldest spring-fed pool in Texas, having been constructed in 1911. The sulphur waters are believed by many to have curative properties.
Highway 281, Lampasas, Texas 76550, 512-556-4048, lampasas.org/157/Swimming-Pool
Hippie Hollow (179 miles from Houston, in Austin)
Amenities: Swim in Lake Travis at this clothing optional park. Exhibitionists might want to add their own photos to the Hippie Hollow member picture area. Good news: Alcohol, outdoor grilling and photography are permitted. Bad news: No pets, fireworks, weapons or glass containers.
7000 Comanche Trail, Austin, Texas 78732, hippiehollow.com
Huntsville State Park (67 miles from Houston, north of Conroe)
Amenities: Swim, fish and paddle, plus rent a canoe, kayak or paddle boat on Lake Raven. Bad news: Some of the trails have been closed for repairs and construction.
565 Park Road 40 West, Huntsville, Texas 77340, 936-295-5644, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/huntsville
Inks Lake State Park (222 miles from Houston, northwest of Austin)
Amenities: Swim at Devil's Waterhole, boat, water ski, fish, paddle and SCUBA dive. When Valley Spring Creek is running, explore scenic waterfalls upstream. This Hill Country gem has sparkling blue water, striking sunsets and great star-gazing at night. Bad news: When the park is at capacity (typically weekends and holidays), day visitors won't be allowed in.
3630 Park Road 4 West, Burnet, Texas 78611, 512-793-2223, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/inks-lake
Jacob's Well Natural Area (195 miles from Houston, southwest of Austin)
Amenities: Jacob's Well is the second largest fully submerged cave in Texas, with the deepest part of the cavern system reaching depths of 140 feet. The natural area encompasses 81 acres and the water, fed by an artesian spring, stays at a constant 68 degrees. Swimming is open until September 30 but online reservations should be made several weeks in advance. Bad news: SCUBA diving is prohibited. Visitors will need to navigate several sets of stairs so strollers are not recommended. Good news: Accommodations will be made for those needing assistance.
699 Mount Sharp Road, Wimberley, Texas 78676, 512-214-4593, co.hays.tx.us/jwna.aspx
Krause Springs (199 miles from Houston, northwest of Austin)
Amenities: Both the manmade and natural spring-fed pools remain 68 degrees year round, even during times of extreme drought. There are 32 springs on the property and the waterfall, grotto and natural pool flow into Lake Travis. Bring your own tube, flotation device or small kayak. The park is open year round.
404 Krause Spring Road, Spicewood, Texas 78669, 830-693-4181, krausesprings.net
Lake Corpus Christi State Park (216 miles from Houston, near Corpus Christi)
Amenities: Swim, paddle fish, boat and water ski on the 18,256-acre Lake Corpus Christi. Paddle boards and kayaks are available to rent. Bad news: Alligators live in the park.
The park is on Park Road 25, four miles southwest of Mathis off State Highway 359, about 35 miles from Corpus Christi). 361-547-2635, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/lake-corpus-christi
Lake Livingston State Park (74 miles from Houston, east of Huntsville)
Amenities: Swim, fish and boat on Lake Livingston, one of the largest lakes in Texas, but beware of alligators. Bad news: The park has been experiencing large crowds on weekends this summer.
300 Park Road 65, Livingston, Texas 77351, 936-365-2201, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/lake-livingston
Lake Somerville State Park and Trailway (108 miles from Houston, between Houston and Austin)
Amenities: Swim, fish, boat and paddle from either Birch Creek (north) or Nail Creek (southwest). Bad news: Some camp areas are closed. The boat ramp won't have ADA access until repairs can be made. Fish cleaning facilities are unavailable, so take fish remains when you leave.
