For the 50+ Traveler

Years ago, I first discovered Jacob’s Well as a fun swimming hole where you could jump wide off the rocks into the cold, cold artesian springs. It would take your breath away. It’s 140 feet deep, and there are wooden walk areas around the hole where you can sit with your feet in the water. It’s a great place to cool off in the hot Texas summer. The underwater cave draws curiosity, and some people try to explore the depths. There is something about the allure of the unknown.

1. What Is Jacob’s Well?

Jacob’s Well is one of the outstanding perpetual artesian springs in the Texas Hill Country, now owned by the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association, dedicated to sustainable watershed education, conservation, and land preservation. It is also one of the longest underwater caves in Texas, at over 4,500 feet in length. A protected swimming hole, Jacob’s Well is the primary source of water to Cypress Creek. The creek flows downstream through Woodcreek, Wimberley, through the Blue Hole swimming area, and into the Blanco River.

2. Around-The-Spring Info

Jacob’s Well Natural Area, the 96 plus acres around the spring, has developed into an invaluable natural resource. Meet at 9 a.m. Saturdays for a one-hour tour with a member of the Texas Master Naturalists discussing the Native American and pioneer history, geology, conservation, native plants, and wildlife of the area. Docents are available from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays to share information about Jacob’s Well. You can also view videos in the Nature Center.

3. Area History

When settlers first found Jacob’s Well around 1850, they discovered a mysterious fountain of clear, clean water, spouting four or five feet above the surface and about 12 feet in diameter. They named it Jacob’s Well after the location in the Bible.

Three of the most well known Native American Tribes frequented the area: Tonkawa, Jumano, and the Comanche.

Hays County purchased a large portion of the 96 plus acres in 2010 with voter-approved park bond funds to preserve, restore, and protect the natural area. Come for a swim, observe birds and wildlife, picnic, hike, and take photos. Things to bring with you: binoculars, good walking shoes, and drinking water.

4. Swimming At Jacob’s Well

Swimming is only allowed May 1 to September 30, with a strictly enforced two-hour online reservation. Jacob’s Well is such a unique swimming destination in the hot summer months that a two-hour reservation window helps control the crowds. With your reservation, there is no waitlist for swimming. Make your reservation several weeks in advance to guarantee your swim access. If you are late, your two-hour swim access won’t extend.

With the seasonal swim access, the aquatic wildlife has a chance to be restored during the fall, winter, and spring months. The constant temperature of 68 degrees is home to sunfish, perch, turtles, crustaceans, and the cave-adapted fern bank salamander, a Texas salamander endemic to springs near the Blanco River watershed.

Pro Tip: Wear swim shoes when you climb on the slippery rocks and swim at the hole. There is a 15-minute hike from the parking lot over several sets of steps along the trail. The area is small, so leave pool floats at home. Swim fees tend to be less than $10. Swim at your own risk; no lifeguards are on duty.

5. Hiking Jacob’s Well Natural Area

There are several hiking trails in the natural area; some are handicap accessible, including Jacob’s Well Trail (.62 miles), Warbler Trail (.62 miles), Gray Fox Trail (.13 miles), Dry Creek Trail (.16 miles), and North Trail (1.0 miles.) Other accommodations include a labyrinth, nature center, outdoor classroom, overlook, and pavilion. My grandkids love the playground, picnic area, and pond. You will also find a restroom and a wildlife viewing area.

There is no fee for hiking; it is first-come, first-serve. The best hiking hours are from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. daily. Jacob’s Well is a day-use facility only, with no entrance after 5:30 p.m. Special guided tours led by a Master Naturalist are available on the second and fourth Saturdays at 9 a.m. Call ahead or reserve your space online. Make requests one to two weeks ahead of time for private excursions.

6. Artesian Spring Survival

Jacob’s Well has stopped flowing at least three times over the last 15 years -- in 2000, 2008, and 2011 -- during significant droughts, and there is concern about its survival. With so many new people moving into the area and drilling water wells, artesian springs and aquifers are in danger of drying up. David Baker, landowner, and creator of the Watershed Association, believes that a solution may be rainwater harvesting for home water use in the Hill Country. “Too many straws are drinking from this aquifer,” Baker said.

Note: We harvest rain at our cabin with a gutter and rain barrel system. A quick formula to figure rain harvesting on a 2,000 square foot roof: 2,000 x 0.56 = 1,120 gallons per inch of rain.

7. No Scuba Diving Is Allowed

As I write this, reading the 2001 article by Louie Bond, “The Fatal Allure of Jacob’s Well,” makes me so uncomfortable that I stand up and walk away from the photographs on my computer screen. I have a hard time breathing. Louie tells the story of close calls of experienced divers and the fatalities of eight or nine divers who became trapped in Jacob's Well from 1964 to 1984. Even if you are a daredevil, don’t even think about exploring Jacob's Well’s unforgiving depths.

8. The Jacob’s Well Exploration Project

In 2007, independent divers and members of the Goodenough Springs Exploration Project combined to form the Jacob’s Well Exploration Project (JWEP). The group completed the underwater cave system mapping as part of a research project with the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association and landowner David Baker. The project has mapped all the areas currently accessible and documented 6,000 feet of underwater passages in the two main caves. Cave A extends approximately 4,500 feet in a northwesterly direction, while Cave B branches from the central section in a northerly direction for 1,500 feet.

The team provides presentations about the caves’ history, hydrology, and biology to interested groups. The team members raise awareness by conducting safe cave diving operations using team-specific requirements with visitors supervised by a project safety officer. JWEP divers utilize side-mount air cylinder configurations to squeeze through the narrow cave areas, and some team members use battery-operated diver propulsion vehicles.

See breathtaking JWEP videos here that depict dives into Jacob’s Well.

About Cave Diving

Take it from the National Speleological Society of Cave Diving: Cave diving can be hazardous, especially for those who lack the specialized knowledge, training, equipment, and skills required. Over 400 divers have lost their lives in underwater cave explorations, and not one of them expected to die. “Get the right training, use the correct equipment, save your life.”

This organization is the largest cave diving organization in the United States and part of an international organization with 25 countries worldwide. The organization offers courses on cave diving, cave surveying, cartography, first responders, instructor development, and more.

Local caving clubs are called grottos. Several Texas grotto groups hold meetings, offer training, organize trips, and provide organized caving, research, and conservancy. Find club membership organizations in Austin, College Station, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Lubbock, Midland/Odessa, and San Antonio.

About Jacob’s Well: “It’s a very mysterious place, a place of constant sensation,” quoted Stephen Harrigan, author of Jacob’s Well: A Novel, initially published in 1984.

9. Where To Stay

Cypress Creek Cottages, a mile from Jacob’s Well, offers pet-friendly cottages with private hot tubs on Cypress Creek. Twelve upscale cabins have kitchens, separate living spaces, fireplaces, flat-screened TVs, and a fenced pet park. Take advantage of pet daycare, in-room massages, and more.

10. Places To Visit And Eat

Just over a mile from Wimberley Town Square, you can access great shopping, casual restaurants, and artisan galleries. Visit the First Saturday Market Days from March through December, and check out live glass blowing at Wimberley Glassworks. Bella Vista Ranch produces fresh olive oil, which you can order online right now. Eat at the Wimberley Cafe, Kate’s Place, The Leaning Pear, or Blair House Inn.