School is out, summer is here and the weather is sweltering. Fortunately for Central Texans, there are plenty of natural spots surrounding Austin where you can cool off this summer without chlorine and crowds. Whether you’re diving into a sublime swimming hole or descending deep into a cool cave, here are nine spots to chill out on scorching summer days –– all courtesy of Mother Nature. No need to pack your bags or book accommodations, either. Each spot is an easy, breezy day trip from Austin.
One unseasonably steamy evening late last month, while sweating from the sidelines during back-to-back soccer, tennis and swim team practices for my kids, I scrolled across a local headline declaring this May as the hottest on record in Austin. As soon as I retreated back to air conditioning, I opened up my laptop and nabbed summer reservations at a few of our favorite swimming holes. The first one on our list? Jacob’s Well Natural Area, which remains a constant 68 degrees year-round and boasts crystalline water that glitters like jewels in the sunshine.
When the mercury creeps to the tip of the thermometer, you’ll find instant relief with one leap into this pristine swimming hole flanked by a lush bank on one side and layered limestone cliffs on the other. Jacob’s Well, the second largest fully submerged cave in Texas, is one of the most beautiful and geologically significant gems found in the Hill Country –– it’s actually an artesian spring that flows up from the Trinity Aquifer roughly 140 feet below that releases thousands of gallons of water each day. Brave souls can launch into these healing Hill Country waters from the boulders above (wear water shoes because the rocks are slippery). Reserve your summer swimming spot soon because they fill up quickly ($9 adults, $5 children/seniors/residents, free children 4 and under). More at https://jwna.checkfront.com/reserve/.
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Wimberley’s Blue Hole
Jacob’s Well serves as the headwaters of Cypress Creek, which flows through Blue Hole Regional Park and feeds into the Blanco River. Rope swinging your way into the cold, clear spring-fed waters of Wimberley’s Blue Hole, located five miles down the road from Jacob’s Welll will cool you off on the most sizzling of summer days. This idyllic natural swimming area is fringed by towering cypress trees, several of which feature natural step-like formations ideal for climbing up to reach the rope swings dangling from the branches. Swimming is allowed by reservation only from Memorial Day through Labor Day during two time slots: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 2 to 6 p.m. Passes cost $12 for adults (13-59) and $6 for youth (4-12), seniors (60+) and military. More at https://bluehole.checkfront.com/reserve/.
Want to swim but don’t have a reservation? No need to worry at Cypress Falls, which sits just minutes from both Jacob’s Well and Wimberley’s Blue Hole. A dam on Cypress Creek created the natural swimming hole, which is spring fed from Jacob’s Well and makes for a serene summertime spot to swim, float or paddle boat around (bring your own or rent kayaks, paddle boards and tubes there). Unlike the aforementioned Wimberley swimming spots, you don’t need a reservation –– just show up and purchase a swimming wristband ($8 adults 13-54, $6 kids 5-12 and seniors, free for 0-4). Look for the goats that graze on the grass on the tiny floating island in the middle of the swimming area. Cypress Falls has a lodge for overnight guests and a draft house serving up craft beers on tap as well as frozen drinks, domestics, wine, hard seltzers and cold drinks for the kids. If you come on the weekends, there’s often live music playing, but if you come on the weekdays, you’re likely to dodge the crowds. More at http://thelodgeatcypressfalls.com/swimming-hole.
RELATED: HILL COUNTRY SWIMMING HOLES
Landa Park Spring Fed Pool
I grew up in New Braunfels, where the spring-fed sanctuary known as Landa Park Springfed Pool was our version of beloved Barton Springs. The 1.5-million-gallon pool is fed by the largest springs in Texas, the Comal Springs, and has provided a blissful 72-degree retreat from the sweltering heat since it was built in the early 1900s. You don’t need a reservation to leap into these cold, clear waters. Fees into the Landa Park Aquatic Complex, which includes an Olympic pool, are $6 for adults 13-59 and $5 for children 3-12 and seniors on weekdays (closed Tuesdays), and $8 for adults 13-59 and $7 for children 3-12 on weekends. More at https://www.nbtexas.org/2574/Landa-Park-Aquatic-Complex.