Birch Creek Unit, 14222 Park Road 57, Somerville, Texas 77879, 979-535-7763; Nails Creek Unit, 6280 FM 180, Ledbetter, Texas 78946, 979-289-2392, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/lake-somerville
Lake Tejas (166 miles northeast of Houston)
Amenities: Billed as the "best little swimmin' hole in East Texas," this family water park and campground has diving towers, a kiddie area and canoeing on the lake. Life jackets and tubes are available for rent.
FM 256 East, Colmesneil, Texas 75938, 409-837-2063, laketejas.net
Lake Whitney State Park (230 miles from Houston, south of Fort Worth)
Amenities: Swim, boat, fish and ski on the shores of Lake Whitney. Be sure to pay homage to the Big Oak headquarters and take a selfie from Lake View Point.
The park is located off Interstate 35. Take the Hillsboro exit, then State Highway 22 west to Whitney and follow the signs to the park. 254-694-3793, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/lake-whitney
Lockhart State Park (167 miles from Houston, south of Austin)
Amenities: Swim (pool only), fish in Clear Fork Creek and admire the waterfall on Park Road 10. Good news: Nearby Lockhart has been designated the "Barbecue Capital of Texas."
2012 State Park Road, Lockhart, Texas 78644, 512-398-3479, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/lockhart
Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site (224 miles from Houston, west of Austin)
Amenities: Swim (pool only), fish and expand your horizons to explore the nearby Pedernales River, Old Tunnel and Guadalupe River State Park. The large pool is open noon to 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.
199 Park Road 52, Stonewall, Texas 78671, 830-644-2252, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/lyndon-b-johnson
Mansfield Dam Park (187 miles from Houston, in Austin)
Amenities: Swim, boat and SCUBA dive in Lake Travis. It has the deepest and most accessible boat ramp on Lake Travis with an adjoining wheelchair-accessible courtesy dock. Good news: Divers will find a dive lift, underwater dive platforms, underwater compass course and sunken boats.
4370 Mansfield Dam Park Road, Austin, Texas 78732, parks.traviscountytx.gov/find-a-park/mansfield-dam
Martin Creek Lake State Park (200 miles from Houston, near Longview and the Louisiana border)
Amenities: Swim, fish, boat, canoe and water ski. It's a popular spot for fishing tournaments in the winter. Bad news: Argentine ants have invaded some of the campsites so inspect your vehicle and equipment before leaving. To conserve water, they've closed the fish cleaning station and one of the restrooms.
9515 County Road 2181D, Tatum, Texas 75691, 903-836-4336, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/martin-creek-lake
Martin Dies, Jr. State Park (124 miles from Houston, near Jasper and the Louisiana border)
Amenities: Swim, paddle the waters of the Neches and Angelina rivers or fish in the B.A. Steinhagen Reservoir. Bad news: For safety reasons the wooden fishing piers are closed and will need to be replaced.
634 Park Road 48 South, Jasper, Texas 75951, 409-384-5231, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/martin-dies-jr
Matagorda Bay Nature Park (98.6 miles southwest of Houston, along the Gulf Coast)
Amenities: Swim, fish, kayak and boat at this 1,333-acre park and nature preserve at the mouth of the Colorado River with two miles of Gulf of Mexico beachfront.
6430 FM 2031, Matagorda, Texas 77457, 979-863-2603, lcra.org/parks/Pages/matagorda-bay-nature-park.aspx
McKinney Falls State Park (166 miles from Houston, in Austin)
Amenities: Swim and fish in Onion Creek, but call ahead because the creek can flood after rainfall. Bad news: Because of prior flood damage, they've closed the Smith Visitor Center.
5808 McKinney Falls Parkway, Austin, Texas 78744, 512-243-1643, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/mckinney-falls
Meridian State Park (236 miles from Houston, southwest of Fort Worth)
Amenities: Swim, boat (no wake) and fish on this 72-acre lake, while keeping one eye open for the rare golden-cheeked warbler.
