A sunken grotto and blue-green waters? It sounds like something from a fairy tale, but the magical spot that is the Hamilton Pool Preserve is very, very real -- and it’s just a short drive from Austin, Texas!
The Hamilton Pool Preserve is a natural pool that was formed when an underground river collapsed due to erosion. Now part of the nearby Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, Hamilton Pool was first identified by the Reimers ranching family. While sunken grottos are considered a threat to grazing animals, the Reimers family recognized the pool’s potential as a recreation area. And thank goodness that they did! Generations of locals have fallen in love with it. Since 1990, the 232-acre Hamilton Pool Preserve has been a designated nature preserve focusing on habitat preservation and restoration and wildlife protection.
Now a hugely popular destination for swimming, hiking, and more, Hamilton Pool will make you feel like you’re a million miles from the city and stress. If you’re planning a visit, here are the most important things to know before you go.
The Hamilton Pool Preserve is located off of Highway 71 just 23 miles west of Austin, Texas. It’s the perfect day-trip destination to escape the city!
If you enjoy working up a sweat and then cooling down with a refreshing dip, Hamilton Pool is the place to go. Here’s what you should do while you’re there.
Hey there, gorgeous waters! Hamilton Pool is a stunning swimming spot. The pool is fed by a 50-foot-high waterfall, which only adds to the beauty and tranquility of the place. Note that while the water quality is monitored on a regular basis, there are times when swimming is prohibited due to high bacterial levels. If you have your heart set on swimming, call the info line to confirm that you will be able to.
There are no lifeguards at Hamilton Pool. There are, however, some life jackets available on a first-come basis at no charge. A lot of people bring along their own inner tubes and floating noodles.
The water of the Hamilton Pool Preserve will feel especially refreshing after a hike, but in the spring, the water can be as cool as 50 degrees. Some people might call that refreshing, but others might call it bone-chilling cold! On a sunny summer day, however, the water is perfect for cooling down.
The Hamilton Pool Park Trail is a 1.8-mile trek that is rated as moderate. You can also hike behind the waterfall itself. Sneakers are recommended, since there are some slippery spots. You’ll enjoy beautiful views along the way, but note that there’s one member of your family who won’t be able to participate: your dog. Pets aren’t allowed anywhere within the preserve. Sorry, Fido!
The trail isn’t stroller-friendly, so babies will have to be carried. The hike is manageable, but it isn’t the easiest trek.
The Hamilton Pool Preserve is home to some very special plants and animals, including the chatterbox orchid, the eastern red bay, the bald cypress, turtles, golden-cheeked warblers, and cliff swallows. And if you have a keen eye, you might be able to spot fossils embedded in the grotto walls behind the waterfall.
The preserve offers guided hikes every Saturday at 10 a.m. for the first 20 people who are interested. It’s the perfect way to identify plants, insects, birds, and geological features you might otherwise miss.
Does the Hamilton Pool Preserve look vaguely familiar to you? That might be because it’s been in a long list of movies, including The Hot Spot, Teeth, Predators, and The Tree of Life. While you’ll likely need special permission to set up your own blockbuster, the preserve is the perfect place to work on your photography.
There are no concessions in the Hamilton Pool Preserve, so you’ll have to bring in your own picnic treats. Thankfully, Austin is the perfect place to stock up on gourmet goodies.
In the city itself, Phoenicia Bakery and Deli offers Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food. The amazing Central Market provides gourmet groceries. And the Sustainable Food Center has a market feel and a focus on local goods. Cooking is prohibited within the preserve, so make sure all of your snacks are already cooked. If you’re craving barbecue, Salt Lick BBQ, just outside of Austin, will happily pack you up a to-go box of menu favorites.
When it comes to beverages, you’ll want to bring your own water (none is for sale at the preserve), but leave all alcohol at home. There are strict rules prohibiting it within the preserve.
There are a few picnic tables within the preserve, but we recommend that you bring along a picnic blanket in case the tables are in use. And remember that the toilets by the parking lot are the only ones you’ll find!
While it may sound like the perfect spontaneous road trip, a visit to the Hamilton Pool Preserve does require some planning in advance.
Most of the year, visitors to the preserve must make a reservation. This is to protect against overcrowding and promote environmental sustainability. Reservations are required every day from March through October and on weekends and Travis County holidays from November through February. If you do not have a reservation during these times, you will be turned away at the gate. You might also be turned away at the gate during the off-season if the park reaches capacity. There is only one way to make your reservation, and that is through the Travis County Parks website, which is also a great source of information about swimming conditions at the preserve.
You may make a reservation for a morning visit (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) or an afternoon visit (2 p.m. to 6 p.m.). You must arrive at least 30 minutes prior to the end time of your reservation slot.
Reservations cost $11 and are payable online by credit card. A maximum of 8 people can be included on one reservation. You must also pay $15 -- cash only -- for a vehicle entrance permit when you arrive at the gate. If you come by bike or foot, the entrance fee is $8 per person. If you’re trying to be frugal, you’ll save a bit of money by carpooling with friends, since the vehicle admission cost is per automobile, not per person.
Remember, reservations do not guarantee swimming, since that is dependent on water bacteria levels, which you can check online.
Peak season for the Hamilton Pool Preserve is between March and October, when you’ll need a reservation to visit. You won’t have to share the preserve with as many people if you visit between November and February, but the water will be too cold for swimming.