New Braunfels’ Tube Chute on the Comal River
If you’re after a water slide without waterpark lines and prices, then the City Tube Chute on the cool, clear (and otherwise calm) Comal River is for you. This rushing ride (the longest of its kind in the world) attracts thrill-seeking tubers even if they aren’t up for the long and leisurely float down the clear, emerald green waters of the spring-fed Comal River. The tube chute is a water slide carved into the side of the dam on the Comal that zooms tubers around the dam and shoots them out into the cool Comal River. No reservations are required to blast down the tube chute, which charges $5 daily admission and rents tubes for $7 (+ $15 refundable deposit). But go on a weekday to avoid heavy weekend and holiday crowds. More at https://www.nbtexas.org/2577/City-Tube-Chute-on-the-Comal-River.
Natural Bridge Caverns
Descend 180 feet below the surface to explore the most extensive cavern within the San Antonio area and one of the largest within the state –– Natural Bridge Caverns. Even during triple-digit days, the temperature inside this cavern remains a cool 70 degrees. Wander through underground chambers brimming with rare and delicate formations like unusually long “soda straws”’ and waves of “cave ribbon” or venture through vast underground chambers filled with delicate crystalline and other awe-inspiring formations. More at www.naturalbridgecaverns.com.
Inside this river-carved cave just 1.5 hours northwest of Austin, everything is cool––even the temperature, which remains a constant 68 degrees year-round. It’s thought that this geographically fascinating cavern was formed by water flowing through the cracks, dissolving the limestone and cutting great underground streambeds out of solid rock. Equally as interesting is Longhorn Cavern’s storied past. The cave has served as everything from a shelter for the area’s prehistoric peoples to a dance hall and concert venue during prohibition. Marvel at the undulating curves and awe-inspiring formations found inside Longhorn Cavern while wandering through the majestic Hall of Marble, Crystal City and Underground Ballroom on a guided walking tour ($19.95 adults 12+, $15.95 kids 4-11, free for 3 and under), or brave the three-hour Wild Cave Tour for a longer, wetter cave experience where visitors ages 8 and up can wriggle and crawl through the undeveloped lower level of the cave ($99.95 for 8+). More at www.visitlonghorncavern.com.
Georgetown’s Blue Hole
Swimming reservations all snapped up for the summer? Go to Georgetown’s Blue Hole –– a refreshing lagoon hemmed in by limestone bluffs blanketed in leafy trees along the South Fork of the San Gabriel River. Located five blocks north of Georgetown’s beautiful downtown square along North Austin Avenue, this serene swimming hole is completely free and open to the public — no reservations required. Grab the kids, pack some sunscreen and a picnic and enjoy a cool (and free) place to play for the day. More at https://parks.georgetown.org/blue-hole/.
Tucked in sleepy Spicewood less than an hour from Austin, you’ll feel a world away at Krause Springs. These pristine 68-degree spring-fed waters provide a refreshing respite from the heat, even on triple digit days. Founded in 1955, the property’s 115 lush acres and 32 natural springs ––several of which feed the manmade pool and natural pool which flows into Lake Travis –– have served as an ethereal escape for nature-lovers for more than 60 years. Daily admission is $9 for adults (12+ years), $5 for children (4-11 years) and free for children under 4. More at www.krausesprings.net.
If You Go
Jacob’s Well, Wimberley’s Blue Hole and Cypress Falls are all roughly 40 miles and just under an hour’s drive from downtown Austin. Natural Bridge Caverns is 70 miles south of downtown Austin while Longhorn Cavern is about 65 northwest. Georgetown’s Blue Hole is 30 miles from downtown Austin. Krause Springs is 36 miles from downtown Austin in Spicewood. Both Landa Park Spring Fed Pool and the City Tube Chute are located in New Braunfels, about 50 miles south of downtown Austin.
Eat and Drink:
After a long day enjoying Wimberley’s water, we tend to take the backroads back to Austin and often fuel up with cold beer and wood-fired pizzas at Hays City Store & Ice House, a gas station turned popular food, drink and music venue. In New Braunfels, Pat’s Place is a local institution serving homestyle comfort food like hand-battered fried mushrooms and pickles, cheeseburgers and chicken-fried steak. El Monumento is a Georgetown gem boasting authentic Mexican dishes and refreshing margaritas from El Bar. But for a more casual breakfast or lunch with deliciously fresh hometown favorites, try its sister diner-style restaurant, Monument Café.
Reserve your swimming slots now for Jacob’s Well and Wimberley’s Blue Hole. The other spots featured do not require advanced reservations, but they tend to get very busy on weekends and holidays, so your best bet for beating the crowds is visiting on a weekday.