173 Park Road #7, Meridian, Texas, 254-435-2536, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/meridian
Mustang Island State Park (231 miles from Houston, near Corpus Christi)
Amenities: Swim, surf, fish and kayak at this barrier island park that offers five miles of coastline. Paddle the 20 miles of the Mustang Island State Park Paddling Trail that follows the western shoreline of the island in Corpus Christi Bay. Bad news: Due to Hurricane Harvey, overnight camping is closed for repairs. The park is open daily from 8 a.m. until sunset.
17047 State Highway 361, Port Aransas, Texas 78373, 361-749-5246, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/mustang-island
Pace Bend Park (198 miles from Houston, northwest of Austin)
Amenities: Swim, boat, canoe and use waverunners at this popular park with nine miles of shoreline along Lake Travis. Mudd Cove, Kate Cove and Gracy Cove are designated as swimming only regions. Bad news: Public display of consumption of alcohol is prohibited.
2805 Pace Bend Road, North, Spicewood, Texas 78669, 512-264-1482, parks.traviscountytx.gov/find-a-park/pace-bend
Palmetto State Park (152 miles from Houston, south of Austin)
Amenities: Swim, tube, fish and canoe in the flowing San Marcos River, then explore the lake, artesian well and swamps in this small park with tropical vegetation. The San Marcos River has a steady current but no rapids.
78 Park Road 11 South, Gonzales, Texas 78629, 830-672-3266, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/palmetto
Pedernales Falls State Park (205 miles from Houston, west of Austin)
Amenities: Swim, wade, tube or fish in the Pedernales River, which veers between placid stream and raging torrent. Be alert at all times as flash flooding is common in the Texas Hill Country. Bad news: When the park is at capacity (typically weekends and holidays), parking lots get full and day visitors won't be allowed in. The main campground restroom is undergoing construction through August 2018.
2585 Park Road 6026, Johnson City, Texas 78636, 830-868-7304, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/pedernales-falls
Purtis Creek State Park (206 miles from Houston, southeast of Dallas)
Amenities: Swim, canoe, paddle, kayak, canoe and fish on the 355-acre lake. Kayaks and paddle boards are available to rent.
14225 FM 316, Eustace, Texas 75124, 903-425-2332, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/purtis-creek
Quintana Beach County Park (65.5 miles from Houston, near Freeport)
Amenities: Swim, fish and surf along the Gulf of Mexico. Good news: Named our first pick for "Top Swimming Spot" in 2013. The water always seems more blue here (compared to Galveston Island) and it's a great spot for finding small shells and driftwood.
330 5th Street, Quintana, Texas 77541, 979-233-1461, brazoriacountytx.gov/departments/parks-department/quintana-beach
Red Hills Lake Recreational Area (177 miles northeast of Houston, near the Louisiana border)
Amenities: Swim and fish in this 19-acre lake. Just like Dirty Dancing, this park had its heyday in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, but it keeps on keepin' on. Bad news: At least one alligator has made the lake its home and vandals damaged the electrical hookups for camping trailers.
Highway 87 north of Milam in Sabine County, 409-625-1940, fs.usda.gov/recarea/texas/recarea/?recid=30266
Rio Vista Park (168 miles west of Houston, southwest of Austin)
Amenities: Swim in the deep watering hole or paddle, tube and kayak along the river. Good news: The jewel of the park is the Rio Vista Falls Dam that has become a favorite place to tube, kayak and stand-up paddle board.
555 Cheatham, San Marcos, Texas 78666, 512-393-8400, toursanmarcos.com/attractions/outdoors/rio-vista-park.html
River Trail Park (145 miles west of Houston, near San Marcos)
Amenities: Swim, kayak, paddle and canoe along the San Marcos River. Boats and watercraft are available for rent. Bad news: Life guards are not on duty.
100 Paddling Trail, Luling, Texas 78648, 830-875-5515, cityofluling.net/facilities/facility/details/River-Trail-Park-3
Sea Rim State Park (99.8 miles from Houston, southeast of Beaumont)
Amenities: Swim, fish, canoe, kayak, surf and paddle at this unique coastal park that has more than five miles of Gulf shoreline and 4,000 acres of marshlands. Paddle the easy 1.79-mile trail or the advanced 9.59-mile trail. Bad news: Alligators live in the park.
19335 S Gulfway Drive, Sabine Pass, Texas 77655, 409-971-2559, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/sea-rim
Sewell Park (168 miles west of Houston, in San Marcos)
Amenities: Swim in the crystal clear waters of the spring-fed San Marcos River on the grounds of Texas State University Campus. The water stays a comfortable 72 degrees year round.
1011 Academy, San Marcos, Texas 78666, 512-245-2940, campusrecreation.txstate.edu/outdoor/sewell-park.html
Stokes Park (167 miles west of Houston, in San Marcos)
Amenities: Swim, kayak or paddle at this beautiful five acre park with natural stone, a mini waterfall and lush landscaping along the San Marcos River.
600 Cape Road, San Marcos, Texas 78666, sanmarcostx.gov/Facilities/Facility/Details/Stokes-Park-47
The Slab (225 miles from Houston, northwest of Austin)
Amenities: Swim at this popular swimming spot along the Llano River crossing in the Hill Country. When the rains come the waters can rise quick and fast, but otherwise it's shallow enough for wading. Bad news: In May a man's body was pulled from the water near the Kingsland Slab.
RR 3404 off RR 1431, Kingsland, Texas, 78639
Twin Lakes RV Resort and Scuba Park (20.6 miles south of Houston)
Amenities: Fish, swim and SCUBA. This diver's paradise is located on 25 acres of private lakes and has five sunken fishing boats, a school bus and an Airstream trailer for underwater discoveries. Good news: It also was our winner for "Best Swimming Hole" in 2011.
19400 Highway 6, Manvel, Texas 77578, 281-489-4225, twinlakesrvscubapark.com
Tyler State Park (221 miles from Houston, near Longview)
Amenities: Swim, boat and fish in this 64-acre spring-fed lake. Boats are permitted with a five mph speed limit.
789 Park Road 16, Tyler, Texas 75706, 903-597-5338, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/tyler
William & Eleanor Crook Park (166 miles west of Houston, between Austin and San Antonio)
Amenities: Swim, canoe, kayak and tube in this six-acre park along the San Marcos River. Good news: It's got a rope swing and is ranked as one of the top five free spots in Texas by the authors of The Swimming Holes of Texas.
430 Riverside, San Marcos, Texas 78666, sanmarcostx.gov/Facilities/Facility/Details/William-Eleanor-Crook-Park-49
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
On the Disabled List:
Hamilton Pool Preserve (193 miles from Houston, near Austin)
Swimming is currently not allowed due to high bacteria levels, though that ban is expected to be lifted soon. Once the pool reopens, advance reservations are required (through the end of October), as well as on weekends in November and December.
24300 Hamilton Pool Road, Dripping Springs, Texas 78620, 512-264-2740, parks.traviscountytx.gov/find-a-park/hamilton-pool?
Magee Beach Park (208 miles from Houston, near Corpus Christi)
Normally this 167-acre park at the northernmost point of Mustang Island is a beach-goer's dream. But due to Hurricane Harvey they remain closed for repairs in 2018.
1000 Lantana Drive, Port Aransas, Texas 78373, 361-749-6117, nuecesbeachparks.com/ibmageebeachpark.html
Village Creek State Park (93 miles from Houston, north of Beaumont)
Hurricane Harvey really did a number on this park, and subsequent flooding in February and March worsened conditions. Most of the park is closed, including the vehicle bridge, picnic area, trail system and canoe/kayak launch. No fishing, paddling or swimming is available at this time.
8854 Park Road 74, Lumberton, Texas 77657, 409-755-7322, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/village-creek